Here’s my story behind OffshoreWind4Kids:

I am a civil and geotechnical engineer working on building offshore wind turbines. I studied at the University of Leuven, Belgium, and became interested in offshore wind during my Erasmus year at TU Delft in the Netherlands. I was fascinated by how we build structures in challenging offshore conditions with large wind and wave loads.

I decided to analyse the dynamics of these structures for my masters thesis, focusing on the interaction between soil and structure. I continued in this field with a  PhD at the University of Oxford in the UK. I worked on the PISA project, which  renewed design guidance for monopile foundations, which are now the most commonly used foundation type for offshore wind turbines. During my PhD, I developed a very thorough knowledge of foundation design and support structures for offshore wind turbines.

Afterwards, I started as a geotechnical consultant for offshore wind projects. I now am working for a company that installs offshore wind turbines. I am involved in the geotechnical design and installation aspects for these structures.

When I turned 29 in January of this year, I received a toy wind turbine from my parents (for ages 8-14). I absolutely loved it, and to quote one of my Instagram posts: “Turned 29, but could be mistaken for a kid when playing with wind turbines”. The toy quickly became my background for all the video calls now that we are working from home.

The offshore wind sector has rapidly developed and there are now some floating offshore wind farms being constructed. On the Belgian coast, we have no plans to build floating wind turbines. So I set out to go for it myself, and build the first Belgian floating wind turbine using the toy I received for my birthday.

I started out by building a floating barge using things I had laying in my attic from my childhood. I added inflatable swimming bands (like the ones a child just learning to swim would use) to make it float and, voilà, it was ready for its first test. Snowstorm Darcy had just arrived in Belgium and most ponds in Brussels were frozen apart from one close to home that had running water. It was there I installed Brussel’s first floating wind turbine! 

Two weeks later, we had a sunny weekend on the coast. I built another two supporting structures: a monopile and a spar buoy. I then drove straight to the Belgian coast with all my equipment, wellies, and a waterproof fishing suit. The sea water was still around freezing temperature, so I had to wear the fishing suit before going  into the sea. The spar buoy proved difficult to install because I had to go quite deep into the sea in order to release the structure. But alas ... it floated! It was spinning! It produced the first electricity from a floating wind turbine on the Belgian coast!

Being a geotechnical engineer, I also wanted to build the foundations for the floating structures. I built a small lab in my attic where I installed a small sand container. I also created some suction anchors that I managed to install using a manual pump. Right now, (early March), it is still too cold at sea to install them offshore, but when the spring and summer arrive in Belgium, I will be able to dive into the sea to install them.

As I was putting time and energy into this hobby project, my family must have thought I was going crazy doing all this. I wanted to share this joy of building the structures, and so I decided to start OffshoreWind4Kids. The idea was to organise demo days, where children can build their own offshore wind turbine. If they experience the same joy as I do, perhaps they might be inspired to consider a future career in engineering?

For the demo days, I aim to teach as many girls as boys about offshore wind. I hope that this will also help girls to consider a future career in engineering. By encouraging girls, I want to support women in engineering.

I am sharing everything about the project on buymeacoffee, where you can follow me to stay tuned and see where this project goes!

William