Outlining Deutsche Windtechnik's approach
Brandt's passion for the renewables business was evident before he started his career. In 1999, he decided to do his masters in wind farm development focusing on large-scale wind farms. Then after managing several wind technology servicing units he joined Deutsche Windtechnik in 2004 becoming director of the Management Board in 2007.
Established around 15 years ago, Deutsche Windtechnik was one of the pioneering, dedicated servicing companies in the wind industry and amongst the very first providers to broaden its portfolio offshore.
Offshore activities started in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium with ad hoc projects carrying out metmast inspections and corrosion protection jobs. But in 2013 the Bremen-based company decided it really wanted to boost its presence offshore and it set up its own dedicated firm 'Deutsche Windtechnik Offshore und Consulting GmbH' and then things really took off.
Even at this stage in the industry's development Brandt still believes true service companies are hard to find in the industry. Deutsche Windtechnik defines itself as a service company and crucially, he is keen to point out, it is an independent.
"Of course it depends on your definition of maintenance and services. But we take care of everything technically speaking after the turbine is installed. This ranges from the wind turbine - control unit, nacelle, rotor and foundation - the largest components, through to tiny electronic parts to the entire substation. Additionally, if customers require we can have a consultancy role and advise which turbines should be deployed and what Operations & Maintenance package is suitable. We carry out quality checks, support the customer in the pre-commissioning stage or offer full service maintenance."
Modular service portfolio
The Deutsche Windtechnik business model is a modular one. "Customers can choose what they want," he says. This modular approach reflects the different customers in the market. "There are the institutional investors which may have one or two wind farms, the traditional conventional power plant owners, the mid-sized utilities... all of whom have different needs - some want to do some of the work themselves, while others are happy to outsource their entire servicing activities."
With 13 major offshore projects in its current portfolio, it is evident that the offshore sector is firmly in its sights and the company is targeting further growth here. Efforts to get closer to its customers in all the major 'wind energy countries' of Europe can be seen from several strategic moves made in the last twelve months.
In July last year Deutsche Windtechnik established an office in Edinburgh, Scotland and strengthened its on-site staff. This followed a deal with ScottishPower Renewables (SPR) whereby it was awarded a contract for the maintenance of one of the largest onshore wind farms in the UK - Black Law - and the Beinn an Tuirc 2 wind farm, also in the UK. Black Law comprises 54 Siemens® of type SWT-2.3-82 (CS) turbines and Beinn en Tuirc 2, operational since 2013, includes 19 turbines of the same type.
These agreements represent its first maintenance contracts in the UK. "This represents our first steps onshore in the UK and highlights the 'step by step' approach," he comments. The company believes this also sends a message to the British service market, which had until now largely been dominated by manufacturers. "Independent service providers can offer a real alternative and can compete with the services of the manufacturers."
UK expansion offshore
Undoubtedly, the company is gearing up for further expansion in the UK and developing the infrastructure to operate throughout the country. A new central warehouse is also in the planning.
At the end of 2015, Deutsche Windtechnik AG set up two new European companies - Deutsche Windtechnik BV in the Netherlands and Deutsche Windtechnik ApS in Denmark. These have largely been established to serve the offshore sector initially, although the company aims to expand into onshore wind in the future.
Then in March this year, there were moves to further emphasise its growing European presence when it decided to rebrand its Spanish subsidiary General Power Services S.L. (GPS) to Deutsche Windtechnik S.L. The Spanish company has been part of the Group since November 2014. The Deutsche Windtechnik brand is now recognisable in Spain but also right across southern Europe, adds Mr Brandt.
And Deutsche Windtechnik isn't ruling out any possibilities when it comes to further expansion. "We are open to everything - acquisitions, partners, we did this in Spain, but of course the price has to be right! We are open for cooperation but as you can see for the most part - 80/90 per cent of the time we like to develop things ourselves.
Getting close to the customers is seen as vital to realise the level of quality the company wants to achieve, he stresses. "We then have the speed and flexibility. Our management, service teams and storage sites are operated close to the clients and the supported wind parks.
"Generally, in the next two to three years I think wind will be a bit slower than originally expected but as an independent service provider - particularly in the UK - it will be very interesting. The UK is a new market for us and certainly we will be looking to enter the offshore market as well in 2017/18."
As well as expanding geographically, being able to offer a full service portfolio is also vital. And this year Deutsche Windtechnik 'filled the gap' in its offering.
"This is essentially why we bought the Ballast Nedam offshore wind portfolio - this was the last milestone needed - the underwater competence."
In March, Deutsche Windtechnik finalised a deal with the Dutch-listed construction company Ballast Nedam N.V., which covered the maintenance of the foundations and cables for the offshore wind farms Westermeerwind in the IJsselmeer and Butendiek, Luchterduinen and Prinses Amalia Wind Farm in the North Sea. The company also took on the civil engineers from Ballast Nedam responsible for parts of the project management for the service work in the wind farm.
"This purchase, with these four projects and the qualified personnel significantly expands
our expertise in the area of the maintenance and repair of offshore foundations and underwater inspections." Following the move, the company is now in a position to provide comprehensive single-source service for offshore wind power plants above and below the waterline, he stresses.
The new Dutch company, Deutsche Windtechnik B.V., based in Utrecht is responsible for these activities. This company now maintains over 315 support and foundation structures in the North Sea. The company is also responsible for various service tasks in the fields of underwater cabling (maintenance of the subsea cable protection system), corrosion protection (impressed current cathodic protection ICCP) and underwater inspections of the seabed, welding seams and inspection of the foundation structures. It can provide service packages for the machine, transition piece, offshore substation, corrosion protection, cable/grid and now, for the foundations as well.
Offering the whole portfolio enables the company to coordinate site-specific service packages with one another and there are many synergies, for example for logistics and personnel requirements. "These synergies allow us to be more efficient and reduce costs, which can then be passed on to the customer."
Certainly Deutsche Windtechnik's approach appears to be paying off. Just taking offshore alone, this year it has added a number of major wind farms to its customer base.
In 2016 the company has started servicing Eneco's Luchterduinen, whereby it carries out above water foundation inspection, including coating, bolt tensioning, cable surveys, burial depth assessments, scour surveys and corrosion protection measurements.
For Vattenfall's Sandbank Deutsche Windtechnik is responsible for manufacturing and construction supervision.
At Nordergründe (wpd AG) it has a broad ranging role, with activities including the project management during the building, production and commissioning stages, technical management, diver coordination, logistics (management of CTV crew transfer vessels), basic structural maintenance and OSS, in addition to anticorrosion work, underwater work and QHSE management.
Then for Siemens' Westermeerwind it is handling the above water/subsea inspections of the foundations, ROV inspections, cable surveys, depth of burial assessments, scour surveys and platform cleaning.
Maintaining quality vital
But while Deutsche Windtechnik is seeing robust growth, 20-30 per cent a year, it does recognise it absolutely has to maintain its service quality, which it sees as its major USP.
"One of our strengths is that we are not stock listed so we don't have pressure to earn high profits immediately. Decisions can be taken without such intense pressure. So we have stable growth. However, we must ensure our quality! This means we must hire the right people, educate them, retain them and there is sometimes the worry that we may not be able to do this and it could limit our growth."
"It is always a challenge to get good people and to encourage them to stay with us, but we have flexibility, we can give them a great job and plenty of support. We know their problems and what they need as tools to do their jobs to the required quality levels."
"Overall, I think we are much better prepared than bigger companies. Quality is our advantage. We are not always the cheapest, but very low rates can often lead to problems later on if operators haven't invested in quality in the first place. I would say we are the right partner, with the right price and right quality!"
This article first appeared in the third 2016 edition of the Offshore WIND Magazine.