Executive from the World’s Largest Wind Turbine Company Speaks at USU
By Christine Arrington
Torben Bonde speaks with students
Photo by Paul Lewis Siddoway
Torben Bonde, a tall, thin Dane (not Hamlet) from Jutland, Denmark, told a rapt audience at the Huntsman School, “I am the happiest man in the world to be working at the intersection of information technology and renewable energy.”
He is the chief information officer of Vestas, the largest wind turbine company in the world, with revenue last year of 6.7 billion Euros, with earnings before interest and taxes of about 268 million Euros (4 percent), and with 21,000 employees. Last year he was named “Chief Information Officer of the Year” in Denmark, but his purview extends far beyond Scandinavia.
Torben—whose first name ironically is separated from “turbine” by just three letters—directs 700 information technology specialists from 30 different countries, a veritable United Nations of tech geeks! Vestas has built and installed 44,000 wind turbines in 66 countries across five continents. These turbines save the world 40 million metric tons of CO2 every year. The company installs a new turbine somewhere in the world every three hours.
Vestas has a gigantic operation in the Philippines; a headquarters operation in Jutland, Denmark; production operations in 16 locations around the world; a U.S. sales, service, and construction management office in Portland, Oregon; an operation in Denver, Colorado, and an IT R&D facility under construction at Lewisville, Colorado, just outside of Denver. It is now hiring information technology employees for the Colorado operation, and he encouraged Utah State graduates to apply—to get in on the ground floor of a fast-growing, exciting industry.
Torben pointed out that the world’s population has just passed seven billion, on its way to a projected 10 billion in five years, and then 16 billion in five years more. He said the lack of water and space that we face can be resolved, but the lack of energy is the biggest problem.
The goal of Vestas is to “grind down the cost of wind energy” until it’s on a par with oil and gas. In that quest, he said, echoing the Apollo 13 space mission declaration, “Failure is not an option.”
In emerging markets, where the Smart Grid and even some Smart Homes are brand new, the price of wind energy already is comparable to the price of oil and gas, but in the developed world, the legacy electric grid isn’t the most efficient. In Europe, for example, the grid originally was constructed country by country, with a full stop at the borders.
“If Edison saw our electric grid,” Torben said, “he would understand it completely. In the last 100 years, there hasn’t been that much development in existing electricity systems.”
In forward-thinking countries such as Germany, by contrast, Smart Homes now produce much of their own energy, along with an extra 35 kilowatts of energy that is sent onto the Smart Grid and traded nine times before it gets back to consumers.
Renewable energy companies are getting closer to cost parity every day, Torben said. Vestas, for example, recently determined that significant cost saving could come from increasing the size of the “footprint” of a wind turbine farm to 15 square kilometers and increasing the size of the wind turbine blades, as well.
He affirmed that creating 100 percent of the energy in developed countries from renewable sources isn’t feasible right now, but he said, “If we could get to 30 to 45 percent of energy from renewables, that would be great.”