Interview with Erik-Jan Bijvank, Group Director Europe-Africa at Fugro | WindEurope
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Interview with Erik-Jan Bijvank, Group Director Europe-Africa at Fugro

This month, we sat down with Erik-Jan Bijvank, Group Director Europe-Africa at Fugro, to talk about their role in the European offshore wind scene, their views on sustainability and workplace issues, and their innovative approach to wind farm operations.

Erik-Jan Bijvank, Fugro

Can you tell our readers a little about your organisation? (general history in Europe, countries in which you are active, specific projects you are involved in, industry players you have worked with, etc.)

Fugro are the world’s leading geo-data specialists, collecting and analysing comprehensive information about the Earth and the structures built on it. With expertise in site characterisation and asset integrity, our clients are supported with granular data, analysis and consulting throughout the full life cycle of their assets. Fugro has been involved in approximately 85% of all offshore wind projects in Europe, something we’re immensely proud of.

Our business has a rich history spanning more than six decades. Founded in 1962 in the Netherlands, we now have around 10,000 talented people in 57 countries, helping to serve clients around the globe. These range from major offshore wind developers and transmission operators right through to government organisations and EPCI contractors.

Our geo-data acts as a critical starting point in understanding what is under the sea – and by extension how to design and construct wind farms. Three great examples of projects we have recently supported with geotechnical, geophysical and environmental investigations are RWE’s Dogger Bank, multiple wind farm sites for the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) and Energinet Energy Islands. The latter will be a world first – an entirely artificial, multi-billion-euro island – with the goal of supplying 3 GW of power by 2030, to be built on thereafter. The new island would have the potential to foster a range of new industries, including green hydrogen production.

What are the most exciting developments you have seen in the wind industry?

Fugro has been working in the offshore wind sector since 1996, and it’s been fascinating to see the changes and innovation that’s happened in that time. Scale, size and complexity have been the three main themes. Wind turbines themselves have grown from 450 kW all the way up to 15 MW and a projected 20 MW capacity in the future. The areas of investigation are also broader and more challenging, with an accompanying rise in the amount of data needed. The first offshore projects were designed using only a few megabytes of Geo-data while modern projects use advanced and detailed data sets of 30 Tb or more.

We’re seeing longer cable routes as sites move further offshore, and more complex ground conditions. Plus more challenging metocean conditions for acquiring data and innovative solutions to acquire high quality soil samples. We’ve also seen the emergence of floating offshore wind technology, opening up deeper waters with their mooring lines – and anchoring requirements posing additional engineering challenges.

It’s also fantastic to see the industry becoming more conscious of its role in developing a safer and more liveable world, becoming more sustainable and integrating biodiversity net gain into projects. At Fugro, we are playing our own role by improving the sustainability of our operations and reducing personnel exposure, through the use of uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) and remote operations centres (ROCs) for projects.

What changes would you like to see in the wind industry?

There’s a ‘trilemma’ of worldwide crises taking place now – energy security, affordability and sustainability. Targets for renewable energy in support of net zero continue to grow, as the energy security crises have accelerated the rate of deployment. This has led to greater demand for our Geo-data services.
The increase in renewables targets is fantastic to see, but it’s also putting a lot of pressure on the supply chain to meet the demand. Responding to this requires the whole industry, including Governments, regulators, developers, the supply chain and stakeholders to collaborate and to ensure the right policy, processes and industry supports are in place to make project delivery as efficient as possible.

This also applies to the talent and people we have on board – getting the right people with the right skills, while also making sure we’ve got a strong pipeline of fresh talent with new ideas and perspectives.

There’s also more we can be doing to improve gender diversity in the industry, as only around 22% of the offshore wind workforce are women. Improving diversity and inclusion in areas beyond gender is also extremely important for us as a sector – all companies can benefit from the strength and depth that comes from a diverse, driven team. If people feel empowered to bring their full selves to work, they’ll be far more vocal, creative and proactive with ideas.

Going forward, what role do you see your organisation playing in the future development of wind energy?

I would like Fugro to support developments through every stage of operation, from initial surveying right the way through to decommissioning, providing our geo-data and analytics and advice for as many projects as our team have the bandwidth to accommodate.

Once the projects are up and running, I want to see Fugro helping clients ensure that they get the maximum value possible. We’re also keen to play a primary role in driving remote and unmanned operations, running uncrewed vessels where possible and bringing more of our engineers and talent on land within safer environments. As a company, we would like to get more involved in biodiversity and in supporting net gain, as biodiversity is in its earlier stages of development and there are lots of ways to grow in this space.

How has WindEurope membership benefited your organisation?

WindEurope has been great for Fugro, and we have recently upgraded our membership to bring enhanced benefits. WindEurope events bring the offshore wind community together to discuss industry needs and challenges. They provide a much-needed forum to talk about what’s needed to drive the industry forward, as well as a chance to showcase new technology and sustainable innovation.

WindEurope’s market intelligence gives insight into key trends and market developments supporting our business planning.

As part of our efforts in providing industry support as a geo-data leader, it’s vital that we connect the senior members of our team with industry peers to ensure we are all growing and learning from each other. WindEurope membership has been very helpful in achieving this.

If we look ten years ahead, what do you hope to have achieved?

For Fugro as a business, we would obviously like to see ourselves grow along with the rest of the industry, and to further develop our services to support offshore wind. We’re also keenly focused on sustainable innovations, such as USVs, as well as projects seeking alternative fuels like methanol to power low carbon vessels. We hope these will be well on their way to becoming mainstream in the next 10 years.

Finally, access to data is improving all the time – and we expect faster turnarounds and deeper insights of what’s out there to reduce risks, helping our clients deliver projects they might not have even considered a few years’ previously.

Find out more about Fugro