Applied innovation, that's how SMEs in the Northern Netherlands can positively distinguish themselves in the offshore wind industry. An inspiring example is Hulst Innovation Cable Equipment (HICE) in Westeremden, which is linking up with the offshore wind supply chain around the North Sea region through the EU project Inn2Power.
In the middle of the beautiful outskirts of the Groningen village of Westeremden, Tjark Hulst's company is recognizable by the windmill and a packed driveway with technical company buses. The innovative cable installations that HICE designs and builds for the offshore industry need space, which is why the entrepreneur recently purchased additional business premises in Appingedam. 'With a team of now twenty people and an increasing order portfolio, we are outgrowing our premises,' says Hulst. 'We have reached the limit of expansion here, which is why we are moving part of our production to Appingedam. That gives us space here to continue to focus on product development.'
Continuing to improve products, coming up with new ideas and finding practical solutions is in the company's genes. This innovative drive makes HICE a valuable party within the Inn2Power project. 'That is what you need as an industry,' says Dirk Jan Hummel of Technology Center North Netherlands (TCNN), who has been engaged by the NOM as one of the project leaders. 'For offshore wind farms to run efficiently, a professional supply chain is needed, and innovative, practical SME companies like HICE are essential links in this. The challenge is to get a good picture of these companies and we are successfully doing that together here in the Northern Netherlands'.
Northern Netherlands wind cluster
It began in 2010 with the establishment of Northern Netherlands Offshore Wind (NNOW), at the initiative of NOM, Energy Valley and the Noord-Holland Noord Development Company. 'The approach was to form a cluster of companies, in order to be a full discussion partner for large energy and wind companies,' explains Wim A,B. of the NOM. 'In addition to joint acquisition and promotion, attention was paid to knowledge exchange, R&D, business development and training qualified personnel. This worked so well that as of 2017, the cluster started to function as an independent NNOW group, with now some eighty member SMEs.'
In addition to the Netherlands, there are of course more countries in the North Sea region that can and want to contribute to the development of the offshore wind industry. More than two years ago, therefore, the European project Inn2Power was set up, in which German, Danish, Belgian and English regions also participate. 'What we first did only in our own region with NNOW, we are now also doing on an international level,' the project leaders tell us. 'Through this upscaling, we are strengthening the SME clusters around the North Sea region. We are doing this by stimulating and supporting new partnerships, working out innovative concepts and giving SMEs access to test and demo facilities in the offshore wind industry.'
Entrepreneur Tjark Hulst has been involved with the NNOW group from the beginning, and he sees Inn2Power as a logical next step. 'We are better at developing than marketing our machines and services. Joining a cluster like this is important to link our knowledge, experience and products to the issues in the offshore wind industry. We offer practical solutions, but we also see things ourselves that could be smarter and more sustainable. Within the Inn2Power alliance, it is easier to pitch our ideas about this and make connections with possible cooperation partners and clients.'
HERE IN THE NORTHERN NETHERLANDS WE ARE ESPECIALLY STRONG IN FACILITIES BELOW SEA LEVEL
One of the niches in which HICE excels is the flooding and storage of large cables, for which they design so-called turntables and accessories. Given the huge cable networks required for offshore wind farms, these large steel turntables are an essential facility. 'These types of products are large and relatively heavy, but we make them suitable for transport through low water,' says Hulst.
'Something that is necessary if you have to transport cabling to and from land via shallow water. We therefore design ever more efficient and lighter. Moreover, we have developed a smart MCS system for service and maintenance, where spare cables are stored tension-free and can be deployed quickly and easily in case of repairs.'
HICE - in addition to partnerships within the Northern Netherlands itself - has already established a few international lines through Inn2Power, such as with an engineering firm in Bremen that is good at strength calculations. 'The mutual trade missions and B2B matchmaking activities organized from Inn2Power are slowly beginning to bear fruit,' the gentlemen note. 'It is really about long-term vision. This project is the start of a whole new supply chain. At this stage, innovative ideas are desperately needed to make that offshore wind industry work well, sustainable and affordable.'
The goal of Inn2Power is that by 2020 the member regions will have set up a total of fifteen cross-border cooperation projects leading to innovative products and services. This could be for the development phase (from measurements to engineering), for the construction phase (from the turbines themselves to the foundations and cables) or for the operational phase (inspection and maintenance). 'Here in the Northern Netherlands we are especially strong in the facilities below sea level,' Hummel and A,B note. 'So each region has its own strengths and within Inn2Power we are combining them to the full. From the NOM, together with the TCNN, we ensure that we create a good database of SMEs, make analyses and provide networking tools. Other than that, it is up to the entrepreneurs themselves, which is why we are proud of gems like HICE.