We are in the midst of an all-pervasive supply chain problem - how do you think it should be addressed?
The first thing to be addressed is the need for collaboration. One industry that has done this very well in the past is the automotive industry, they have created a market where each player has become the champion of a determinate compound. This is a model that we have tried to apply in our field, but it is yet to become the norm. I also think that as an industry we should spend more time optimizing the technology we already have, rather than launching new things. We kept introducing new models at very high speed, in detriment to the actual optimization of our current tools.
Why is there a tendency to bring new products to market instead of making better what is already there?
That was a way of showing commitment and trying to catch up with the lower cost of fossil fuels. We are there now - wind is the cheapest source of energy. The way the industry grew was necessary but the next 20 years will be different. Speed of introduction should slow down, and the quality of what we have should be improved.
Despite the strong promises for growth in the sector, you claim it suffers a lack of both profitability and visibility. Why?
There are clear factors such as inflation and rising costs that create caution surrounding investment. We are also seeing significant disruptions in supply chains and logistics. In this environment especially we need visibility, which customers cannot always provide because of lack of policy certainty, permitting delays, and related factors.
This has been a problem for every company. Our solution was to give visibility to our suppliers which in turn gave them confidence to invest and collaborate with us. We have implemented this transparency and collaboration at ground level, too, inviting suppliers to work with our team in our factories. With respect to long-term profitability, regional supply is key, but this too is connected to visibility. If we have good relationships with suppliers and offer visibility of upcoming projects, they are more amenable to accepting orders, and may help with saving costs.
There have been many questions concerning the disposal of used blades for turbines and the sustainability of the renewables sector. Your project, ZEBRA, aims to use 100% recyclable turbine blades. What are other ways you are trying to make LM Windpower more sustainable?
We have already produced fully recyclable blades, currently under testing. Regarding the sustainability of our company, we are already carbon neutral, but of course waste remains a key concern, both upstream and downstream. The ZEBRA project concerns the downstream, i.e. at the end of the blades’ lifespan, which involves recycling and reusing the material for something else. However, we are committed to more than this, looking at the upstream waste, too, i.e. our own design and manufacturing process, setting a target that by 2030 our blades are entirely zero-waste. The improvement is measurable: in 2020 we recycled 27% of our waste, in 2021 this increased to 40%.
Another significant fact is the repowering opportunities of these ventures. If solutions are not found with respect to waste-management, the burden of landfill continues to grow, dissuading customers and negatively impacting the business.
What are your priorities for the near future?
A clear priority for the business is continual optimization. Simply, people will always want longer, lighter, and more efficient blades. We are constantly trying to improve each element of the blade and its life-cycle, innovation from early design.
The process of manufacturing itself also requires innovation. Blades manufacturing is still an extremely labor-intensive process. More automation is needed – this does not mean replacing people with robots, but rather using machines for work that requires higher precision.
In fact, there is a feedback loop of required innovation. As materials improve, the manufacturing process must adjust - and as manufacturing improves, new possibilities are presented for our designs. It is this innovation which drives improvement and allows us to continue to push new milestones and remain the pioneers of the field
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