Danish Wind Pioneer Keeps Battling Climate Change

The modern wind industry has produced hundreds of thousands of spinning rotors that generate electricity without emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, most of which originated in Denmark’s infamous Jutland region.

Nearly fifty years ago, after the oil embargo of 1973 cut off energy supplies to much of the West, inventors and machinists began learning about how to harness the winds that blow across this flat expanse that separates the North Sea from the islands. It was here that I started comparing notes. Rest of Denmark. Countless people have played a role in improving the machines that litter coastlines, plains and mountain ridges, but none have been more influential than a Jutlander named Henrik Stisdal.

As a young man of 21, he built a rudimentary machine to generate electricity for his parents’ farm. He later co-designed a revolutionary 3-blade turbine, setting the stage for a multi-billion dollar global industry. With around 1,000 patents for his inventions, Mr. Stiesdal is widely recognized as a pioneer in exactly this Danish field.

At 66, he’s far from over. After decades of working for some of the wind energy giants, Stiesdal has incorporated his ideas into the startup that bears his name, providing clean, affordable energy and helping to tackle climate change. Seeking innovative methods.

At a factory in Gibb, a small town near the center of Jutland, workers with welding tools prepare to fabricate the massive tetrahedral structure that will serve as the foundation for a floating wind turbine. This was designed by Mr. Steesdal. Made of tubes, it resembles a giant Lego toy. It is partially submerged and covers approximately two American football fields.

Nearby, engineers test a machine that looks like stacks of cafeteria trays. This is a new design of the electrolyser, a device that takes water and extracts hydrogen gas from it, which is gaining increasing attention as an alternative to fossil fuels.

Two hours north is another product in development. It is an industrial oven that burns farm waste such as manure and straw. This prevents the carbon content from being released into the atmosphere to form carbon dioxide. It’s carbon capture in action.

“It turns out that it’s not just talk,” Steesdal said of climate change. “We promised to do something.”

Tall, outspoken, and unafraid to experiment with potentially explosive hydrogen in his basement, Stisdal bets that a suite of technologies will help cut greenhouse gas emissions significantly. He also wants to ensure that Denmark and other Nordic countries remain at the forefront of increasing investment in the transition from fossil fuels to other energy sources.

At a time when the Nordic renewable energy industry is in decline, Stisdal is leading the way. The region’s major wind turbine makers, including his former employer Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, are struggling due to rising costs and slow project approvals. The worry is that the Chinese manufacturers that long ago established their dominance in making solar panels will do the same with wind power.

Stiesdal has raised about $100 million for his company, Stiesdal, using a small group of investors. His family owns approximately 20% of the company, which employs 125 people. To keep costs down and expand his reach, he primarily plans to license new products and allow others to build them.

Investors say they like Steesdal’s combination of technical intelligence and focus on cost savings. “He also has a deep understanding of the business,” said Torben Moger Pedersen, CEO of Pension Denmark, which manages retirement benefits for 800,000 workers and is one of Steesdal’s biggest investors. We have, which means he can attract money like we do.”

Stisdal is looking to rediscover the creative spark that has played a world-leading role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, largely driven by the wind, over the past half-century in Jutland and Denmark.

In Jutland, in the 1970s, many young Danes experimented with wind power as a counterculture kick spurred by the high energy costs of the 1973 oil embargo, but they despised it. It was also used as an alternative to the nuclear power that was being used.

“We wanted to go to Jutland and create a greener world,” said Eric Grove Nielsen, an early manufacturer of wind turbine blades.

Stisdal’s distaste for fossil fuels began when he was 19 when he took a bicycle trip to England and found himself riding for hours through clouds of smoke billowing from power plants. rice field.

“I felt strongly that this was not right,” he said.

In the late 1970s, he and blacksmith Karl-Eric Jorgensen (died 1982) designed a wind turbine for a local company, then a crane manufacturer, now called Vestas Wind Systems. Their machine combined many ideas in what became known as the “Danish Concept”. It had three blades and an “air brake” to keep it from going out of control, a common hazard. They also designed the device to keep facing directly into the wind for maximum energy yield.

At the time, Vestas was experimenting with an inefficient two-blade prototype. The three-blade machine, which will reach his €14.5 billion (about $16 billion) in 2022 sales, is now the cornerstone of Vestas, the world’s leading turbine maker.

After taking time out between university and Vestas consulting, Mr. Stiesdal joined his second company in Jutland. This company later became an industry giant and now he is called Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy. He has led technological breakthroughs like the one-piece casting of blades and has evolved wind turbines from relatively small structures for farms to towers with blades that he has over 300 feet.

Stephan Poulsen, who leads the design of the new turbine at Siemens Gamesa, said:

Perhaps Stisdal’s most sustained breakthrough was taking the industry out to sea in 1991 with the construction of the world’s first offshore wind farm. This was a relatively modest project in shallow waters near Bindeby, Denmark. Vast numbers of offshore turbines are now a common sight along many coastlines and a major source of renewable electricity.

This innovation has helped develop two of the world’s largest renewable energy developers in Denmark. Orsted, owner of the Vindeby wind farm, and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, the private company managing €19 billion.

Orsted CEO Mads Nipper said:

Since stepping down as Siemens Gamesa’s Chief Technology Officer, Stiesdal has been looking for new ways to succeed. One area: floating turbines that can operate in deeper waters than traditional wind farms. Floaters offer a much greater spread from the ocean to wind power, but they are more expensive to install because they are not produced on assembly lines. Mr. Steesdall is trying to change that.

Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners helped fund a prototype floating base designed by Stiesdal to support the turbines, with a view to using his design on future projects, including off the coast of Eureka in Northern California. Did.

Torsten Smed, co-founder and senior partner at Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, said: To remain competitive despite Denmark’s high labor costs, the company uses robots and other technology to manufacture these structures in Jutland for a planned wind farm off the coast of Scotland. doing.

Together with researchers from the Technical University of Denmark, Steesdal is also developing electrolysers aimed at reducing the high costs of producing so-called green hydrogen without emissions. Climate experts and businessmen say hydrogen will likely be needed to power heavy industries such as steel and possibly vehicles such as planes and trucks.

While his electrolyser is still in the shakedown stage, Stiesdal has a preliminary agreement with India-based energy giant Reliance Industries to build the equipment.

He’s also building an expanded version of his carbon capture device, SkyClean, which uses heat to turn agricultural waste into something like charcoal pellets, permanently trapping the carbon and preventing it from returning to the atmosphere. increase.

Stiesdal’s company, like many start-ups, is losing money but hopes to be profitable by next year, he said. He believes the technology he’s fostering is well-suited to a small country like Denmark, with a population of just under six million, so it has a good chance of success.

The products aren’t particularly high-tech or labor-intensive, he said, relying on a hands-on approach and a well-educated workforce generated by a widely accessible university system.

“In many ways it’s similar to what I did as a pioneer 45 years ago,” he said.

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