Wind power has proven to be big business. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), US wind power production has tripled over the past decade and there are now more than 54,000 wind turbines operating in 41 states as well as Guam and Puerto Rico. Following a pivotal merger, Nordex Group has profited from this tailwind and today, it stands as the fourth largest wind turbine provider in the marketplace. By bringing together the expertise of both Nordex and Acciona Windpower, Head of Project Management, John McComas, says that this union has been critical to positioning itself as a wind energy front runner.
The advantages have been tenfold. “One of the immediate benefits is size,” McComas explains. “Acciona Windpower and Nordex on their own were smaller organizations and were not reaching all markets. By merging, we've created the fourth largest wind turbine supplier in the marketplace. Since the marketplace itself is competitive and volume driven, this merger really helped us increase our offering to large-scale clients.” By blending two digitally-savvy companies, the merger has also helped to foster innovation. The Nordex Group has launched and installed one of its highest yielding and quietest onshore turbines. “In 2019, we will be installing our first commercial 4.5 MW wind turbines in international markets that will incorporate the best elements from the Acciona Windpower turbine with the original Nordex turbine,” notes McComas.
The Nordex Group not only competes with the wind sector but also has to go head to head with the solar, nuclear, hydropower among other sectors. What distinguishes the firm from the rest, argues McComas, is how it collaborates closely with its clients from start to finish. “These are projects that are incredibly complex with millions of dollars of investment, so collaboration is absolutely key,” he explains. “No one benefits if people are pointing fingers at each other and making excuses. Ultimately, it's much more positive for the project and everyone involved that we work hand in hand and keep our eye on what the goal really is: to safely get turbines in the ground and to have them producing clean and cost-effective power.”
Keeping a vigilant eye on market dynamics, the Nordex Group understands that the cost of energy is one of the most important key performance indicators (KPIs) facing the sector today. “The cost of energy reduction initiative has become culturally ingrained in the organization. We actively ask ourselves if we can do our tasks more efficiently without sacrificing safety and quality. I think it’s been a success.” One way that the wind turbine provider reduces costs is by working closely with clients to streamline their operations. “As soon as the agreements are inked we have meetings about cost whereby we talk with clients and their selected contractors to see if there's anything that can be done to cut unnecessary costs out, while still maintaining the positive elements of each party’s relationship,” McComas says. “We have meetings to teach them about how best to install the turbine, what best practices are, what they need to be watchful of, some of the lessons learned that others have encountered. We invite them to our facility to take a look at the manufacturing process. We invite them to audit that process.”
Offering powerful wind turbines across the globe, the joint company has more than 30 years’ experience harnessing wind energy. Through its trailblazing turbines the company has delivered more than 23 GW of sustainable energy, but despite its impressive reach it has always ensured that its projects are tailored to the specific client in mind. “We specialize and focus on specific constraints that each developer may have,” explains McComas. “There may be a sound requirement; there may be some greater electrical requirements.”
“We're a very flexible organization” he adds. “We’re not mechanical in what we offer from one project to the next. We listen to our clients, we listen to our partner contractors, and we adapt according to feedback in order to provide the best solution from a project-to-project basis.”
To meet the ever-changing demands of its clients, the Nordex Group has kept its finger on the pulse of the latest innovations in the sector and it has significantly invested in R&D. “There's a lot of generation technologies in the marketplace and we need to be able to demonstrate that we can offer the best, most sustainable, most cost-effective technology there is,” observes McComas. “Additionally, regulations are becoming stricter, testing requirements for the equipment are becoming more robust, and I would say it's important for all wind turbine and renewables manufacturers to understand what these requirements are, incorporate them into existing technologies – and to do so quickly.”
At the Nordex Group, this has involved forging strong partnerships with industry leaders. “We can't do these projects on our own,” McComas adds. “Over the years, we've developed strong partnerships with companies, even though we may not have contractual relationships with them. The names that stand out the most are RES America and IEA, in terms of construction. When it comes to transportation, we’ve worked closely with DSV, Coli, Oldendorff, Totrans, BNSFL and ATS and we’ve also had a very good manpower partnership with One Wind, Run Energy, and Gemini.”
With around 5,000 employees under its wing, the workforce undoubtedly has an important role to play in fostering continuous improvement. “The people who work on these projects every day are the most important asset we have,” notes McComas. “One of the competitive advantages we have as an organization is that we have a lot of seasoned employees – people that have truly gone up the ranks and are now in leadership positions.” With offices and subsidiaries in more than 20 countries, the wind turbine provider has a truly global reach and this expansion is only set to continue. This has proven to be a key tool for retaining top expertise and talent.
“Retention is a key issue for every manager in the marketplace,” McComas says. “I think we stand out because we provide opportunities to our employees. If they work hard and are open to it, then the company will find them an opportunity around the globe. We also have a very personal relationship with our employees. The people on site know that they can contact the leadership team directly and the fact that they have a voice and can project that voice to leadership is important.”
Recognizing the importance of its employees, the company has also worked hard to ensure safety is front and center of everything it does. From hazardous weather to working at heights or near high voltages, workers face a series of risks and therefore a strong safety culture has been embedded into the organization. “In project management, for instance, we demonstrate that safety is important to us by being involved in safety walks and safety audits when we go and visit sites. This ensures that our safety culture is well observed,” McComas explains. “We also have weekly discussions with site managers and safety personnel to hear what they’re seeing, what is being changed and what they think would be good to incorporate from a safety standpoint moving forward. Listening to the people that are actually conducting the work is key and trying to reflect that in actual change is very important to the overall culture of the firm.”
Today, the Nordex Group has several projects underway and is nearing completion on a 95 turbine project in Kansas, a 101 turbine project in Nebraska, and a 16 turbine project in North Dakota. Elsewhere, the firm is set to build its ninth wind farm in Texas. Looking forward, McComas is optimistic that this upward trajectory will continue in the years to come.
“I think most of the globe is starting to flip the switch on what is necessary for the future of energy production,” he reflects. “More regions, particularly industrial countries, are starting to realize the need for greater levels of social and environmental responsibility. I think that the renewable market is going to stay strong and I see a lot of positive things for the Nordex Group moving forward. We have just released our new Delta 4000 wind turbine with a 4.0-4.5 MW generator with a 149m rotor. The first turbines have been installed in Germany and further ones will be installed internationally in 2019 and we expect to see the first installations in the US in 2020, which is very exciting. Ultimately, we don't just supply a product that is competitive; we also provide a service that suits everyone's specific needs. I think that’s what will propel us forward and make us successful.”
“We're a very flexible and customer-oriented organization. We adapt according to feedback in order to provide the best solution from a project to project basis” - John McComas, Head of Project Management