That Offshore Feeling
I’m totally enchanted with the island of Rügen, which is a virtual vacation haven, just two kilometers off the German coast. The best parts of the island are the sweet sea breezes, golden sunflower fields, stretches of beach, and impressive chalk cliffs. But there’s one more attraction that’s a bit new to Rügen, and my company has everything to do with it. It’s offshore wind. Of course, the wind has always been there, so I mean, it’s everything to do with offshore wind power production: the construction, the operation, the cables, the boats, and last but not least, the crews & people working to put our Arkona wind park together.
The wind park was named after the basin in which it is being installed, in German, the Arkona Becken. It’s around 30 km offshore from the port of Sassnitz, on the north-western side of Rügen. That’s one of the reason that our port also was established in this northern island town. The port is called Mukran, which lies just south of the charming little town itself and resides just next to the passenger terminal, which literally ferries passengers & their cars to Trelleborg, Sweden.
It was in this terminal that I recently attended the 2017 Offshore Wind Exhibition. And I wasn’t the only one. The fair attracted people from far and wide to learn more about offshore wind. The first day was spent at the conference for industry participants and the evening opened up the fair to the public. And the public really took the time to travel out to the terminal to see what all of us companies were up to in the port.
The conference brought both local politicians & business owners as well as representative from the big energy companies together to talk about the challenges & opportunities of offshore wind. The messages were repeated throughout the day. This is an industry that is bringing jobs to the region, and that is seen very positively, as the local state of Mecklenburg Pomerania wants to encourage their young people to stay in the area & for new workers to move there, together with their families.
Learning the Local Language
But this also means that new infrastructure is needed. New schools, more cultural activities, new resources for families. The local politicians & tourism directors emphasized that this change is good, but needs to be done in a sustainable way. Business partnerships are great, so long as they fit to the town & their resources. And the port, as it is today, certainly wasn’t built overnight. Almost a decade of planning & permissions needed to be sought out before the port could be used in the way it is now. Although we’re far away from the mainland, this is & remains Germany, with its love for processes & approvals. But regardless, the results now speak for themselves.
The local companies running out of the harbor made it clear that they can only survive when enough work was available in the port, and are therefore reliant on enough other groups coming in with contracts. And this can only happen when the local authorities approve bigger projects. Sadly, the Baltic Sea has less room for big offshore wind projects than the more westerly North Sea, which offers a larger area of water where companies can install wind turbines. But everyone attending the event agreed, that the Baltic Sea was a perfect place for producing clean, green energy.
On my second day on the island, I agreed to help out at the E.ON stand at the public event. There was certainly enough to do. I loved meeting all the colleagues working on the project and each person told me something about what it meant to work offshore, or about the Arkona project specifically. The first visitors started coming in shortly after the opening at 10:00 a.m. - and they never stopped coming after that. Our stand was buzzing most of the day.
Some people asked a million questions, some wanted to know about the cable cross section that we had on display (it was a piece of cable that connected the wind turbines to each other - a much bigger cable was available for display at the 50Hertz stand across from us - that cable linked the wind park to the mainland). But some people, both old & young, just wanted to talk. One of those people was Henry.
Henry is a paramedic who was working at the event. We struck up a conversation on the balcony of the passenger terminal, trying to get some fresh air and take in the view of all the wind turbine parts in the harbor. Our wind turbine towers gleamed in the distance, wearing a foam spiral around them to help stabilize their transport out to their new home in the basin.
„I couldn’t help noticing your name tag. Your last name is Bligh. Do you know the story of the Mutiny on the Bounty?“ I told him that I certainly did. „Can you wait here? I just have to show you something.“ I was a bit bewildered by this request, but as I was now busy taking pictures of the harbor, as the sun was just peeping out of the clouds, it didn’t bother me to stay put on the balcony.
A few minutes later, Henry arrived with a picture in his hand from a company called Buss, which is located directly in the port. „I walked by the Buss stand this morning & I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this picture. They took what appears to be the very last picture of the ship Bounty, which was made for the 1962 film with Marlon Brando. I visited the ship while it was docked here, as I am a big fan of the movie. But after it set sail from this port, it sank in the Atlantic. Everyone was saved, aside from the captain & his wife, who were the last people onboard & went down with the ship.“ Wow, I said! „Don’t you see?“, asked Henry, „Even you are connected to this place.“
We're all connected
That started a longer conversation with Henry, where he told me about the history of the area, and the surrounding areas. He pulled a badge from a Danish paramedic team out of his pocket and told me how when they meet, that they present each other with these badges in a show of brotherhood. „We’re all connected, through history, through blood, through our spirit.“
And much is the story of this offshore summit; bringing people together from different companies, different countries. It’s a story of partnership in operation, as offshore wind parks (much like the oil & gas exploration & production projects before them) are done in cooperation & joint ventures with sometimes several companies.
I talked to the representatives from the Spanish company Iberdrola, one of our competitors who is doing a project nearby & also using the Mukran Port as a harbor. Their German wasn’t so good and they asked me to translate some of the messages of the summit. They also agreed that this connection to the port & the local community was incredibly important. They even put their German headquarters here.
We also felt this connection to the area. But no one felt it quite so much as Frank Scholtka, Betriebsleiter for the Arkona WIndfarm project. „I’m moving here in a few months“, said Frank. „Can anyone help me looking for an apartment?“ he asked during the podiums discussion on Friday? This made the audience laugh. But he meant it earnestly.
Out at Sea
To round out the program, I took a harbor tour to actually see what was going on in the harbor. I wasn’t disappointed. The bright yellow transition pieces were lined up on the docks of the harbor, ready to be shipped out to see. On each piece, the letters AB was painted on, along with a number. The letters stand for Arkona Becken (Arkona Basin) and the numbers referring to the order of the transition pieces, 60 in total.
In front of the transition pieces were two vessels in bright blue (Blue Anares & Aries), to be used to make a bubble curtains around the monopiles while they are being installed. This reduces noise, which helps the surrounding environment, especially the animals in and around the ocean. And way off on the horizon, we could see another vessel, which would be used to drive the monopiles into the sea bed. It is a huge heavy lifting pontoon on two floaters called, the Svanen. It was only resting in front of the harbor for final testing before installation and everyone I talked to excitedly told me that it would be shipped out to the Arkona Basin the next day to get started on doing what it was meant to do.
Although the sailing ship that I was on was also really cool (the Loth Lorien has a history all its own), I spent much of the time onboard taking pictures & filming video of the amazing things that were in the harbor, getting ready for transport out to sea. The gleaming turbines towers, the huge blades, already assembled into a triad, all were ready to be shipped out.
These images have stuck with me, as have the people I met on my two days on the island. And much like my friend Henry, who witnessed a bit of history himself, being one of the last visitors on the Bounty, I also felt like I was witnessing something special; namely, a new wind park, right before its birth. If I want to see these amazing pieces again, it will be as an assembled giant, 30 km off the coast. I might as well start my offshore safety training now!