WindMW has been specifically founded with the task of planning and supporting the construction and operation of offshore wind farms Meerwind Süd and Meerwind Ost, which fall under the combined name of Meerwind, in the German Bight in the North Sea. Created as a joint venture in mid-2008, the concept for the project actually began earlier under previous developer Windland Energieerzeugungs GmbH, which secured the permit to build the wind farm and then went to market to find a partner capable of leading the project.
Having been in the market for new energy opportunities, the proposal attracted the attention of the Blackstone Group, a private equity company from New York, and WindMW was born from these two entities. As 80 per cent shareholder, the company is led by the Blackstone Group, with Windland maintaining a passive role in the business.
Consisting of 80 3.6 MW turbines, a total of 1.2 billion euros is combeing invested into the Meerwind concept, with the project intended to guarantee the efficient and prompt use of wind energy in Germany. All the turbines will be connected to a transformer platform to which the grid connection will be installed. The wind farm will be able to provide up to a total of 288 MW power into the public grid, contributing enough sustainable ecological energy to power around 360,000 households. In comparison to coal-fired power plants this will save up to one million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.
Of course, whilst WindMW has set itself this upper target, company CEO Jens Assheuer is well aware that this figure is subject to various external elements: “We have some ideas about how much energy we want to deliver, but the actual output will be most influenced by the wind velocity, and unfortunately this is something we cannot dictate. Our main priority therefore is to create a structure that offers high availability of the turbines, and minimal outages or failures. In order to achieve this we are investing in good equipment, good quality assurance during the construction process, and professional operation and maintenance services going forward.
“Given the high level of investment into this project, it is paramount that we as a company fully understand the business, and therefore we are carrying out 100 per cent of the turbine operations in-house, with a 50/50 maintenance relationship with the turbine supplier. This will put us in the position to produce as much energy as environmental and climate conditions will allow,” he adds.
To this end WindMW is working with a number of industry partners including Ambau GmbH, Seajacks UK Ltd, and turbine constructors Siemens. Elaborating on why WindMW chose this particular turbine technology, Jens says: “When we started the project there were around 1000 Siemens turbines out in the North Sea, so they have the best and longest track record in this market and are often referred to as the ‘workhorse of the North Sea’. In terms of our contractual relationships, these turbines also have the biggest balance sheet which provides a lot of security to all involved parties. Initially we were looking at 400 MW’s total production using five MW turbines, but we decided to reduce this to 288 MW from 3.6 MW turbines as this enabled us to use proven monopile technology in the construction. Unfortunately there are only around three or four wind farms in Germany where it is possible to use monopiles due to the water depths and soil conditions, so we were keen to taken advantage of proven techniques that were readily available and well respected in the market.”
Having established WindMW as a company, hired the in-house teams, completed the contracts and secured financing, the business is now entering into the construction phase of Meerwind. Construction of the foundations has a start date of 1st September 2012, with the installation of the turbines beginning 1st April 2013. WindMW is hopeful of having all 80 turbines in place by the end of 2013. However whilst the wind properties of the North Sea make it an attractive location for wind farm construction, and indeed the Meerwind site is one of the most promising emerging areas in Germany, these same conditions can cause challenges in construction.
“One of the biggest influences upon the work schedule is the North Sea weather,” confirms Jens. “Whilst generally summer months are quite good, we will be starting construction in September ahead of the winter, and so a lot of our planning will be driven by the weather. We’re also facing some challenges in ensuring that we co-ordinate the delivery of our two vessels, and the DC grid connectors we need to feed into the German power grid. In this respect though we have built in certain time buffers to enable us to accommodate any unexpected issues.”
Although each individual wind farm project has its own special purpose company to oversee it, such as WindMW, the team is considering further options to expand its energy output going forward and helping to meet government renewable energy targets. “The Blackstone Group has brought a second 64-turbine project, which we are currently preparing to explore after Meerwind, including soil investigation tests over the next few months. The strategy is to really step into the wind farm business, and if there are other opportunities to buy such projects we will consider these as overall we would like to build a portfolio of approximately 1000 MW to the market,” concludes Jens.