A clear yes to change

The expansion of renewable forms of energy is a human endeavor – a windfarm can only be created with the help of many. From its planning to construction, people talk about their role at He Dreiht, one of the largest offshore wind power projects in Europe and the most recent example of Allianz’s sustainable investments.

The height of a wind turbine is almost the same as the Eiffel Tower and its weight is about that of 170 elephants. The rotor is as long as two football fields. And all that multiplied by 64 – that’s how many are to be built in the North Sea off Germany from 2024. Total output: 960 megawatts. This means that the planned He Dreiht windfarm will be able to supply more than 1.1 million households with electricity. A massive achievement when you consider the industry’s development: In 1991, the world’s first offshore wind farm off the coast of Denmark with eleven wind turbines had an output of just under five megawatts. Soon, a single He Dreiht turbine will generate three times as much electricity. It’s no wonder that the construction project is currently one of the largest offshore wind farms in Europe.

The numbers sound impressive. “But our partners are equally as strong,” explains Michelle Rühl, Senior Investment Manager at Allianz Investment Management (AIM). The economics graduate played a key role in He Dreiht’s investment for Allianz and is a protagonist in this series of portraits. 

The necessary development towards ever larger and more powerful offshore wind farms also requires increasing cooperation at an international level. The investment volume for the record-breaking He Dreiht park is around 2.4 billion euros. Allianz has invested in 49.9 percent of the project – with a consortium made up of the Norwegian state fund Norges Bank Investment Management and the Danish infrastructure investor AIP Management. A quarter of the sum is financed by the European Investment Bank, one of the world’s largest financiers of climate protection and ecological projects. 

EnBW acts as the operator. The energy company is the largest in Germany and has been working with Allianz for years. In addition, there are already secured, long-term purchase contracts for green electricity with well-known domestic companies, such as the Frankfurt airport operator Fraport, chemical company Evonik, steel producer Salzgitter and technology company Bosch. 

Photo credit: Florian Manz
Photo credit: Florian Manz

He Dreiht is a strong, solid asset in Allianz’s “renewable energies” portfolio. He Dreiht is Allianz’s second offshore wind farm investment, alongside the Dutch wind farm Hollandse Kust Zuid. Moreover, the insurer has now invested in more than 100 solar systems and onshore wind farms – in Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, the Netherlands and the USA. 

As an insurance and financial services provider, Allianz primarily wants to invest its customers’ money in the best possible way when it comes to such sustainable investments. Cristina Rotariu is also convinced of this. The director of Allianz Capital Partners (ACP) negotiated the transaction with He Dreiht and tells us more about it in the portrait series. “It was important to us that all partners had the same understanding of sustainability,” explains the experienced business graduate. “We want to hold such investments for at least 30 years.” Since 2005, Allianz has been successfully investing customer capital in an ecological and sustainable manner. Of this, 2.7 billion euros has been invested in renewable energies, 4.1 billion euros in sustainable real estate and 8.9 billion euros in sustainable corporate activities. 

As one of the world’s leading insurers, Allianz’s global responsibility towards the environment is also an important concern. The company actively contributes to the energy transition via its sustainable investments. In order to meet many countries’ ambitious climate goals, the share of renewable energies in the global energy mix must ideally increase from around 20 percent currently to 80 percent by 2050. Powerful offshore wind farms, such as He Dreiht, will play a key role. Although offshore wind turbines already generate more than 64 gigawatts of electricity, this is only a small beginning. According to the Global Wind Energy Council, in order to achieve the desired zero emissions target, it would have to be more than 1,150 gigawatts by 2050. 

The selected protagonists also work to achieve this global goal. They all played their part in making a mega project like He Dreiht a success. In Allianz’s exclusive portrait series, they reveal what challenges they had to overcome and what they think about wind power and sustainability. 

Photo credit: Thomas Pirot
Volker Napp and Oliver Cychy (right) has been working as an insurance agent for Allianz for more than 30 years. Over the last several years, the 53-year-old has increasingly been advising clients about sustainability from his office in Frankfurt. Volker Napp (left) is one of his most loyal customers. He took out Allianz life insurance with him in 2000 and thereby also invested in the He Dreiht wind farm. 
“The wind has also changed in my profession. Today, customers are much more interested in the topic of sustainability than they were ten years ago. I advise people how best to insure their electric cars, solar systems or newly built low-energy houses, for example. But a lot has also happened in the area of retirement provision. Since such products are now very close to the capital market, I’m often asked how Allianz actually invests the money. Young, educated people, those in their late 20s and older, particularly want to know. Many have a surprisingly high level of financial knowledge because they had to deal with investment topics and retirement planning early on – and still have to. Unfortunately, the days of stable state pensions and interest rates are over. And of course, this generation has grown up with the climate crisis. That’s why it’s important to them that their money isn’t lost in some trendy business models but is rather invested sustainably – because of the returns. But also, because it makes sense. I always look forward to seeing their impressed faces when I report on Allianz’s major, sustainable investments. For example, the Tideway Tunnel project, with which the City of London was able to implement a modern sewage system under the Thames. He Dreiht is guaranteed to be on my personal list of best-of examples.”  

“To be perfectly honest – when I signed the contract for my Allianz life insurance 23 years ago, I wasn’t thinking about sustainability. It was purely a matter of trust because my parents had already been insured by Allianz for a long time. Everything that could be insured, was insured. Two file folders full of policies – from occupational disability to comprehensive insurance. 

Today, I think it’s great that my money is not only invested profitably, but also in large-scale sustainable projects, such as He Dreiht. The issue of environmental protection has become very important to me and my family in recent years. Especially the responsible use of our resources. I try to save energy wherever possible. For example, we have a photovoltaic system on the roof. And since I started supporting an Indian aid organization with my advertising agency, we also have a retention tank in the garden. We use this to collect rainwater to water our plants. If there is no more rainwater, we just let the plants dry out in the summer. You know, in India, children are happy to have a glass of clean drinking water, and I wasted 200 cubic meters of drinking water a year just sprinkling the garden. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen.” 

Photo credit: Thomas Pirot
Michelle Rühl. As a member of the Allianz Investment Management (AIM) team, Michelle Rühl considers how to select and weight investments in the renewable energy sector. The economics graduate ensures that the Allianz insurance companies’ portfolios are as balanced as possible in order to minimize risks while maximizing returns. He Dreiht is a solid building block. 

“Why exactly did we choose to invest in He Dreiht? The overall package was right: strong project partners, long-term purchase agreements for electricity, reasonable returns and further diversification of our portfolio.

In general, offshore wind power is an important component in our portfolio of renewable energy plants - alongside onshore wind and solar energy. These technologies have different and sometimes complementary properties, which is why we value a diversified portfolio - not only in terms of technology but also in terms of geography, electricity users and technology manufacturers.

And yes, renewable energies are currently facing some challenges: inflation and high interest rates are increasing costs and there are bottlenecks in the supply chains. But renewables are the cheapest energy source in many parts of the world. We’re convinced that they continue to offer attractive investment opportunities over the long term. Ultimately, we need them to achieve many countries’ ambitious climate goals. In addition, they’re important meet the ever-increasing demand for electricity – especially in energy-intensive industries. 

I’m delighted that renewable energies have been able to overcome their niche existence over the past decade and become competitive. This is helping to advance the energy transition. Because if industrial companies can cover their electricity requirements with green electricity at competitive prices in the long term, then they will do so. The same principle also applies to private consumers. The path must be as simple and easy as possible so that many people follow it.

I see this in my everyday life. The best example is the Allianz canteen, where I regularly eat. They offer such excellent vegan or vegetarian options, which are often cheaper than the meat dishes. I see how even dedicated meat eaters voluntarily choose the more climate-friendly alternative. If the sustainable option is easier and cheaper, many people go for it.”

Photo credit: Andrea Artz
Cristina Rotariu, Transaction Director, is responsible for renewable energy investments at Allianz Capital Partners (ACP). The business graduate and her team are constantly on the lookout for projects and partners, for example when new solar or wind parks are to be built. If such a project is interesting, she negotiates the contracts and ensures the right legal and financial framework.

“As a transaction director, I’m always looking out for attractive investments. For example, my team and I unearthed a real treasure with He Dreiht. Particularly with huge projects, such as offshore wind farms, this is quite complicated and requires years of planning. Ultimately, this kind of project often costs several billion euros. You can’t do it by yourself.

So, we need suitable partners. People who have similar ideas about our joint future. For example, when it comes to the question of how long you want to hold on to such an investment. There are companies or funds, for instance, that want to exit after five years. We take a long-term approach. Our investments should not only be ecologically but also economically sustainable. Anyone who enters into a partnership with us should be prepared to commit themselves for at least 30 years. With the He Dreiht project, for example, we found a suitable consortium with the Danish pension fund and the Norwegian state fund. Trust, competence and experience play an important role for us. That’s why EnBW was a ‘perfect match’ as another partner for He Dreiht because Allianz already successfully cooperates with the energy company on other projects. 

Despite all of the positive excitement and fun brought by such mammoth projects, I also hold them in a lot of respect. At the end of the day, we’re investing people’s hard-earned money. They often depend on living off it in their old age. So that’s why I don’t allow myself any mistakes. And I wouldn’t forgive myself for them either.

I’ve been with ACP for twelve years. When I joined the Renewables Investment team seven years ago, alternative energy as an investment class wasn’t as developed as it is today. Now like then some people laugh at what we do here. Some even turn into real Don Quixotes who verbally attack wind turbines because they’re too expensive, too inefficient or too ugly. I’d like to say to them: we’re currently experiencing a fundamental turning point. Fossil fuels will slowly die out. I compare this to the invention of the car: it also replaced the horse-drawn carriage. And we in Europe should be grateful that we have the opportunity to build offshore wind farms off many coasts. In Japan, for example, people would very much like to develop similar projects. But the conditions there are unfavorable due to tsunamis and the great depth of water off the steep Pacific coast.

I’m pleased that what was once a niche has now become a relevant, profitable and ecologically sustainable business.” 

Photo credit: Maximillian Mann
Dr. Bente Limmer. For over eight years, the biology graduate has been working for the Institute for Applied Ecosystem Research in Rostock. With her team, she assesses pre-designated areas for offshore wind farms in the North and Baltic Seas. She checks which plants and animals live there and how many of them are there. For He Dreiht, she also examined the marine area by research vessel. 
“It starts at three in the morning. Then our research vessel goes out to sea. By sunrise, we have to reach the area that we’re supposed to examine for a so-called environmental impact study. We need to be able to register the first bird flight of the morning. That was also the case for He Dreiht. We carried out an initial baseline survey. To do this, we travel by ship around the entire area of the planned wind firm – in a close-knit grid pattern. We document flora and fauna, from the seabed to the sky. For example, we record which birds or marine mammals we discover and how many. We take side scan sonar images of the seabed. In addition, we use sediment grabs and nets to take samples from the seabed in order to characterize the benthos i.e. the organisms on the seabed or within the sediment cover. We can record clicking sounds from whales using a hydrophone. And during the day, we use our binoculars to identify the bird life in the traditional way. At night, we use radar to make bird groups visible even in the dark, or we use our ears to “recognize” them. Because when birds migrate in the dark, they use constant sound to ensure that the flock stays together. 

In He Dreiht’s case, we were on the road for several days every month for two years. As soon as the wind farm is built, we will check the biotope again during the construction phase and then when He Dreiht is in operation. We use this to research the extent to which animals change their behavior due to construction work or operations. From this, we also gain insights for future projects. A good example is the endangered harbor porpoises in our marine areas. Thanks in part to such biotope tests, it has already been determined that the shy mammals are bothered by the loud pile-driving work that takes place when the wind turbine foundations are driven into the seabed. That’s why construction technicians are now laying hoses on the seabed from which bubbles are pressed with compressed air. These rise to form a wall and thus insulate the noise from construction work. The Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency has therefore also set a legal limit for Germany that such pile-driving work may not be louder than 160 decibels at a distance of 750 meters from the pile. But even if offshore construction definitely disrupts the delicate ecosystem, we know that it can recover afterwards. For example, harbor porpoises are returning. 

But there’s a lot we don’t know yet. Technical progress in the industry is changing too quickly for that. Wind turbines, for example, are being built higher and higher. This can affect other bird species that tend to fly higher in the sky. Such wind farms can also be an opportunity for other species. For example, there is evidence that the foundations in the water could be a new home for the European oyster or lobster.” 

Photo credit: Henning Kretschmer
Shana Cohen is a French national born in Singapore, who has been working for the Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas since 2016. As Senior Director of Technical Sales Management for Offshore in Northern and Central Europe, she is responsible for the technical team in charge of the technical implementation and the optimization of offshore projects in the region. For He Dreiht, she and her team drew up the technical specifications and contracts for the new generation of turbines “V236-15.0 MW”.

“For many years, the watchwords of the offshore wind industry were bigger, faster, more powerful. Many companies competed to be the first to bring the most powerful turbines to market. Vestas was also a pioneer in this contest. However, the fast pace is currently presenting many manufacturers, developers and suppliers with enormous challenges. Increasingly larger components, such as towers, nacelles, or rotor blades, also require ever larger harbour facilities, installation vessels, storage facilities or onshore lorries to safely transport the components. The crises of recent years have further jeopardized the entire value chain. Like many other industries, we have also suffered from inflationary cost pressure and a decline in the number of wind turbine installations. Among other things, this is due to unnecessarily complicated authorization procedures and slow approval processes. 

But in every challenge also lies a great opportunity. In the offshore wind power segment, we are entirely focusing on our most powerful turbine model, the V236. 15.0 MW. We want to industrialize this efficiently without compromising on quality. For example, our prototype in Østerild, Denmark has already been subjected to a rigorous testing programme and has recently received its Type Certificate. In offshore like in onshore wind power, we see growing complexity in terms of market requirements. It is therefore important for us to find ways to simplify and build on standardized, scalable building blocks based on a common design architecture for onshore and offshore wind turbine platforms. A key question driving technological innovation at Vestas is how we can continue to enhance project value. With the V236-15 MW, the turbines can reach up to 280 high and each blade is longer than a football field – this must be able to withstand decades of extreme weather conditions at sea and meet stringent corrosion requirements and standards. The V236-15.0 MW is built on both modular principles and commonalities with the EnVentus onshore platform and is “International Electrotechnical Commission” (IEC) type-certified for a design life of 30 years, offering the opportunity for project lifetime value enhancement, even in challenging offshore conditions. 

The energy sector is a highly strategic industry and my motivation has been to build a career in this industry while at the same time maintaining a high level of exposure to technological innovation. I started my career in the oil and gas industry because the issue of energy was fundamental to me. Furthermore, my core interest and commitment to sustainability and renewable energy motivated me to join Vestas in 2016. Despite the challenging last few years, we at Vestas have retained our dynamism and confidence. And all of our 29,000 employees, then and now, share the common goal of playing an active role in the energy transition.” 
Photo credit: Florian Manz
Thomas Bieber.  As an emergency paramedic, the 47-year-old deals with all kinds of accidents on board the Bibby Wavemaster Horizon – from finger cuts to serious injuries. With over 20 years of professional experience, he qualified for offshore operations thanks to three years of additional training in emergency medicine and technical climbing. 

“The worst thing I’ve experienced on the high seas? Let me ask you a question in return: Do you know the British comedy act Monty Python? In their film, “The Meaning of Life” there was this scene where at the end all the guests had to throw up as they felt sick. I’ve had a similar experience onboard. Suddenly, a dozen technicians came rushing into my sick bay in quick succession because they were feeling sick. They were all seasick. As a paramedic, it was quite easy for me to treat – there is good medication for it. However, it also makes you very tired. You can’t work. But that was really an exception. Normally, the crew and technicians have solid digestions – even in ten-meter waves, which can often happen here at sea. 

Serious accidents have become really rare these days thanks to ever-increasing safety standards. In addition, everyone on board has the right to stop working if they feel unsafe. The golden rule is always: safety first. Nobody is forced to walk the plank at sword point during a storm. 

More often I have to deal with emotional ailments. For some reason, people like to tell me about their big and small concerns. Some people develop a kind of cabin fever after 14 days on a ship, far away from home. Of course, I feel honored by their trust in me. Over time you have the opportunity to get to know everyone on board better. This is the big difference to ground-based emergency rescue, where you only look after patients for a short time. That’s why, in addition to professional qualifications, you always need a great deal of life experience, social skills and empathy. 

Nevertheless, my employer, Johanniter International Assistance has of course trained me how to deal with real emergencies – much more extensively than a paramedic on land. For example, I completed a climbing safety training course called Special Rescue from Heights and Depths. This means that I can rope myself directly up to the injured person on the wind turbine and abseil down together. In an emergency, I have to be able to care for the patient independently over a longer period of time. Because we’re often too far away from the coast by ship. And a rescue helicopter can’t fly out to us immediately in all weathers and takes about an hour to reach us. For example, in the worst-case scenario, I would even be authorized to treat a heart attack with medication under medical supervision via video link with our telemedicine center on land. Using our diagnostic devices, I can transmit a patient’s vital parameters in real time to the control center and the helicopter. Digitalization has made our operations much more effective – almost as effective as on land.” 
Photo credit: Florian Manz
David Gouldsmith. As captain of the service operation vessel “Bibby WaveMaster Horizon”, the 59-year-old Brit ensures that the technicians on board have comfortable and safe living conditions while travelling the high seas. Gouldsmith transports workers directly to the wind turbines and then alternates on a two-week rota with other operation vessels during the construction phase.

“I actually never wanted to go to sea. I’m a qualified electrician, but I had to make ends meet with odd jobs when I was young. Back then, in the 1980s, there wasn’t much work in the UK. But then the chief engineer of a cargo ship moved to our village. His life sounded so adventurous to a bored country boy. And skilled tradesmen were needed at sea. So, I signed up. And I’ve never really disembarked since.

Since then, I have worked on many different ships. First as an electrician. Then as a simple sailor. I worked my way up to captain – handling ferries, semi-submersibles, tankers, repair, cable and supply ships on oil rigs. It’s crazy. I’ve actually sailed across the oceans for the oil and gas industry.

It was precisely that which qualified me for my work on the `Bibby WaveMaster Horizon´ because the most challenging part of my job with wind turbines is the docking process. I did something similar for oil rigs. With offshore wind farms, however, the maneuver is riskier because we often can’t wait out bad weather. But three-meter-high waves are no problem. We have a crane on deck that we use to extend a gangway to the turbines. The technicians then go to their workplace 30 meters above the water. Our ship should not lose its position even in rough seas. We must not get too close to the wind turbines or drift too far away. But the ship’s technology compensates to a certain degree for any motion, and we also have extremely high safety standards. Back then, workers often slipped on the gangway or got caught. Today, hardly any accidents happen. The industry has learned a lot over the years.

Today, as captain of the ‘Bibby’, I’m very proud to be playing my part in expanding renewable energies. It’s funny: back then as an electrician, I never thought about whether there were good or bad electricity sources. Thanks to my work, I now realise how important the difference is. I would love to have a solar system built on my roof. But I live in a listed cottage in the south of England that is over 200 years old. The planning authorities weren’t too keen on the idea. Anyway, that’s another story.”