How Hywind was born
The best ideas often happen when you least expect them—and when you’re not at the office. Two becalmed sailors started to doodle on the back of a napkin, and the rest is history. We went sailing with the boffins behind Hywind to find out how they came up with the idea.
Photo: Øyvind Hagen
“There’s always a calm in the middle of the night of the Færder race,” says Dag Christensen from the cockpit of his sailing boat. He has often participated in this famous Norwegian regatta, held every year in June, and renowned for its light airs and challenging conditions.
And on this occasion, 16 years ago, he had brought keen sailor and colleague Knut Solberg along for company on the voyage.
So, it was one of those occasions when you had to drop anchor to win, so as not to drift astern? we teased him.
“Well, you’re not certain of winning then, but at least you don’t come last,” laughs Knut Solberg from the port gunwale.
Now retired, both these former senior engineers had competed many times in the regatta, usually in separate boats. But on this occasion, for once sailing together, the calm night gave Dag room for new thoughts.
“I had started working on Hydro’s wind power projects. And I was sitting looking at a floating marker buoy on the water, and thought to myself—if we just made one of those 100 metres high instead of four metres, we’d have a tower for a wind turbine,” he says.
Back in the canteen in Oslo, Dag and Knut started talking. The year was 2001.
“If you get an idea that’s vaguely in the direction of what you work on, it’s only natural to share it with somebody. It’s not any more mysterious than that,” says Dag modestly.
“But if Knut hadn’t been there, nothing would have come of it. There are people who have ideas, and there are doers. Knut was the implementer. He’s a bit of a Heath Robinson.”
“We sketched it on a serviette, right there and then,” says Knut. “I drew a couple of solutions with a tension leg floater. Then I got hold of the wind data for the Frigg field, and it suddenly struck me that Norway really was a superpower in terms of wind.”
“To put it in context, if you put one wind turbine per square kilometre in an area 70 km x 70 km, you could double Norway’s power production,” he says.
They applied for—and were granted—NOK 300,000 which they spent on a study by Aker Solutions. And the answer that came back was positive—this was worth considering. In the next budget year, they applied for NOK 3 million—and got it.
So, someone was willing to invest money in this?
“That’s one of the advantages of companies like Hydro and Statoil; there’s freedom with responsibility. People appreciate initiative. That opens doors,” says Dag, who is grateful to his managers at the time for recognising the project’s potential and championing their cause internally.
The project entered a new phase. Through a technology forum, the R&D centre in Bergen—now part of Statoil, after the merger—took over the reins. Could they carry out a feasibility study on wind turbines at sea?