The Art of Putting Turbines in the Windiest Spot

Source: By Laura Millan Lombrana, Bloomberg • Posted: Sunday, June 7, 2020

Getting the location wrong by a few dozen meters can lose millions for a wind project.

Gabriel Bermejo at a wind farm near Bilbao, Spain on March 20, 2020.

Gabriel Bermejo at a wind farm near Bilbao, Spain on March 20, 2020. Photographer: Steven Markel Redondo for Bloomberg Green

How did you become the person who decides where the turbines go?

I joined Gamesa Eolica [later Siemens Gamesa] in 1999. The company was tiny. Back then wind energy was something weird that sounded really fancy, really modern. But we were young and daring, and we did it. I was the fourth engineer who joined the company. Now there are hundreds of us.

So how do you do it? What’s the process?

First you need to go to the place, see it with your own eyes. Then we gather historic data from maps and models. After that we start collecting our own data. We install towers 100 meters to 120 meters tall that carry sensors like wind gauges, weather vanes, thermometers, and barometers. The towers gather data about the location for at least one year—ideally for two to three years.

What happens after that?

The number crunching starts. We need experts who process the data: engineers, mathematicians, and meteorologists. The person making the final decision has to balance the technical data with the economics of the project.

What if you get it wrong?

A few dozen meters can make the project lose millions. Same for the type of turbines. If you pick turbines that work well in low-wind situations, you could fail to capture strong gusts. If you’re too optimistic, the turbines could be stopped for days if winds aren’t strong enough to move the blades.

The sector has evolved since you first started. What sort of people are you hiring now?

Technical skills are important, but this job is not just about making some calculations or following a set of steps. We hire people knowing that their first year will be very intense and mostly focused on training. This remains a very specialized job. —Translated from Spanish