Interview with Even Hjetland – Fred. Olsen & CO
I had a nice dialogue through emails with Even about Fred. Olsen Ltd. and their wave energy development program, Bolt Sea Power. Considering the current global investment in renewable energy, mainly wind and solar, there is not much pouring into the oceanic power sector at the moment. Nevertheless, the Norwegians are not giving in to the cold hard seas and continue to develop and break new grounds. After all, the Fred. Olsen group of companies were established in 1848 and has been in the family through many generations and weathered many storms throughout the years, both offshore and on the land.
We hope that you will find this interview as interesting as we do here at The Energy Bit. After all, it’s uncharted waters!
Fred. Olsen & Co has a very long history in the marine industry. Can you give us a quick summary of the biggest changes and developments during this stretch, dating back to the 1840s?
I have been with Fred. Olsen for just ten years and therefore don’t have full insight into the variety of industries that the company has been involved with. The base, however, has always been ship owning: used for transportation of everything from ice and fruit to oil (bulk) and cruise passengers. Fred’s father, Thomas, established the Timex watch company during exile in the US in the 1940s (https://www.timex.com/the-timex-story/), and we’ve also had an airline company for mail and cargo freight.
One clear move over the past 25 years, is the move into renewable energy. From the late 1990s, constructing and operating wind farms in Scotland, Sweden, and Norway, developing wave energy technology since the beginning of the 2000s (www.boltseapower.com), and establishing Fred. Olsen Windcarrier for construction of offshore wind farms in 2010. Fred. Olsen was also involved from the very beginning of the development of what is now the world’s most powerful tidal stream generator, Scotrenewables. It was rebranded to Orbital Power in 2018 (still holds a minority stake).
When and who took the first initiatives for the Bolt Sea Power and marine energy development in general?
Fred. Olsen himself took the initiative in the early 2000s. He is a seasoned sailor and had a strong conviction that there should be a commercial opportunity with generating electricity from ocean waves.
How long did it take for the Bolt Lifesaver to reach the current operational status? Are there still things to improve?
We have operated BOLT Lifesaver since 2012, and have modified designs onboard consistently over the past seven years and during three deployments. She is now probably the most thoroughly tested wave energy converter in the world and performs at industrial levels with respect to power production and reliability.
Who are your customers? What about shipping and installation? Lifetime? Service?
Our business case is to supply power offshore, and we are in conversations with multiple companies within the offshore oil and gas, aquaculture, offshore wind, offshore telecom, oceanography, and defense, to find partners to work with to adapt our technology to a custom product. BOLT Lifesaver design, with multiple power take-off units on one ring-shaped hull, is suitable for certain applications and too large for others.
Our strengths are cost-efficient installations, autonomy, remote operation, and long service intervals. We have not secured any commercial customers yet, but are in some very promising conversations within subsea oil and gas and offshore telecom that we hope to materialize over the next year.
Are there any energy storage alternatives that could accompany the Lifesaver?
We currently utilize onboard battery storage in the form of ultra capacitors and batteries, but producing hydrogen could also be an alternative in the future.
Besides from the BOLT Lifesaver, do you have any other models or prototypes?
We have built four prototypes in the past, but none of them are currently operational. See the video below for a brief introduction.
The forces of the ocean are limitless and quite untapped so far. How do you feel about the grand potential of marine energy in general compared to the other renewables? Are we just scratching the surface?
Wave energy will be a floating renewable energy technology, competing with floating wind turbines and floating solar. We don’t yet know the entire cost picture of those technologies, so whether wave energy turns out to win or not is uncertain. There is vast potential, but over the ten years I have worked with wave energy, I have yet to see any grid-connected commercial technology demonstrated. I believe the first commercial applications will be to power systems that are offshore rather than bring the power onshore.
What are some of the technological advancements required for reaching the “next level”?
As our business model is to provide energy far offshore, cost-efficient installation and recovery methods will be crucial. We are in the process of investigating the aforementioned as we speak, for a potential deployment of BOLT Lifesaver in the North Sea.
Are any governments showing interest in marine energy development?
We are more focused on the private industry for end-users, so we don’t really have a grasp of the global governmental interests. UK government still seems to have a strong heart for wave and tidal energy, though. The Norwegian government, on the other hand, is more focused on floating wind.
Do you have any competition at the moment, or is it just a few companies trying to reach a common goal?
US company Ocean Power Technologies is aiming for many of the same applications as we do. Other than that, I don’t know of any technology that has been demonstrated at the industry level yet.
When will these devices be as common as wind turbines or solar panels?
I think we need to understand the cost of floating wind and floating solar before one can acquire funding to develop reliable large scale wave energy systems. I hope for us to have secured our first commercial contract for a smaller, offshore, stand-alone power supply unit by 2020.
How many subsidiaries/projects does Fred. Olsen & Co have and how many people are currently employed? Any other renewable energy projects?
The company structure of Fred. Olsen is quite confusing, to be honest. Fred. Olsen & Co. is primarily a company hosting administrative functions in Norway. Bonheur is the company that owns controlling shares in the stock listed companies (such as Windcarrier, FO Renewables, FO Ocean, etc.). Fred. Olsen Ocean acquired Global Wind Service and Universal Foundations some time back. Fred. Olsen Ltd. is the company owning UK subsidiaries, such as Natural Power Consultants, ZX Lidar, SeaRoc, etc. There are close to 2000 employees working with renewable energy in the Fred. Olsen group of companies.
Does Blockchain/DLT mean anything to you, or offer some possible applications for you in the future?
Possibly, but not something we are currently investigating.
We want to thank Even for the friendly conversations, and for apprising us about the marine energy industry and Fred. Olsen & Co. Don’t forget to subscribe to our Daily Roundup straight to your inbox, check out our other articles and interviews on our homepage, or continue the discussion on our Facebook and Twitter pages.