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With Much of the World’s Economy Slowed Down, Green Energy Powers On

by ace
With Much of the World’s Economy Slowed Down, Green Energy Powers On

After a two-hour boat trip from Lowestoft, a seaside town on the east coast of England, giant windmills over five hundred meters high hovered in the fog like huge sea creatures. At the top of the towers, technicians in red and black helmets and protective clothing were visible, adjusting the machines and connecting them to the British power system.

Britain has been in various stages of blocking since March, but work on this wind farm, called East Anglia One, has moved on.

But in the beginning, the companies behind the 2.5 billion pound ($ 3.1 billion) project were not so sure.

As the coronavirus was gaining momentum across Europe, managers stopped one day in late March to consider whether the advance made sense. New health and safety measures would inevitably drain resources.

“We had to do a check and say, ‘OK, should the project continue?’ and we ask ourselves with a very open mind, ”said Charlie Jordan, project director at Iberdrola, the Spanish company that develops the project.

The answer was “yes”. Work resumed the next day and did not stop.

The consequences of the coronavirus pandemic are causing many companies, and the oil and gas industry in particular has been shaken by falling prices that have forced it to drastically reduce production and lay off workers.

But clean energy producers are struggling to get their projects up and running. They want to start making money from their investments as quickly as possible, and although demand for electricity has been reduced by the impact of the virus, renewable energy tends to beat polluting sources in electricity systems, due to low costs and regulatory rules. favorable.

While the teams were fixing the huge turbines on the seabed on the English coast in April, Iberdrola started producing energy from what it says is Europe’s largest solar energy facility in western Spain.

Jordan, an offshore project manager, said he and his colleagues thought they could take steps to keep the risks under control. Among other things, contractors hired vacation huts and reached agreements with hotels near Lowestoft, the base of operations, so that they could house some of the offshore workers there and keep them isolated. Workers were taken by boat to the wind farm for 12-hour day and night shifts.

So far, no one working on the project has been ill with the coronavirus, according to Jordan.

All 102 turbines are now installed in an area about 40 kilometers from the coast. The nearly 250-foot blades on top of these monsters can generate enough energy to supply about 600,000 homes, according to the company.

The demand for equipment for these projects is putting pressure on equipment manufacturers to keep their factories up and running. Vestas Wind Systems, for example, is striving to maintain a global network that includes plants in Colorado, China, Denmark and other places widely open to serve a record first-quarter order portfolio of 34.1 billion euros for its giant mills and services of electricity generation.

“We started differently, saying, ‘We will not use the Covid-19 excuse,'” “said Henrik Andersen, chief executive of Vestas, based in Denmark.

Vestas also points to a variety of measures taken to keep workers safe. In its factory in Denmark that produces barriers, the chambers at the top of the turbines, safety measures are visible, especially in the canteen. Meals now come in prepared dishes, not buffet style, and employees eat in shifts to reduce the crowd. People sit diagonally across from each other at tables.

“It’s weird to have to keep your distance from your co-workers when you’re so used to being around,” said Julie Noesgaard, who packs the pieces for shipping.

The pandemic is certainly creating obstacles for these companies. Vestas said that in the first quarter, issues such as delays in obtaining components and changes in work procedures added 10 million euros or $ 10.8 million in costs, contributing to a loss of 80 million euros. The company said it was suspending guidelines for the year.

Markus Tacke, who until recently served as executive director of Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, which produced the turbines in East Anglia, said during a call with reporters that the dire health situation in Italy and travel restrictions in India this year prevented him from signing two contracts, although he assumed the deals would be concluded later. .

The green energy sector has bad memories of the 2008 and 2009 financial crisis, which proved to be a major setback. Vestas was forced to close or sell a dozen factories and to evict a third of its workforce when orders fell. Other manufacturers were also shaken.

Analysts say that while the renewable energy sector is not immune to the effects of the pandemic, it is likely to do better this time.

“The prospect of renewable sources looks really tough, despite all the restrictions at Covid,” said Sam Arie, public services analyst at UBS, an investment bank. “We saw some companies with small interruptions,” he added. “But, in relation to other sectors, the impacts here were very limited.”

  • Updated 30 June 2020

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