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The national wind survey carried out by Uppsala University has identified the Blaiken area as a very good location for wind power production with an average wind of 7.5–8 m/s. Another advantage is that, due to the existing hydropower plant in the area, it is both easy and cost-effective to connect the wind turbines to the national grid.
The third and fourth stages in the Blaiken Wind Farm have involved changes – both technical and cultural. A new supplier from across the world has placed entirely new demands on everyone involved. It has brought new challenges, but also new possibilities.
Blaiken is a low mountain area which is located on the border between Sorsele and Storuman in Västerbotten County. At 734 metres over sea level, it is cold, windy, and icy. Such an environment places high demands on the technical equipment. The 60 wind turbines that form part of the two previous stages of the Blaiken project are based on technology which supplies the turbines with gear boxes that convert the slow rotation in the rotor into a higher rotation speed for the generator. It is a tried-and-tested technology, but it has many moving parts that are subject to heavy wear. Prior to commencement of the third stage then, the sights were set on China, and on a so-called gearbox-less, direct-drive magnetic generator.
Read more about the technology behind the wind turbines
A gearbox-less direct-drive magnetic generator is more robust, and technically a simpler solution than other wind turbines. In addition, it requires less maintenance. All these factors are important in the Arctic climate which prevails in Storblaiken.
“The main difference of the Chinese wind turbines is in how they transfer energy. With fewer moving parts, there is less risk of damages and stoppages,” says Jörgen Svensson, Head of the Business Unit Wind Power at Skellefteå Kraft.
However, there are additional changes that make the turbines in stages three and four unique. As the wind farm is located in a place that for most of the year is characterized by its cold weather and freezing temperatures, ice is easily formed on the rotor blades. If the ice becomes detached, it can easily be launched a considerable distance, like a projectile, which naturally poses a great danger to members of the service staff, and members of the general public who are in the vicinity. To prevent this, all of the wind turbines in the Blaiken Wind Farm are equipped with embedded carbon fibre mats which are heated when ice is formed.
“We have developed it and added a hot air system that circulates in the blades. These two technologies have been used before, but never together,” says Zhong Honghua, Engineer at Dongfang, the company which has produced, delivered and installed the new turbines.
By using both of these technologies we will have a safety valve if we experience problems with any of the two de-icing systems. Meanwhile, it is interesting to follow and study how technologies that have been developed for Blaiken are affected by the climate. The wind farm is classified as a demonstration project and has been awarded a grant of EUR 15 million via the EU’s Framework Programme NER300, which aims to promote renewable energy and the development of new technology.
“This means that other actors within the industry will come here to see and learn. Wind power in an Arctic climate is of global importance and we are sharing our experiences with the de-icing system,” said Mikael Lindmark, CEO, Blaiken Vind.
The total investment cost for the Blaiken project is SEK 3.3 billion. The project has created hundreds of construction jobs, and jobs for installation and peripheral work.
Regional job opportunities
Now that the entire wind farm is operational, it will generate around 32 annual full-time equivalents. Apart from the maintenance of the wind turbines, peripheral services such as cleaning, road maintenance and snow clearing are needed.
“Blaiken is located in inland Västerbotten. The region has a great need of job opportunities, and most of the employment that is created through the wind farms stays in the area. It really makes a difference,” says Jörgen Svensson.
For Skellefteå Kraft, sustainability is a central concept. That applies to everything, from the production of renewable energy to the people who are affected by operations. Finding the balance and harmony between society’s need for energy and the conditions for local residents, animals, plants and industries has always been a prerequisite for making the wind farm in Blaiken a reality.
Demands on partners
The Chinese company Dongfang was given the task of producing, delivering and installing the 39 new wind turbines included in stages three and four. Clear requirements were set as part of the procurement process in terms of the working environment and social responsibility. To ensure that the requirements were met, there were staff on site in China during the manufacturing and testing period. On site in Blaiken, there was also a work environment coordinator whose task it was to monitor the work environment.
“It has worked well, both in China and in Blaiken. We also had an interpreter acting as a linguistic and cultural bridge. That has been highly beneficial to the project,” says Jörgen Svensson.
Protecting environmental values
Blaiken is located in a low mountain area with high environmental values that are important to protect. The bird life in the area is carefully monitored and reports are made annually by external consultants. Great consideration has also been paid to the wetlands during the construction work, and this care will continue during the operational phase through continuous follow-ups and tests to ensure that the river discharge in the area is not affected.
Consideration for reindeer herding and the local residents
There is also a national interest for reindeer herding in the area. Therefore, we are in close dialogue with the Sami village which has its operations in the vicinity.
“We have consultations with them twice a year and we are involved in an ongoing dialogue. The collaboration works well and it is of course important that we show respect and are sensitive towards the needs of the reindeer herders,” says Mikael Lindmark, CEO, Blaiken Vind.
The Blaiken area is secluded from the settlement and cannot be seen from Storuman, which is the largest community in the vicinity. Yet, it is important to be in continuous dialogue with the neighbouring communities.
“The wind turbines not only have positive effects, of course; they will also mean an altered landscape and aviation obstruction lights that flash at night. But we will follow-up any and all complaints that people may have regarding noise and shadows. Our experience is that local residents and local businesses have generally welcomed the project. It has created many job opportunities and is sufficiently isolated.”
The agreement with Dongfang was the first deal of its kind between a Swedish power company and a Chinese supplier. It is also the first time that Dongfang has produced and delivered wind turbines to Europe to this extent, and to an area with an Arctic climate. In April of 2014, Skellefteå Kraft therefore sent a delegation to China to monitor the quality assurance process for stage three.
Read more about the staff members’ experiences
“We were there for eight months. In the beginning, the work involved going through all the drawings and contributing knowledge on how the turbines can be adapted to the cold climate. After that, we were out at the factories to monitor the quality in the production stage and check that they met the stipulated demands,” says Henrik Renberg, Project and Development Engineer, who was part of the delegation.
He describes the trip to China as an incredible experience, both the good and the bad.
“It’s impossible to imagine what’s ahead of you before actually arriving there. It has been a true learning experience. Even a meeting is an experience in itself. We’re used to structured meetings where one issue is discussed at a time. In China, there is a jumble of people, phones and discussions. We are very interested in solving problems and really want to get a hold of everyone at once. We felt it was a little chaotic at first, but after a while we found a way to talk to one another.
We hired an interpreter on site in China. He became a vital resource in the collaboration.”
“The language barrier is huge and our cultures are very different. What we perceive to be a yes, is not necessarily a yes for them. This leads to communication problems. Having an interpreter that understands both worlds was invaluable.”
A human bridge to communication
The need for a bridge in the communication between the Swedes and Chinese was also noted in Blaiken. The solution to the problem was Cliff Lau, a Hong Kong-born operating technician at Skellefteå Kraft.
“I’m an intermediary. Hong Kong used to be a part of the United Kingdom, and culturally it is very different from the rest of China, but I consider myself Chinese,” says Cliff.
Even though he knew very little about wind power, he did not hesitate when he was asked to move temporarily to Storuman in order to help and work on-site in Blaiken within what was a brand new area for him.
“It’s been great fun to have new tasks and new colleagues. Being in a world where such vastly different cultures meet is both exciting and educational.”
Cliff, who speaks Swedish and Chinese fluently, was tasked with taking notes at meetings and interpreting language and behaviours between the nationalities.
“I have been working a lot with the soft issues. We come from different cultures and have different values. In China, there is not as much focus on environment and safety issues, for example. But our countries also differ when it comes to taxes and payment systems. If you don’t understand this, it will easily lead to misconceptions. A little thing like the Swedes talking about week numbers instead of dates will often be very confusing to a Chinese person.”
The greatest challenge for Cliff has been understanding the technology and the terminology related to the wind turbines.
“But everyone has been kind and patient. It’s all gone very well.”
The wind farm in Blaiken has been a big employer during the installation phase, with many nationalities represented. During the first two stages, the labour force was mainly from Sweden and other European countries, but during stage 3, many Chinese workers were also involved, who now found themselves in a new world.
Read more about the knowledge exchange
“Blaiken is a multicultural workplace, with people from China, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Germany. It is very interesting to work in such an environment. There are big cultural differences, but we have learned to communicate and understand each other better. We have found ways to work efficiently together,” says Zhong Honghua, Engineer at Dongfang.
One of the largest cultural differences that he sees in working situations is the structure when carrying out a task.
“Our engineers are satisfied with talking about how something should be done. The Europeans are much clearer and more systematic, but we are trying to follow their lead,” says Zhong Honghua.
This view is confirmed by Jörgen Svensson, Head of the Business Unit Wind Power, Skellefteå Kraft:
“Naturally, it is a challenge for us to work with suppliers from the other side of the world, who are culturally very different from us. Sometimes we do not understand one another. But if we give it some time, we move forward and the results are good. For me, the Chinese people are characterised by their openness and their strong willingness to learn and share their knowledge. They have a different approach to entrepreneurship than we are accustomed to, and we have learned a lot.”