In Sight KTR Podcast Episode 15: Wind energy – Where will the journey go (for KTR)?

Julia Ures: “In Sight KTR” is back! Welcome and thank you for joining us today, for watching or listening to us. We are available as a podcast and as a videocast and there are always insights into the company KTR, into very different areas, very different aspects, which we shed light on here. And today our topic is a dynamic and stormy one, you can say. It is about wind energy. And of course I also have two guests here in the studio today. “Wind energy – where does the journey go (at KTR)?”, that is our topic today. And here with me are Reiner Banemann, he is product manager at KTR Systems. In the company for 31 years and here today. Nice to have you here.

Reiner Banemann: Thank you!

Julia Ures: And Jürn Edzards, Sales Manager Brakes Wind Energy at KTR Brake Systems GmbH. With the company for eight years. A warm welcome to you, too!

Jürn Edzards: Thanks!

Julia Ures: Your questions, which you keep sending us at socialmedia@ktr.com, we will also address them today. If you have already listened and watched “In Sight KTR”, then you know that we have 20 minutes for the questions. And with that, we’ll get started. Mr. Edzards, I understand you are a passionate surfer. It’s a hobby that’s also very closely linked to the wind. You can’t do it without wind. Did you first become interested in the wind on a private or professional level?

Jürn Edzards: It started in my private life, with four years in the sailboat, from the sailboat to the surfboard, from the surfboard to the kiteboard, from the kiteboard to the waveboard. That’s the story.

Julia Ures: So you have been connected with the wind for a very, very long time. How did it come about that you now also deal with this topic professionally?

Jürn Edzards: It started with my diploma thesis, which I did on a wind turbine, at that time still at the Tacke company. And that was my final thesis. It was about the downwind tracking of a wind turbine in order to optimize it. That was my introduction to wind energy.

Julia Ures: How often do you get to surf today?

Jürn Edzards: Oh, not so often anymore. But I’ll say about ten times a year, ten, 15 times.

Julia Ures: Nevertheless! An exciting hobby. Mr. Banemann, what’s your situation? How did you get involved with wind energy?

Reiner Banemann: How did I get into wind energy? Oh God, that was so long ago. Actually, KTR has always built couplings for wind turbines, at that time still for Tacke Wind, that was in the 90s and so on. And then at the end of the 90s, that was somehow in 1999, 2000, my present boss, Dr. Partmann, changed from a wind power company to KTR and said: Why don’t you make wind power couplings? We said: Why don’t we make wind power couplings? And that’s when we started 20 years ago and that’s how we got into it and are still doing well.

Julia Ures: And to experience the wind on the sea like this, have you ever stood on a surfboard?

Reiner Banemann: No.

Julia Ures: Then maybe you should tackle the whole thing together. I think you have a very good teacher on your side. Wind power in connection with KTR is our topic today, it is an important industry for KTR. Mr. Banemann, what products can the company actually supply for the industry?

Reiner Banemann: Let’s start with the couplings, those are from my department. These are the couplings between the gearbox and the generator in the wind turbines. Then we have the brakes for the – azimuth brakes for the – high-speed brakes on the coupling, in conjunction with the coupling. What else do we have? Rotor Lock is another thing we have.

Jürn Edzards: Cooling.

Reiner Banemann: Coolers, hydraulic supplies, hydraulic power units, things like that.

Jürn Edzards: Tanks.

Reiner Banemann: Tanks, oil tanks, these things. So we can already supply quite a bit for the wind power plants. Absolutely. But the main focus is actually on the brakes and the couplings.

Julia Ures: Mr. Edzards, which markets are particularly interesting for wind energy? And are there any global differences, perhaps even major differences?

Jürn Edzards: The global market is dominated by several big players at the moment. In the past, there were many smaller innovative companies that tried to establish themselves on the market. Today, the market is dominated by just four or five big players. When I wrote my diploma thesis, people were still happy about the tenth plant that was set up. Today, we’re talking about 1000 or 3000 plants that have to or may be put up every year. That’s the way it is, for example Vestas or GE serve all countries worldwide, smaller companies are setting up in the respective countries, which then serve them. So there are no more real local companies that do that. Maybe in India Suzlon still, but even there everything is …

Reiner Banemann: There are a handful of big global players involved, Siemens Gamesa, GE, Vestas, Nordex, these big players. In China, it’s a bit different, but this is actually a very independent area in China. From our side, too, our Chinese colleagues are doing everything over there.

Julia Ures: I have just described, we have questions that reach us again and again to socialmedia@ktr.com. If you have questions or also wishes, concerning further topics, then please send all this of course also to this mail address. And a question has come about these huge dimensions in the wind power industry These are really unimaginably large in some cases. The question is: How many megawatts does the largest series wind power plant have and how many households can it supply? Which of you can answer that?

Jürn Edzards: The largest one we are equipping at the moment has 15 megawatts. Yes, we can say that we are involved in that. And how many households you can power with 15 megawatts…. I have no idea.

Julia Ures: But that’s already a really big dimension.

Jürn Edzards: Yes, these are the largest turbines available. They have been developed for the offshore sector, because the size, the transport on land, the foundation construction is a bit easier. Of course, it’s not easier, but it’s more accepted than if I put these large plants on land. They will then become huge parks, which will also cost a few billion when they are built. These are investments that large energy suppliers are now making in order to transform the world into a regenerative place.

Julia Ures: Mr. Banemann, it is impossible to imagine the present without wind power, and the future without it either. From your point of view, what will the future of wind power look like? Do you assume that wind turbines are getting bigger and bigger, as we have seen recently?

Reiner Banemann: Right!

Julia Ures: Will they maybe, so they’re still getting bigger, will they maybe change? Are there other forms? What else is imaginable for you?

Reiner Banemann: The trend is towards bigger and bigger, so more and more power, more and more bigger plants, less, now 15 MW, I don’t know where the limit is, maybe 20 MW, I have no idea. In any case, the number of units will go down. But today, this year, it is still the case that the large quantities, where we supply thousands of couplings, these are plants up to 5 MW. That’s where the large series are in operation, that’s where the large quantities are. But in the long term, I also think that the trend will be to build ever larger machines, i.e. ever more output, and then to reduce the number of units.

Julia Ures: Mr. Edzards, how often are you actually out and about on this issue, and are you perhaps sometimes on top of a wind tower?

Jürn Edzards: At the beginning of my braking career, I was relatively often on wind power plants. I was always in the workshop during the initial commissioning, the first time the installation was carried out, and then I was on the plant commissioning. You get a great feeling there, you get a feeling for the site, for the people who work there. If there are any problems afterwards, you know right away who to contact so that it doesn’t pop up two or three levels. On the plant, you can see exactly how the brake works. In fact, every designer who has ever built a brake for a wind turbine should experience an emergency stop on a turbine. That’s quite a lot of energy dissipation. You get a real feel for what the brake is actually doing, which you can’t really see in the workshop. Lately, it has become less, which is also due to the demands made by the plant manufacturers. Because now they don’t let just anyone up there. In the past, it was more a case of: come and have a look, go up with me. Today, you have to go through training, you have to sign x number of forms. Because they don’t want anything to happen up there that would give them a bad reputation.

Julia Ures: Yes, it’s understandable too.

Jürn Edzards: That’s a professional reason for the way they set themselves up. We still have service technicians who go along in an emergency, but if it can’t be clarified by team or e-mail, they go up and take a look.

Julia Ures: Mr. Banemann, how is that for you, how exciting is that for you today, to be on top of your wind turbine sometimes?

Reiner Banemann: I have not been up there for ten years. In the past, it was common practice to go up with the prototype. Sure. But it’s just that the requirements or that you are allowed to go up there, you have to do these trainings. You have to do abseil training, things like that. And we don’t have all that. The mechanics, for example, in the brake area, they certainly have that, we don’t have that. And we then support in the workshop where the machines are built and go there and possibly also assemble the prototype couplings. But that you go up with, out in the field, that is, as I said, with me, I would say rather more than ten years ago the last time.

Jürn Edzards: I also have experience in China and India, how it is handled there to climb on plants and what the condition is like. And there are very adventurous stories, we can talk all evening about what I have experienced there.

Julia Ures: Do you have an example where it might be particularly vivid?

Jürn Edzards: Quite particularly descriptive, one may climb normally under, well, one may not climb normally on a plant if the light does not work. But they had to go up, due to pressure from the park operator, I was strapped in, you have a rail like that, you sort of run up there with your harness, that if something happens, you fall back, hanging in the ladder. That wasn’t quite the case after the second segment, because they had moved the tower one screw further up. If you know it … If it’s dark and you don’t know it, then the runner slips out and you fall backwards and have to catch yourself again.This is all within the limits. But when you have made it to the top, you feel the shock of what you have just experienced. Since then, I’ve been quite cautious in the countries and ask beforehand: Are there any special conditions? The safety requirements in some other countries are not yet as high.

Julia Ures: I can imagine.

Jürn Edzards: And since then I’ve been even more careful. Because that was a drastic experience.

Julia Ures: Yes, I do believe that. Here at “In Sight KTR”, we also often talk about product development and about this path until a product is later launched on the market. Mr. Banemann, how does it actually work in the wind energy sector? Do customers also tell you that they have this or that requirement? You are also constantly working in think tanks. How do you also find out which new products are needed?

Reiner Banemann: We have been in the business for 20 years now and of course we know all the contact persons at the customers, whether it is at GE or at Siemens. When a new plant is built, they usually come to us with an initial specification, with initial documents, this is what it should look like, this is what we need, then we actually already have in mind what the coupling or the brake must look like. It is not the case that we have to start from scratch. Basically, we know what the customer needs before he does. So it’s relatively easy for us to filter out and build the right product.

Julia Ures: How long does it take then for a new product to hit the market?

Reiner Banemann: A new product? Well, a new design of an existing wind turbine coupling can be done relatively quickly. But a completely new type of design, as is now the case in China, for example, there is a bit of a new design trend coming over from China. And the think tank, for example, is now in the process of developing a new coupling design. We are currently supplying or have supplied the first couplings, the first prototypes, and we are supplying further prototypes for a 10 MW plant, for example. And that is of course a longer process than building on an existing system. That’s a different matter.

Julia Ures: Finally, I have a question for both of you. Because at least here in Germany, there is a very, very controversial discussion about where people stand on the subject of wind energy. Mr. Edzards, perhaps we’ll start with you. Would you allow a wind power plant to be built near you?

Jürn Edzards: If the noise level is as predicted, then I would allow it, because I like wind turbines. Once you’ve sat on top of a wind turbine, which is unfortunately no longer possible today, which then starts up – you’re no longer allowed to be on turbines that are running, i.e. not as a supplier, but you still used to be allowed to do that – once you get the feeling of how the wind does it and how the energy flows and how the generator switches on, I still almost get goose bumps. It’s just indescribable what that does. It’s like holding the sail while surfing, feeling the power. And if the distance is right, so that I’m really not affected, visually I find it beautiful, of course that’s one thing, whether you like it or not, the shadow cast, you also don’t have that often, because the sun just turns. So I would allow it because I know what that does for the environment that I basically love when I’m outside.

Julia Ures: Mr. Banemann, suppose a wind turbine were to be built in your neighborhood, what would you do?

Reiner Banemann: I think it’s a good technique, I also think it’s good that we’re building these. And I would also allow it, of course, shadow impact or noise is always a problem, of course, that must be under control. But it’s a cool thing when you’re on top of it, as you say, Jürn, when it starts up and the tower moves and stuff, it’s a cool story, really. I would accept it, yes.

Julia Ures: It’s quite apparent how enthusiastic you are about this topic as well. Mr. Edzards, so man can use the wind, of course, and we have now talked about wonderful examples, master probably never, right?

Jürn Edzards: There are extreme situations that are calculated, and as far as I know, there’s not that much damage to wind power plants from storms. Because they are designed in such a way that they can really withstand it. So I think that’s relatively safe. Of course, every now and then a blade comes loose, due to age. But that is relatively rare. But what happens there is immediately highlighted in the press. With other technologies, when something happens, it’s not. That’s why I think it’s relatively safe.

Julia Ures: That was our episode on wind energy here at “In Sight KTR”. I would like to thank you both very, very much for this very exciting conversation on the topic “Where is the journey actually going in terms of wind energy? Where is the journey going at KTR?” and of course thank you for your interest. With this I say until next time to another exciting topic. And all topics you would like to suggest to us, I have already said twice now, I would like to do it again: Please feel free to send us an email to socialmedia@ktr.com. We look forward to it very much and remain with many greetings, until next time! Bye!