Article - Greenbyte

April 28, 2020 — Customer Stories

Swedish utility Varberg Energi calls on Greenbyte to support pioneering spirit

Three decades ago, Varberg Energi built the first wind farm in Sweden, and it is now looking to build the world’s first wind turbine with a wooden tower. We talk to Varberg technician Alexander Hermansson about how data supports its current innovation, as well as day-to-day operations.

Caroline Mizael
Director of Marketing, Greenbyte

Swedish city Varberg occupies a special place in the country’s wind power history. In 1991, municipal utility Varberg Energi built the first wind farm in Sweden, made up of seven Vestas 225kW turbines. That project was operational until 2015 – and helping take it down was one of the first jobs of technician Alexander Hermansson.

“The turbines were 26 years old and needed quite a lot of renovations,” he explains. “At the same time, we had an opening with a German contact that was buying and selling turbines in Europe. They had a high demand for smaller wind turbines in Italy and Northern Ireland, and we also wanted to renew our own portfolio.”

Varberg Energi is now planning to build a new two-turbine project on the site, and is expecting to receive a permit for that project by the end of May 2020. That will be a high-profile project for the city, due to its prominent location.

“It’s quite close to the highway. It’s in between the highway and the ocean, and there aren’t many people living there but a lot of people see them, from the sea as well.”

The firm is looking to add this to a portfolio that is made up of eight wind farms with a total of 38 turbines and 83.5MW, as well as four hydro plants totalling 7MW and a 2.7MW solar farm. Hermansson is one of two people managing the wind turbines, and its projects range from ten turbines each down to two turbines.

For 36-year-old Hermansson, the wind industry is a longstanding interest.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to work with renewables and wind energy. I’ve been fascinated with it since I was in gymnasium [school for 16- to 18-year-olds],” he says. Varberg is in southwest Sweden, in the middle of an area of strategic significance for Swedish wind including Gothenburg an hour north and Halmstad an hour south.

Now if you travel to Varberg and see a wind turbine then it’s almost certainly one that he looks after.

Managing the portfolio

Varberg Energi is owned by the city municipality but it is run like a private company.

As such, it is tightly woven into the local community. It partners with local companies and private individuals on its wind projects, and those partners would receive power from the project via a power purchase agreement. This means that Varberg Energi owns the equivalent of 21.5 of the 38 turbines in its portfolio.

As a small city, Hermansson says there are limited sites for new developments. Most of Varberg Energi’s projects were completed between 2006 and 2013, which means that 2MW-3MW turbines are the standard, and its last project completed in 2014.

“Since then we haven’t really built anything, but just focused on managing what we have. Around the city and also the region, there’s a lot of wind turbines and there’s not really any more space to build,” he says. Hermansson joined the company in 2015, and says the biggest challenge in those early days was keeping track of the performance data from turbines that were from five competing manufacturers.

“I identified how time-consuming it was to log onto all these different manufacturers’ systems, and also the data you get is in different formats. We spent a lot of time on harmonising the data so we could make comparisons between the turbines.”

As a result, he was tasked in 2016 with finding a third-party system that could collate the data from all the different turbines in one place. The utility joined the Greenbyte Platform in 2017, and Hermansson says it has made a measurable difference: “It’s very helpful to have a system where you can see all the turbines in one system, and they’re presented in a similar way so you can compare between the sites,” he says.

This was a particular challenge when Varberg Energi was seeking to collate the data it needed to ensure it qualified for environmental permits from authorities in Varberg city and the wide region: “We used to spend two or three weeks every year on this before. Now we do it in one or two hours, and produce all the data that is necessary. That’s one very specific thing, but that is a real saving,” he says.

Data from the platform has helped Varberg Energi in its negotiations with the turbine manufacturers too, particularly in discussions concerning turbine availability.

He says: “We have service contracts on all of our sites so, to follow up on availability, Greenbyte has been a huge help with that as well, just to have a third-party system to compare with the manufacturer’s system. Quite often we would find discrepancies, and this is something else we can show when we come to these meetings.”

Hermansson adds that this has helped Varberg Energi to more than recoup the cost of being on the Greenbyte Platform: “We have definitely made up that cost.”

Day-to-day operations

Away from those larger negotiations, the Greenbyte Platform helps in the day-to-day management of the Varberg Energi portfolio. As part of the two-man team managing the 83.5MW portfolio, the ability to work flexibly is important.

Hermansson does most of his work on the Greenbyte Platform on his laptop on the go:

“A lot of the time I’m out driving between wind farms, or in between meetings, so I take my laptop. Before we had to connect to the wind farms from within our office, but now I’m much more mobile and flexible,” he says.

This is important for a two-person maintenance team: “In such a small organisation when you’re working with the turbines, it’s just me and my colleague, so we need all the flexibility we can have. Anything that saves time is important for us,” he says.

But it would be wrong to see this as a slice of quaint life in a small city. The company is also working on an innovative project that would be a first in the wind industry. It is partnering with wood products company Modvion on a one-turbine development that would feature the world’s first turbine with a wooden tower. The companies said that the 110-metre turbine tower would be the world’s tallest wooden structure.

Hermansson says the concept has strong potential to be rolled out in Sweden, due to the country’s strong forestry industry, but it will mean new variables to monitor.

He says: “It shouldn’t have any big aspects on the operations but, of course, there will be some new aspects to think about, like moisture in the tower, which you don’t care about in the same way today… I think in the first two years we’re going to learn a lot about this new type of construction, since nobody has really done it before.”

Another variable to track will be movement in the tower, which is likely to be packed with a large number of sensors. Varberg Energi and Modvion are currently building a 30-metre tower prototype in Gothenburg, which they are due to test with the Swedish Wind Technology Test Centre for six months before building the full-size version.

Three decades ago, Varberg was at the forefront of innovation in the Swedish wind industry when Varberg Energi installed the country’s first wind farm. With a wooden turbine tower, it may soon be again.

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