DEME CEO: ‘Climate technology is ready, at a certain cost’
Luc Vandenbulcke is the new CEO of dredging company DEME. He sees growth in the future, but also obstacles to overcome. In any way, this growth has to be sustainable.
As one of the fathers of the windmill parks in the open (North) sea, Vandenbulcke started Hydro Soils services at the beginning of the century. In 2005 came GeoSea and at the end of last year, it fused with sister company Tideway into DEME Offshore.
“This is more transparent for the customer. We are always looking at the long term. The most important task of a CEO here at DEME is to keep the company ‘future-proof.’ And the future also means sustainability, for the company and the projects.”
“Sustainable growth is the slogan of our biggest shareholder, Ackermans & van Haaren. Our guidelines are the sustainable development goals of the United Nations. Recently, we published our first durability report. It cost us a lot of time and effort, but it will be our bible.”
You talk about growth, but it seems there’s a lack of it?
“The market works with ups and downs. There are no big projects at the moment, but they will come back. To us, dredging has always been a mixture of small, middle, and large projects. Our fleet is built to respond efficiently and quickly at all kinds of orders.
Building offshore wind farms is dreadful, says your competitor Boskalis, because there is no equilibrium between risk and profit.
“He’s right if he means that prices have gone down. It’s not easy for small private developers anymore, because subsidies have disappeared and the scale of investments has increased.”
“Earlier on, a windmill farm of 500 MW consisted of 150 turbines producing 3,5 MW each. In a few years, there will be 40 turbines for the same power production. We have and are adapting our fleet to those changing conditions. Our newest ship, the Orion, will be able to secure 3.000-ton poles.”
Which are the mega-trends you are basing your long-term strategy on?
“First, there is the growing urbanization. More and more people will live in mega-cities along the cost sides. They will need protection against growing water masses, flooding, etc. Those cities will be supplied in goods by even larger ships. Those need new ports, so, dredging will be necessary.”
“The second pool of growth is energy. We will go to 100% renewable energy; only the timeline is still not entirely known. Oil and gas will boom once more in the transition phase, but then renewable energy will take over. In Portugal, you already have solar farms that produce at 20 euro per MWh. We work with Engie-Electrabel also on solar farms in the sea. I also believe in i-Land, energy atolls built in the sea.”
“Third, there is global warming. Countries will have to be protected against higher sea levels; soils will have to be protected against desertification. As a dredging company, we have plenty of good soil: sludge.”
Will deep-sea mining become a new, important activity for DEME?
“We’re at the beginning of this. We will need to learn and improve a lot of things. We understand the concern of organizations like Greenpeace, and we will keep at least one-third of our possible concessions untouched. But we don’t agree when they want a moratorium on everything for ten years. That’s too long.”
“You know, in the so-called nodules at sea-bottom, you can find different ores. You can replace different mines on the shore by one big mine underwater, which can be much more sustainable. There is one problem: we are watched by everybody, NGOs, governments, and scientists; in some other countries there is no supervision at all.”
Some economists are concerned about the world’s economy. There is the trade war between the US and China; there is the Brexit, Iran…
“The Brexit can be an opportunity for us because the UK will have to work on its shores and ports. We are always looking at the long term. We consider these crises as cobblestones in our road to the future.”
Is there a business case in the fight against the plastic soup in our oceans?
“It’s a complex issue. We want to extract the plastic, not the fish. That’s why we are focusing on rivers first, see our test project on the river Scheldt. When we can halt it there, our oceans will be much less polluted.”
You signed the petition in Belgium Sign4MyFuture.
“I have a lot of respect for those children in the streets urging us to do something, for their and our future. The technology is readily available yet, but it will cost money. Politicians have to make choices, and they have to do it quickly. In everything we do, sustainability has to be one of the most important prerequisites.”
They’re talking about keeping the nuclear power stations open for a longer time. Is that the way to go?
“We need consistency. We decided to go for alternatives, let’s do it then. There is no need for another debate anymore. It delays the solution and creates uncertainty. Let’s go for it.”