Influential & Interesting

The names in the spotlight in 2020

Our selection this year of the wind energy industry’s best and brightest personalities follows the pattern set in 2018.

Policymakers remain thin on the ground, despite the rapidly growing awareness that time is running out to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis. 

The turbine makers are better represented this year, reflecting strong product development in a brutally competitive environment that has driven one prominent OEM into bankruptcy.

Our list is presented in alphabetic order, but there is no getting away from the fact that the most interesting and influential clean energy champion in 2019 is a 16-year-old student from Sweden.

pic: UN

Peter Altmaier
Energy minister

The jovial federal economy and energy minister made his presence felt on the renewables sector in 2013, when he claimed the costs of Germany’s energy transition would amount to €1 trillion by 2040.

He immediately began campaigning to “pull the brake on electricity prices”, initiating the auction system for wind-energy support that kicked off in 2017, but which had had the unintended consequence of hugely suppressing onshore-wind growth.

Altmaier’s figures on the costs of renewables to the German economy are disputed.

Analysis published in October 2019 by the Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen-Nuremberg for green-electricity retailer EWS Schönau, showed renewable-energy levy costs from 2011-18 at €156.8 billion, but the increase in wholesale electricity prices without wind and solar PV would have reached €227.4 billion.

Still, renewables’ reputation for being expensive, despite the evidence, has stuck.

Altmaier’s latest wheeze is to assure that renewables’ share in national electricity consumption will reach 65% by 2030.

But he has assumed a consumption reduction to 2030, which is unrealistic given the trends towards electric vehicles and sector decoupling.

pic: Olaf Kosinsky

pic: Olaf Kosinsky

Henrik Andersen

When Anders Runevad stepped down as Vestas CEO earlier this year after six years at the helm, he said the time was right to move on.

Both Vestas and the wider-wind power industry were “entering a new phase”.

For new boss Andersen, former CEO of coating supplier Hempel and already a Vestas board member, this new phase encompasses intense price competition, the growing political and economic uncertainty that is stifling wind growth in many global markets, and the requirement to drive through the development of the company’s new medium-speed geared EnVentus onshore platform against a host of challengers in the 5MW-plus onshore sector.

Roughly one in five of all wind turbines installed last year was built by Vestas, making it the world’s leading OEM.

But net profit was down by 25% despite a 2% increase in revenue, revealing just how difficult the current trading and operations situation has become for wind-turbine manufacturers.

A route through this minefield has been set with Vestas making strategic investments to boost its capabilities as a service provider and project developer — including the development of hybrid power plants — over the past 12 months.

Andersen takes over then as the chief of a company that is playing an increasingly diverse role across the energy sector rather than as a pure-play turbine maker. 

Runevad steadied the Vestas ship after the turmoil the company suffered in the early years of the decade.

Andersen’s task is to navigate it through new and uncharted waters. 

pic: Vestas

José Luis Blanco

The collapse of Senvion must have sent shivers through the spines of the boardroom members of Nordex: a similarly sized, Germany-based, pure-play turbine manufacturer.

The announcement in October of a proposed takeover by Spain-based energy and infrastructure firm Acciona — whose turbine-making business was absorbed by Nordex in the merger in 2016 — is a clear sign that Blanco has a plan in place to avoid following Senvion’s slide into the wind industry history book. 

Blanco does have some decent cards to play, though.

Chief among them is the new 4-5MW turbine platform, launched and now operating in a number of markets well ahead of the opposition from the industry’s biggest players — Vestas, Siemens Gamesa and GE.

Nordex pulled off a similar march on its rivals at the beginning of the decade by being the first to identify — and develop products for — the low wind speed market.

The pace Nordex has set with the development of the new turbine platform — a 163-metre rotor was the most recent announcement — is impressive.

But the net loss of €55.4 million in the first half of 2019 shows that Blanco still has plenty of hard work ahead.

pic: Nordex

Mark Dooley
Global head
Green Investment Group

Since its £2.3 billion (€2.6 billion) acquisition from the UK government, the Green Investment Group (GIG) has continued in its mission to back innovative clean energy products but with a global vision.

With the backing of Australian private-investment goliath Macquarie and a team of specialists spread across the world, Dooley has his pick of projects to fund.

In its latest progress report, GIG said it had invested £2.4 billion in green projects between April 2018 and March 2019.

And that money keeps coming in.

In August, Macquarie launched an A$1 billion (US$680 million) institutional placing to raise funds for renewable-energy, infrastructure and technology investments.

Just one month later, it committed to developing a 20GW pipeline of renewable energy through GIG.

In short, Dooley has a big budget to support big projects.

Where he places GIG’s resources is likely to be followed by other investment institutions. 

pic: Green Investment Group

Pal Eitrheim
EVP New Energy Solutions

Succeeding Irene Rummelhoff — profiled in this feature in 2017 — in August last year, Eitrheim has continued the work that is transforming Equinor from an oil and gas major into an offshore-wind powerhouse.

Equinor’s new energy solutions business has secured preferred bidder status for its 816MW project in New York’s solicitation in the US, and entered the Chinese market following a memorandum of understanding with China Power International.

It was also successful in the UK’s support auctions in September, partnering SSE on 3.6GW of offshore wind projects situated at Dogger Bank in the North Sea, and is part of a consortium opening up the Polish market.

Equinor’s pioneering work on floating offshore development continues with projects under way in South Korea, the Spanish Canary Islands, and in Norway’s seas to power oil and gas platforms.

pic: Ole Jorgen Bratland / Equinor

Gunnar Groebler
Senior vice-president

Vowing to help the sector to “continue ramping-up scale”, Groebler took on his “other job” — chair of industry lobbying group WindEurope — for an 18-month tenure in March.

New wind installations in Europe in the first half of 2019 fell just short of 5GW, well below the volume required to keep the European Union’s (modest) 32% renewable energy by 2030 target within range.

The industry needs clarity and visibility to make the necessary investment in new capacity, a recent WindEurope report argued.

But both these things are in distinctly short supply in the continent’s current political and economic climate.

Groebler faces more stumbling blocks than a blindfolded person making their way through a jumble of upturned chairs in a narrow corridor — undersubscribed tenders, long permitting queues, thousands of job cuts, inadequate repowering targets and provision — plus governments that are much happier to set targets than legislate to enforce them.

His experience in a senior role at the wind division of Vattenfall, one of the world’s biggest renewable-energy developers, should equip him with some of the know-how to deal with this. 

pic: Wind Europe

Dan Jørgensen
Energy minister

Denmark’s new energy and climate minister will be putting into place the 2018 energy agreement that provided much-needed clarity on the country’s renewable energy future.

But he will do it his way.

Jørgensen has already allocated more than half the budget set aside for forthcoming renewable-energy auctions to other green initiatives.

He argued that as wind and solar are now so much cheaper — almost subsidy free — the money could be invested more widely and wisely.

This didn’t go down well with many in the Danish wind sector, disappointed by the lack of notice for the change.

They argued it will damage investor confidence and that some projects in development for several years would miss out on funding.

There are ongoing disputes around offshore wind, with local opposition to near-shore projects forcing delays.

It will be up to Jørgensen to appease both sides of the argument in a way that will allow, and encourage, further development. 

pic: Steen Brogaard

Sam Kimmins
Head of RE100
The Climate Group

Corporate procurement can offer strong revenue stability for generators and price predictability for consumers, making it a crucial component in a post-subsidy renewable-energy market.

Few people are more aware of this than Kimmins, who heads up RE100, a worldwide coalition of companies committed to powering their businesses entirely with renewable power.

At the latest count the group had 204 members, including the Ikea-owning Ingka Group, brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev, and technology giant Google.

Under Kimmins, RE100 has been particularly successful in the US and the data technology sector, but it now needs to make further ground in corporate power purchase deals in other fields of business, particularly in Europe, which is running well behind

pic: Climate Group

John Lavelle
Offshore CEO
GE Renewable Energy

The US industrial giant has bet everything on its 12MW Haliade-X, the most powerful turbine currently in development, breaking the hold that Siemens Gamesa and MHI Vestas have on the offshore sector.

The acquisition of Alstom and LM Wind Power and the $400 million investment in developing the 12MW behemoth weigh heavily on the balance sheet.

GE cited spending on the turbine as a key factor behind its renewable-energy segment’s heavy losses this year.

As offshore CEO, Lavelle will be directly in the firing line as GE tries to overcome its lack of meaningful offshore wind track record and bring a new and highly ambitious product to market.

To date, GE has received tentative orders for nearly 5GW of Haliade-X machines for projects in US and UK waters.

It has also clearly set its sights further afield with the announcement that it will build a plant in China to manufacture the turbine.

The 6MW Haliade turbine failed to break the established players’ grip on the offshore sector. Lavelle and GE cannot af ford a repeat performance. 

pic: Tim Fox / GE

David Mesonero
Siemens Gamesa

After playing a crucial role in the 2017 merger between Siemens and Gamesa, Mesonero was appointed to his current position nearly a year ago.

Since then, SGRE has gone from strength to strength, with net income in the April-June 2019 quarter nearly double that of the same period in 2018.

This has been achieved amid a backdrop of falling turbine prices, squeezed profit margins and difficulties in project execution that have plagued all the other leading OEMs, with dire consequences for some. SGRE is now pushing market leader Vestas in terms of orders and market distribution.

As the holder of the purse strings, Mesonero will be making the decisions on where to place the money to bridge the remaining gap.

SGRE’s move to take on some of Senvion’s onshore wind assets in Europe — notably its servicing deals as SGRE grows its increasingly profitable O&M business — was a relatively easy decision.

Rather tougher was the culling of 600 jobs in Denmark to "increase competitiveness" and "address challenging market conditions". That won’t be the only hard call Mesonero will have to make in the coming year.

pic: SGRE

Phil Murphy
New Jersey, US

Emerging as one of the most active state governors on climate and renewable energy, Murphy has described offshore wind as the "anchor" of New Jersey’s efforts to combat climate change.

Unlike some other US political leaders, he has unequivocally supported the words and actions of young activist Greta Thunberg.

In September he praised her for "standing up to our generation" on the climate crisis.

"That takes enormous courage," he said.

None of this will come as a huge surprise to US political observers and commentators.

Soon after Murphy — a former ambassador to Germany under president Barack Obama — took office in January 2018, New Jersey set an aggressive target of 3.5GW of offshore wind by 2030.

Championing clean energy had been a signature of Murphy’s election campaign.

It made a refreshing reversal from the foot-dragging of his predecessor, the Trump-supporting Republican governor, Chris Christie, who made little effort or headway following the state’s groundbreaking 2010 legislation that established offshore renewable-energy credits, and a 1.1GW target of offshore wind.

In June, New Jersey regulators selected Ørsted to develop the 1.1GW Ocean Wind site off Atlantic City, the largest offshore wind procurement by a US state.

There are plenty of obstacles to overcome before the country has a real offshore wind industry, but if Murphy is any guide, a lack of political will is not among them. 

pic: Phil Murphy for Governor

Marco Peruzzi
E2i Energie Speciali

E2i Energie Speciali, the renewable-energy joint venture between EDF’s Italian arm, Edison, and infrastructure investor E2i, was established in 2014 and now ranks as the country’s second-largest wind operator

From the start, Peruzzi made repowering a priority. Edison’s role as one of the frontrunners in Italy’s wind sector meant there was an opportunity to replace old turbines with fewer, modern and more efficient machines at a number of its sites.

E2i’s focus bore its first fruit last year with the repowering of three small wind farms — a typical example being the Castiglione Messer Marina project, where 44 old turbines with a total capacity of 26.4MW were replaced by only a dozen Vestas 3.3MW units, boosting capacity to 39.6MW.

Peruzzi has been with Edison since 2001, setting up and then serving as CEO for Edison Trading, the group’s gas, power and financial-derivative-trading operations, before taking responsibility for gas supply and logistic operations. In 2009 he launched the group’s energy-efficiency activities, and in 2013 he was named as CEO of Edison Energie Speciali, E2i’s predecessor.

With a master’s degree in civil engineering and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in the US, Peruzzi began his career designing offshore-oil platforms at Italian oil and gas group Eni, before moving into other roles.

He has served as a vice president of Italian wind energy association Anev since 2013, and in October took over responsibility for Edison’s sustainability, institutional affairs and regulation division.

pic: E2i Energie Speciali

Jörg Scholle
Technical development Enercon

Enercon’s hard-earned reputation for building reliable, durable and aesthetically pleasing wind turbines crashed into the hard-nosed reality of the price-driven competitive auctions that have defined Europe’s wind industry over the past few years.

The German manufacturer responded quickly, developing the all-new 4MW EP3 platform on modular production principles, making huge gains in weight- and cost-saving on the way.

In parallel, Enercon acquired Dutch turbine maker Lagerwey in late 2017 and set about transforming its 4-4.5MW LP4 concept into a production-ready 4.6-5MW turbine, now dubbed EP5.

Bringing these two platforms into serial production in the face of tough competition from Vestas, SGRE, GE and Nordex in the supersize onshore class will be Scholle’s major focus in the coming months.

pic: Enercon

Greta Thunberg
Climate-change activist

The teenage student from Sweden has no links with the energy industry as a whole, let alone wind power.

But nobody has done more over the past year to focus minds and effort on the urgent need for meaningful action on global heating.

"Don’t listen to me, listen to the science," has been her resolutely simple message when faced with the attempts of climate change-denying policymakers and commentators to dismiss and discredit her.

Still only 16 years of age, she was named by Time magazine as one of the most influential people of 2019, and made a hugely powerful speech at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York in September.

Contributors: Shaun Campbell, Craig Richard, Sara Knight, Heather O'Brian, Ros Davidson, David Weston

The printed version of this feature highlighted Laura Beane, president and CEO of Avangrid Renewables. However, between printing and publication, Beane stepped down from her role and has, therefore, been omitted from the online version.

You can read our previous lists below: