Hi Birte! What led you into the world of biology?
Growing up on a farm in Northern Jutland, I was always out in nature—and I loved it. By the age of ten I could name all the plants in Denmark. I even spent all my pocket money as a teenager on memberships to WWF and Greenpeace. So, I decided to study biology and landscape management at university, and afterwards joined a consultancy firm focused on EU nature conservation directives and getting countries up to speed.
When I joined Orsted in 2007, offshore wind was still an up-and-coming technology, and we were focused on making it a competitive source of energy. We didn’t pay much attention to the many opportunities for marine life. Since then, a lot has happened with the way nature is valued in our assets.
You’ve experienced our biodiversity journey firsthand. How has it changed?
When I first started, our industry was more reactive than proactive on biodiversity and nature conservation matters. Our mind-sets have fortunately changed over time, but the biodiversity challenges we face have stayed the same for many years. When we build offshore wind farms, we must attempt to avoid areas where birds, fish, or marine mammals are either feeding or resting, or at the very least find ways to mitigate our impacts. In my department, we perform environmental impact assessments to identify locations with no environmental obstacles, but over the years we have increasingly been finding solutions that can positively stimulate local ecosystems.
My first experience with this approach was at our windfarm near Anholt in 2012, where we solved a technical problem with artificial reefs. The site had large boulders scattered on the seabed, which made it difficult for us to place the foundations and cables for our wind turbines. The authorities would not allow us to remove the boulders due to principles of conservation, so we came up with the idea of stacking the boulders together in piles to create reef-like structures. This became an important example of biodiversity efforts adding value to our projects.
On artificial reefs – have other authorities been receptive to these kinds of innovations?
Yes, many – in fact, many stipulate them, as in the case of the artificial reefs we constructed at Borssele, in the Netherlands. This was the first offshore wind project in our portfolio where ecological enhancement was an obligation built into the tender by the Dutch government. It really forced us as a developer to rethink parts of our solution with nature in mind. I believe that putting such requirements into tenders is a strong tool for governments to achieve positive impact—both in oceans and on land.