Gemini Wind Park was officially opened in May 2017 at a public ceremony in Eemshaven, the seaport town located in the North of the Netherlands which served as the onshore base from which the major offshore project was delivered. The inauguration resembled the bookend of eight years of exhaustive work by the team and its partners, however Gemini’s CEO Matthias Haag is quick to highlight that while it was a joyous occasion for the team, the real satisfaction was taken when the park first began operations back in October 2016. “The wind park was already running at that time so it was a nice external milestone, but for the team the more important thing was having the wind park running,” says Haag.
“Nonetheless, its important that we had everything formalised with all the t’s crossed and the i’s dotted, making sure that all the documentation is there. We also combined the official opening with a restructuring of the financing as well, which was very positive for the shareholders and the banks.”
Gemini is located in the North Sea around 85 km North of the Dutch coast, boasting a total capacity of 600MW delivered by 150 turbines across two sites – hence the name Gemini, meaning ‘twins’.
The sheer magnitude of this project is revealed by the fact that it became the world’s largest offshore wind project when it came online, and it has only been topped this year by the arrival of the 630MW London Array project, found in waters near the United Kingdom.
Collaboration is key
Haag reveals that collaboration among the team and its partners was absolutely essential to the successful delivery of this era-defining project. “It was a big challenge to get it over the line, but we had a very good team and good partners.
“Van Oord and Siemens were the main contractors, but we also shared good relations with all the other parties involved, be it the operators, or the banks who were financing the whole contract.
“This working together of all parties was the main reason why the project was successful and delivered on time,” says the CEO.
During the construction period, Gemini and its partners employed best in-class technologies to optimise safety and efficiency at the site, for example an automatic identification transponder system (AIS) was used to track the position of each installation and maintenance vessel.
Each ship’s AIS transmitted its position, heading, speed and registered maritime identification number every two to 10 seconds, and this data was received by ships in the vicinity in case of incident.
“Realistically, on a big project like this one you have to admit that things can happen. The question is; are you prepared for that and able to react in the right way?
“We had an in-house team that dealt with HSE safety but also environmental guidelines, health issues and other things. We had a HSE manager and a number of people going offshore in the vessels to work with the contractors in more detail and we had a lot of discussions with the contractors to make sure that all the requirements were understood and going ahead the way they were supposed to.”
Gemini’s size and energy production capacity instantly set a new benchmark for offshore wind projects globally, but it was also the delivery of the project on time and on budget which stretched the industry’s perception of what was possible for an offshore project.
“In terms of the execution and the finance, this was by a distance the biggest project finance of an offshore wind park that took place at the time in 2014,” Haag claims.
“With €2.8 billion secured in funding it was certainly an example of how things can work like that and the government was happy to see that things can progress on time and on budget. Their strategy for the renewable change in energy provision is slowly coming to fruition.”
Global winds of change
Since the landmark Paris climate accord, nearly all recognised governments (bar the US) around the world have agreed to limit the amount of damaging CO₂ emissions released into the atmosphere and increase the generation of renewable energy sources to replace polluting carbon-based energy sources.
Like many European nations, the Dutch government set an individual renewable energy target in the wake of the Paris agreement, however it is struggling to meet its 2020 target of having 14% of its total energy mix supplied by renewables.
This target was agreed with the European Union back in 2007, and was soon followed by an even more ambitious target of 27% renewable energy by 2030. Most recently, this 2030 target was further increased to 32% in June this year.
Therefore, the Dutch government has a mountain to climb if it wants to meet these ambitious targets and will need many more onshore and offshore wind projects of the same magnitude as Gemini, which reduces reducing CO₂ emissions by 1.25 million tonnes per year.
“Gemini alone provides enough power for the energy needs of the three Northern provinces of the Netherlands. These big projects do make a difference and you can see that the Dutch government is planning multiple large MW projects to be added in the coming years.”
In fact, the government recently announced plans to build three offshore wind farms by 2030, in addition to five offshore sites which will be delivered before 2023. The government hopes that these large-scale projects will produce 40% of the country’s electricity needs by 2030.
While acting as a stimulus for these future offshore projects, the Gemini project has also contributed to warming public sentiments towards renewable energy in the Netherlands and this was encapsulated by the public reaction to the development in the local Eemshaven region.
“All interaction we had with the public was very positive,” reveals Haag. “People were very positive about Gemini and the fact that it happened.
“On the other hand, you have to understand that the entire wind park is beyond the horizon so for the general public it is not visible at all. All they could see was the onshore activity with the preparation at the harbour.”
The Gemini team held an open day in Eemshaven where members of the public were given a tour of the onshore facilities and were also taken in small vessels to see the turbines onsite. The day was deemed a big success, with attendance far exceeding expectations prior to the event.
A key reason for the successful reception of the project by the public was the fact that it provided significant short-term and long-term economic opportunities in the local area. “Siemens made sure they employed people from the region in their ship which is now 24/7 in the field, operating and maintaining the wind turbines.”
This lasting positive economic impact of the project, along with the Gemini team’s proactive approach to stakeholder management, has gone a long way to ensuring the legacy of the wind park remains protected over the next 20 years.
A strong start to life
During its first 12 months of operation, Gemini consistently delivered on its capacity despite it being a ‘bad wind year’, according to Haag. “But in terms of availability and functionality of the wind park, we are very happy and are having higher than agreed availability, which is being achieved on a consistent basis.”
With a current lifetime of 20 years, Gemini resembles a significant long-term source of renewable energy for the Dutch government, as the country looks to diversify its energy supply and align with EU green energy goals.
The wind park will continue operating profitably beyond the current 15-year subsidy tariff it has agreed with the government, an idea that was deemed impossible by the wind industry not long ago.
This reflects the pace of change currently afoot in the wind industry, as zero subsidy projects become more prevalent, costs continue to fall and technological improvements drive the industry forward.
“I think it’s an extremely important time for offshore. We have seen so much growth recently, but I think we are still at the start the real growth is still to come.
“If you look at what is happening in Taiwan, India, China, Turkey, the French have finally decided they are going ahead with something, the Belgians are building, the UK and Germany still have big plans. Even the US has started planning some offshore farms.
“Looking around the world, offshore wind is taking off everywhere and if you look at a recent forecast from Bloomberg, they have predicted six-fold growth by 2030 which is hugely exciting and there is a lot of happening. We have only seen the start of offshore wind and the big industrial change or revolution is just beginning.”