Flemish companies' efforts to contribute to a greener world

  • December 1, 2021

To mark COP26, we focus on the efforts of a few Flemish companies to contribute to a greener world. This month, we had the pleasure to talk to Mathias Van Steenwinkel, Head of Business Development at Parkwind

Hello Mathias, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Could you tell us about Parkwind and your activities in the UK? 

Parkwind is part of the Colruyt Group. In 2008, the group had the chance to invest in a first offshore wind energy project on a grand scale in Belgium. The decision had to be made very quickly and was very capital-intensive. The hands-on approach of Colruyt Group made it possible to be quick off the mark and to realise a successful project. This is how Parkwind came into existence. 

13 years later, Parkwind employs 130 people and is involved in projects all over Europe. We develop offshore wind farms, from the earliest stages of development to ‘final close’. We remain involved for the entire duration of the project. We are relatively small compared to the giant companies on the market, but this is an advantage: we are ‘lean and mean’. 

Belgium can be proud of its position in the offshore wind energy field! Proportionally, we are in the top 5 with regard to national offshore wind capacity. Our early involvement in the offshore wind industry has made it possible for several Belgian companies to be at the top of the sector.

One of Parkwind’s priorities in the UK is the ScotWind development, off the coast of Scotland. Together with the NextGen Consortium we are working on a tender for one or several lease options. The development would happen in waters leased from the Crown Estate Scotland, so in fact from the British monarchy! We hope we can obtain the leases so we can start developing soon. Meanwhile, we are developing 2 projects in Ireland. In Germany, we are well underway with preparations for the Arcadis Ost project, which will start in April 2022. Despite our strong interest in England and Wales, unfortunately it is more difficult for us to start projects there. If you want to develop offshore wind farms in those parts of the UK, one has to pay high option fees to obtain exclusive development rights. This makes it very difficult for many developers to take part in these tenders. 

How much energy does a typical offshore wind farm generate? 

The numbers are astounding! There are about 100 windmills per site, which easily generate more than a combined 1,5 Gigawatt per site. The lifespan of a windmill is about 25 to 30 years. Every turbine generates about 65 Gigawatt hours (GWh) per year. 
If you consider that an average family in Belgium uses about 3,5 Megawatt hours per year, you quickly realise that 1 turbine generates the same amount of electricity per day that 50 families use in an entire year!

What other projects are you involved in, apart from offshore wind energy? 

At the moment, in Zeebrugge, we are working on an electrolyser with a capacity of 25 megawatts. This electrolyser will generate green hydrogen, which can be transported and stored. This way we can produce hydrogen at the most efficient times, using renewable energy, and store it for periods when there is less energy available or the demand for hydrogen is high.

Is there much potential left in Belgium for the development of offshore wind energy?

The last offshore zone in Belgium is located in the Princess Elizabeth zone, situated in the Belgian part of the North Sea. The Port of Ostend is an important hub for this development, and for other wind energy projects in the North Sea and other places. The turbines and foundations are delivered to Ostend before they leave for installation at sea. For the installation, we can count on the expertise of other Flemish companies such as DEME and Jan De Nul.

November was COP26-month. With both feet firmly in the industry, what do you think the role of the industrial world should be in the battle against climate change? 

I think the industries sector should be a driving force in the discussion about climate change. And there are hopeful signs: there are many initiatives without wanting to wait for incentives from governments. 

Take Parkwind as an example: just like almost any other company, one of our main goals is to be a profitable business. But this is only one goal; the way we get there is at least as important. We have already started to make our maintenance ships ‘greener’. These ships can use up to 700 liters of diesel per day, which is why we want to convert them into hybrid ships and eventually have them run on hydrogen. This is very expensive, and there are cheaper options, but we don’t want to wait for government incentives to take these steps. The fact that these decisions to invest in greener options are supported by our co-shareholders, shows that there is a change in how we think about the climate. 

We also see this in the young people we recruit: obviously they know that they are going to work for a company that is involved in renewable energy… but they are not afraid to ask us tough questions! Where do you get your energy from? What is your policy on cars? Is there any unnecessary printing in the company?
We often get these questions during job interviews and that shows that the younger generations really think about their (and our) impact on the climate.

Mathias Van Steenwinkel, thank you very much!