Leading innovation center for offshore wind
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Leading innovation center for offshore wind

Offshore wind farms are a distant concept, which is why Milan Vogelaar is pleased that the Offshore Wind Innovation Center
(OWIC) has been given the green light. His company Stark Learning is one of the project partners. 'This new platform in Eemshaven contributes to visibility of the promising offshore wind world and helps drive innovation. The focus on training and education is an important one here, because of the great need for technical specialists in this sector.'

In addition to Stark Learning, there are nine other northern SME companies that are substantive and financial partners in the OWIC project. Between colleagues such as Delftechniek, Hijsspecialist, Hulst Innovation Cable Equipment and Rope Access Noord, Stark, as a specialist in online learning, forms a connecting link with the knowledge institutions involved. The OWIC project - initiated by NNOW, see bottom of this page - also involves Hanzehogeschool, Noorderpoort, University of Groningen and Saxion University of Applied Sciences. Indeed, one of the major challenges is to focus educational programs to train specialists for technical offshore wind work.

Smart and innovative maintenance

'The greatest opportunities for the Northern Netherlands within the international wind sector lie in Operations & Maintenance and that requires - in addition to innovation - a targeted influx of professionals,' states Wytze Rijke, director of the Technology Center North Netherlands (TCNN), also a partner in the OWIC project. 'It is ambitious what we want. In consultation, we have chosen five central themes in which we can make a difference from our region. These are: 1) cable maintenance, 2) bolting - this is about the quality of bolted connections, which have a major impact on the life of wind turbines, 3) remote operations & (predictive) maintenance - in other words, remote operation and predictable maintenance, 4) cleaning
and repair of rotor blades, and 5) energy generation from wave action around the turbines, plus storing and balancing energy flows.'

'Based on these five points, we are going to concretely innovate and expand,' continues Wytze. 'Basically, we already have a lot going on in the northern region; now it's a matter of business development, research, further development, testing and training. This is what we are focusing the work packages within the OWIC on, so that we can take specific steps over the next three years. Eemshaven has already proven itself as an operating base for the construction of offshore wind farms thanks to its favorable location; we are now going to show that more can be gained from the economic life of the wind turbines through smart and innovative use and maintenance. To reduce maintenance costs and keep the turbines operating optimally, the challenge is to work remotely as much as possible. This requires innovation, while at the same time we need good professionals who can both work in the field and are trained in high-tech remote techniques.

Leading innovation center for offshore wind

Adventure sector

This is precisely why the involvement of Stark Learning, which is adept at e-learning, serious games and VR training for the technical sector, is so valuable. They can make the offshore experience digitally tangible in training courses and, together with the knowledge institutions involved, scrutinize the curriculum for dedicated wind courses. Milan: "Offshore wind technology is incredibly fascinating and adventurous and is what we are also going to make visible ashore with the OWIC. In the technical sector there are shortages of specialists everywhere, so it is important for the wind sector to be prominent and to make students enthusiastic. In the future we will do more and more of our offshore work remotely with high tech, such as drones and autonomous repair robots. The combination of craftsmanship on location and working remotely with innovative technology is what makes this sector so interesting'.

By working together and purposefully linking business development, research, education and training, the project partners within the OWIC expect to get the wind in their sails. 'Developments in technology are accelerating and there is still plenty of room for innovation, which is why the OWIC umbrella is so valuable,' Milan says. 'Especially with its own facilities in Eemshaven, the innovation center where everything comes together. As the Northern Netherlands, we can become a strong player and, as a dot on the horizon, I even envision how we can be a guiding country worldwide in training for the wind sector. Although the focus of the OWIC is on prominently fulfilling a supporting role in the offshore wind world and we do that by doing innovative and efficient Operations & Maintenance together.'

From the NNOW cluster, OWIC is putting us even more firmly on the map regarding innovation within the offshore wind sector.
Wim A,B., Project Manager NOM

Being a forerunner

That Milan is so enthusiastically thinking ahead is because he firmly believes in wind energy as a sustainable solution for the future. 'Wind is really an opportunity. That's why I have actively joined the OWIC from Stark. I see the new innovation center as an important booster for an ecosystem that we desperately need in order for the Northern Netherlands to show what we can do for the offshore wind sector.
So much is already happening at the SME companies involved, but through open innovation within the OWIC this can become much bigger. Daring to go big and being proud of what we do here is essential. With our own facilities in the Eemshaven we will soon be able to make that much more tangible. For clients and for future offshore wind technicians.

The wind sector is still relatively young; there is much more potential. And we can be a pioneer in that development. The importance of promotion and knowledge exchange is also stressed by Wytze from the TCNN. 'That is one of the important tasks of the OWIC. We want to make clear in our own region, but certainly also internationally, where our focus lies. Countries like Denmark and Germany are particularly big players when it comes to building offshore wind farms, but erecting turbines en masse is only one thing. As the Northern Netherlands, we are going to show you how innovative Operations & Maintenance can make all those wind turbines at sea as sustainable and efficient as possible. And the OWIC gives us the place, the means and the tools to do so.'

Green light for OWIC at Eemshaven

The Offshore Wind Innovation Center (OWIC) is an initiative of the independent business cluster Northern Netherlands Offshore Wind (NNOW), which includes more than 85 SMEs. The NNOW was founded in 2010 to be a full discussion partner for large energy and wind companies. Moreover, the approach was to act jointly in acquisition, promotion, knowledge exchange, R&D, business development and training.

To get more wind under the wings of innovation, but also to train enough qualified people and to take a leading position as the Northern Netherlands in the offshore wind world, the need arose from the NNOW for a concrete cooperation structure with northern knowledge institutions, including appropriate facilities. The OWIC will start in the existing office location Nijlicht in Eemshaven; possible new construction is still being investigated.

The official kick-off of the OWIC took place - largely online - on Oct. 22. The project has been approved by the SNN, has a three-year duration and a budget of €2.6 million. The SNN finances 40 percent of the OWIC, the province of Groningen pays 10 percent and the remaining 50 percent is paid for by the project partners. NOM is involved through NNOW, TCNN and the EU project Inn2POWER, from which the OWIC is part of.