Hello Johan Sandberg! You start your tenure as CEO of SeaTwirl March 1st. Tell us about yourself!
I grew up in Kungsbacka, south of Gothenburg, and studied mechanical engineering at Lund University in the late 90ies. When I graduated in 2004, I moved to London and began working with risk analysis at a consulting firm. I stayed for four years before moving to Oslo to work at DNV in the spring of 2008.
The same year, I became involved in my first offshore wind project about installation vessels for bottom-fixed turbines. I got see first-hand the enormous turbines being built at Alpha Ventus in Germany and thought that this is an industry for me. In 2009, StatoilHydro (now Equinor) built the world’s first floating turbine, “Hywind Demo”. I sensed that floating turbines was a whole new generation of technology and that it was an opportunity to participate from the very start in what was to be, and this I was sure of, a big and exciting industry. Since then, my main focus has been on floating wind power.
Even if a lot of things were happening in the industry at this time, it was quite a small community. DNV can work with anyone and develops rules and regulations for entire industries. My role was to develop standards and advisory services, and we published the first floating wind design standard in 2013. I also tried find collaborations that could move the industry forward and ran, among other things, a joint industry project towards the oil companies that we called Win-Win – to power oil platforms with floating wind power.
During this period, I took an MBA where I wrote my thesis on floating wind power in Japan. In 2019 I moved over to Aker and was at both Aker Solutions and Aker Offshore Wind before now joining SeaTwirl.
What about SeaTwirl attracted you?
Floating wind as an industry still needs to reduce costs to increase its competitiveness and SeaTwirl has a very interesting technology that could achieve that. Can we verify the performance of the turbine while using significantly less steel in the substructure than conventional solutions, then we have a credible path towards commercialisation. Using smaller and more local suppliers is another important strength that I hope we can develop further. There are also other interesting arguments in favour of the technology that have big potential but have not yet been proven under real-life conditions such as lower maintenance cost, tighter placing, larger rotating mass, lower blade erosion, etc. It will be very interesting to see how these can be realised.
Most developers in the industry buys an offshore turbine from one of the big OEM’s and develop an optimised floater. One could say that SeaTwirl inverts that and develops a turbine that will be able to use a “typical” monopile as the SPAR. The integrated concept eliminates the complicated interface between turbine and structure. That is a large advantage which is often underestimated.
How would you describe the floating wind power industry now, in 2023?
Interest in the industry has exploded in the last few years, even the president of the United States talks about floating wind turbines. That is of course music to the ears for a nerd like me, but with the war in Ukraine and other geopolitical factors, the driving forces have shifted from primarily climate policy to energy security. Meanwhile, the complexity in the supply chains have increased significantly and with the Inflation Reduction Act, among other things, the focus on local job creation is a top priority.
Generally, the offshore wind industry is in a boom and hundreds of billions will be invested the next decades. We need more players that can increase supply and more innovation to bring down costs. Running up to 2030, we will see the first GW scale floating wind farms in the water. There are many advantages with floating wind power, being farther out at sea, avoiding conflicts, be it with shipping, defence, fishing or what have you. In many markets, there are hardly any shallow waters and even in Europe, shallow waters for bottom-fixed projects are becoming scarce. The challenge facing the industry is to get costs down and robust supply chains up.
With all that in mind, what will be your focus as CEO?
It is a little to early give specifics, but I hope that the combination of my long market experience, strong global network, and understanding of the technical and commercial complexity can propel SeaTwirl towards a commercial product.
In the short term, it is about keeping our eyes on the ball and let the team focus on their respective tasks while developing existing, and building new, partnerships and relations. During the spring we will develop the strategy further with more details and milestones to 2030, and I have an ambition to engage very strong individuals that have worked in the industry a long time in an advisory board. Having them and Mike Anderson on the board, with all their knowledge and experience, will mean a lot. I have spoken a lot with Mike Anderson, who joined the board in December. There is almost no one in the world with more experience from vertical axis wind turbines than him and his experience will be enormously valuable for the team.
Regarding technology development, we will continue to focus on SeaTwirl’s strengths: innovative thinking and the fact that we actually control both the turbine and floater. We will also continue to think outside the box so that we develop new technology where there is no need for large investments in infrastructure. Our technology should the largest extent possible make use of existing supply chains.
Thinking ahead to 2030, where do you see floating wind power and SeaTwirl?
There will be several thousand MW in the water, and we will see several different concepts in operation. With the lead times involved, most, if not all, projects will be “regular” horizontal axis turbines. But around 2030, the big build out in deep waters will begin and then SeaTwirl’s technology will be regarded as a qualified, bankable, and commercially attractive solution.
Are you looking forward to getting started?
Yes, very much. I am at the core very interested in technology and hope to contribute with experience and contacts. Sweden is one of the strongest countries in the world in terms of industry and innovation, and the Gothenburg region is Sweden’s beating industrial heart. There is a colossal cluster of knowledge and drive here. SeaTwirl has a fantastic team that has made great progress on the S2x prototype and now also SX. And it feels very good to work with something that is important: enabling the large scale build out of cheap, local, stable, and clean energy.
Best of luck!