Press release | 24.4.2018
Munich, 24 April 2018 - Wind power has become integral to the European power landscape, delivering clean power to millions of people. At first, the occasional wind turbine was seen more as an object of wonder than a source of practical electricity generation. The introduction and successful establishment of the wind energy industry, which has since grown into one of the driving forces of renewable energy production, owes much to Danish wind-power innovator Henrik Stiesdal (61). What started as his simple ambition to create a more efficient method of generating electricity for his parents' farm blossomed into a long and successful career as inventor and entrepreneur. Along the way, Stiesdal has been granted over 90 European patents for inventions that not only created a basic wind turbine design which kick-started an industry and set the standard for decades - but also led to easy-to-install solutions that made large wind parks feasible and advances that helped open up the field of offshore wind-based power generation.
For his many achievements, Henrik Stiesdal has been nominated as one of three finalists for the European Inventor Award 2018 in the category "Lifetime achievement". The winners of this year's edition of EPO's annual innovation prize will be announced at a ceremony in Paris, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, on 7 June 2018.
"Henrik Stiesdal's inventions have played a vital role in the creation of the modern wind power industry, helping make it a central player in renewable energy production," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli, announcing the European Inventor Award 2018 finalists. "Stiesdal has been active at the forefront of the wind industry for decades and continues today to contribute innovations that could secure the position of wind power as a prime source of alternative energies in Europe and beyond."
Stiesdal's passion for creating energy out of wind grew out of his early success when he designed a wind turbine to power his parents' farm in Denmark. His original aim to create an efficient source of energy for a modest farmstead soon grew to a larger project that provided other local households and then smaller businesses with electricity.
With an eye on the bigger picture, Stiesdal saw that his work could have a much greater impact later. "It dawned on me quite early," he reflected, "that this could quite easily become an industry and something that gives people a living - and it would be good to create jobs."
Henrik Stiesdal's drive to innovate and to push the then fledgling wind power industry forward led him to a consultant position at Vestas A/S. The Danish company, which had built its name in agricultural and construction equipment, purchased a license for Stiesdal's patented design, and this provided the basis for their development into the world's largest wind-turbine supplier.
Central to Stiesdal's new design was the implementation of a three-bladed rotor rather than the industry-standard two-bladed variety. In addition, he increased wind turbine performance and stability by placing the rotor in front of the turbine tower. The concept featured an automatic system for changing the rotor speed, which meant it would run slowly in low winds and faster in high winds. And it offered gearing that proved reliable for decades of operation.
Soon dubbed the "Danish Concept", the three-bladed upwind-rotor wind turbine was robust, simple and efficient - ensuring that the Danish wind-turbine sector became a dominant force throughout the world and remained years ahead of foreign competitors throughout the 1980s and well into the 1990s.
Stiesdal left Vestas to join Bonus Energy in 1987. The move opened a wealth of opportunities for an inventor bursting with ideas, primarily because Bonus Energy was planning its transition from turbine supplier to an engineering firm delivering complete, ready-to-operate wind farms. By 1991, Stiesdal had helped Bonus Energy make strong moves in this direction when he designed and oversaw installation of the world's first offshore wind farm. The Vindeby offshore wind farm off the coast of Denmark's fourth-largest island, Lolland, was equipped with eleven 450 kW-rated Bonus Energy wind turbines that produced an average 9.61 GWh in electricity per year (roughly enough energy to power 2 400 European households). Vindeby was constructed as a demonstration model to show that offshore power generation - considered impractical at the time due to possible corrosion from salt water and isolation from power grids - was a viable option. Decommissioned after a 25-year lifespan, the wind farm paved the way for today's offshore wind farms that produce several hundred times more power.
Stiesdal finished the decade as he had begun it: With success. In 1999, he and a team at Bonus Energy made another breakthrough: this time in the field of turbine blade design. The one-piece IntegralBlade® not only simplified turbine blade manufacturing, it reduced weight and increased strength. Made by injecting fibreglass reinforced epoxy resin into a mould under vacuum, these blades are the world's largest fibreglass components, measuring up to 75 metres in length and sweeping an area of 18 600 m2, almost the size of two-and-a-half football pitches.
In 2004, Siemens bought Bonus Energy, renaming it Siemens Wind Power, and Stiesdal's IntegralBlade became a key element in the division's wind power solutions portfolio. While at Siemens Wind Power, where he continued in the role of chief technology officer he had held at Bonus Energy, Stiesdal further built upon his long succession of innovations that had proved invaluable for the industry. By 2009, he had eliminated the need for a gearbox in Siemens' offshore wind turbines, something common to most other conventional designs at that time. Stiesdal also designed easily installable (turnkey) wind farms that further helped to cement Siemens Wind Power's role as one of the leaders in the wind power industry.
In his career to date, Stiesdal has been granted more than 90 valid European patents on which he is listed as author or co-author and has filed some 900 international patent applications. He has also received numerous honours in recognition of these innovations: He was named Siemens Inventor of the Year in 2008, won the European Wind Energy Association Poul la Cour Prize in 2011, the German Renewables Award in the "Lifetime Achievement, Wind Energy" category (2014), the Danish Wind Turbine Award (2015) and the Danish Plan Energi Green Award (2016). And, like the wind around which his many of his innovations are based, Stiesdal shows no sign of letting up.
After retiring from Siemens in 2014, Stiesdal set up his own company, Stiesdal A/S to further his efforts in propagating wind power and continue to make it one of the most cost-effective ways to generate electricity this is available. Soon thereafter, he had created the TetraSpar, an industrialised offshore wind turbine platform that can be towed out to sea with the turbine already mounted. Based on a simple tetrahedral structure, TetraSpar combines the advantages of existing floating and fixed mooring designs to produce an option that he says is extremely economical and can be installed in a greater range of water depth - from less than 10 metres to more than 1 000 metres. He says the design can reduce offshore wind energy production costs by up to 75% compared with other concepts. The concept is set to undergo full-scale testing in Norway this year.
Stiesdal has also begun concentrating on how the electricity generated by wind power is transferred to the grid. One area of concern is the ability to deliver baseload power - a steady power supply when wind levels are lower, or maintenance must be performed. To these ends, Stiesdal has developed a thermal battery, a grid-scale energy storage concept that can provide a backup to renewables for much longer than conventional batteries - for days or even weeks.
The industry that Stiesdal has done so much to help establish and promote had an estimated market value of EUR 19.5 billion in 2016, with a huge potential for annual growth of between 15 and 32% over the next six years. Offshore wind power currently meets about 1.5% of Europe's electricity needs and is playing an increasingly important role in the total wind-energy power mix that covered about 11.6% of EU electricity consumption in 2017. Stiesdal's home country, Denmark, met over 43% of its power requirements last year through wind power, with offshore wind providing around 15% of the country's total electricity. It is followed by Portugal, Ireland and Germany, all of which covered over 20% of their annual electricity demand through wind power. As countries in Europe and across the globe continue to increase generating capacity for clean, renewable wind power, Henrik Stiesdal's decades of inventions and innovations will pay off further dividends and help lay the foundation for even more advances in sustainable, environmental friendly power.
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View the patents: EP2106900, EP1101935
Henrik Stiesdal played a central role in the transformation of the wind industry from the 1970s onwards. Decades later he is still coming up with inventions that have the potential to shape the future, including new mooring concepts for offshore wind turbines and alternative thermal battery concepts. Read more about "green" patents that protect the important intellectual property behind innovations using energy from the sun, water, wind or biomass to generate power. Review some of the trends in the field.
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