Tell us about your journey creating and developing Smart Blade.
We started in 2002 developing hydraulic power packs to control the pitch system of wind turbines. In 2009 we founded Smart Blade and shifted our focus; instead of working on new turbines, we decided to concentrate on existing ones.
Turbines started growing in size very rapidly but their efficiency was not ideal because of poor aerodynamics. Hence, we decided to improve such problems through add-on elements. This is how the idea of designing the best-in-class Vortex Generator was born - an add-on element added on the root-section that improves efficiency. By 2012 we started producing them, collaborating with 3M for the adhesive technology, and tests revealed that efficiency can go up by 3%.
How is the 1-3% of added efficiency by the Vortex Generator reflected in numbers?
In our most recent project with thirteen turbines retrofitted with Smart Blade Vortex Generators, we discovered an additional 2.1% in power generation. This equates to an annual increase of 1,740,848 kilowatt hours, resulting in a reduction in CO2 emissions of 1,250 metric tons or 21,000 trees planted.
In terms of revenue, if we were to take a small one megawatt turbine and increase production by 1% in the 300.000 existing turbines worldwide, we would gain an additional EUR 1 billion.
Keep in mind that we are currently achieving over 2% with our Vortex Generators, and turbines today are typically three or four megawatts, so this is a conservative estimate.
These are promising numbers. Do you find the German Government supportive of your efforts?
Not really, there are no policies in place to help us advance faster. We would welcome that and the country would benefit from a massive increase in terms of AEP (annual energy production). Instead, we must go through numerous procedures and waste potential energy every day that they are not used.
Generally speaking we are in a position where we still need to prove ourselves although nearly 4.000 turbines have already been upgraded with our performance-enhancing elements. Let me give you an example: Smart Blade is now collaborating with EDF in the US, which has thousands of turbines. We estimate that Smart Blade is increasing their production by 2,5%. Even with these positive figures, when we first talked they opted for a test-period which took over two years. We used a machine learning tool to carry it out, showed EDF it could be done, and only then they chose to go forward with the collaboration. Creating and producing such a useful tool is not enough, it is also our responsibility to rigorously prove that it works, which takes time. The numbers are promising, but the wind industry is very conservative.
How has the market reacted to these add-ons, is there a good appetite to integrate them?
Producers tend to focus on the size of their turbines, which does affect the energy production more than that 1-3%. This is changing though - with the 2008 crisis, less new turbines were bought because they were so expensive, and add-ons proved an excellent solution to increase production. Nowadays some of the OEMs implement add-ons from the get go, alongside other solutions we offer such as Serrations, which helps decrease noise pollution. I expect further growth now that the financial viability of the wind sector has increased.
You mentioned briefly collaborating with industry peers; in what ways do you work together more specifically?
Smart Blade is an engineering company based in Germany so access to the global market can be challenging. This is where a partner like Vestas comes in - they are one of the biggest turbine manufacturers in the world, so when they expressed interest in our product we were happy to engage. They gave us access to the world, a cost that would have been too high to carry by ourselves.
The collaboration with 3M was particularly important because we knew Smart Blade needed to create a durable product, and for that we needed access to their adhesive material. Now, thanks to our collaboration, 3M US is selling our product to their customers. Again, this expansion of our business would be unimaginable without collaboration.
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