One of the movies on my flight to the Offshore Wind Market Development USA conference in Boston was “ Field of Dreams ”. After watching it yet again, I thought of some lessons for the offshore wind industry in the US from this classic movie.
Over the years, I have worked with quite a few innovative companies who have been developing exciting new technology that has the potential to reduce the cost of offshore wind energy. In most cases, the individuals behind these companies have a strong engineering background and are focused on finding the most technically robust and efficient solution.
The problem, however, is that these individuals are often not thinking enough about what happens when they have to start selling their technology. To misquote “ Field of Dreams ”, they have a “build it and they will come” mentality. Having a technically brilliant engineering solution does not guarantee commercial success if it is not clearly addressing a relevant industry problem or if it increases risk or cost elsewhere in the project.
This does not mean these companies should stop seeking engineering excellence but that they also need to make sure they are taking a customer centred approach as early in the design process as possible.
So, how can US companies with innovative ideas make sure they are customer centred? The obvious answer is that they need to get out and talk to their future customers to understand what their problems are, what they have tried in the past and whether they are willing to try something new. I admit that this is often easier said than done. Innovative companies are typically small with limited resources and an ever-pressing need to make engineering progress. It can also be uncomfortable – sometimes the things you find out aren’t what you want to hear and mean you need to go back to the drawing board.
As difficult as this process may be, it is always worth it. Even a small change in the design process at an early stage can be the difference between success and failure. Furthermore, these early exploratory conversations can also prepare the ground for more serious commercial discussions later on.
Looking at the attendee list of the conference, I can see an interesting mix of companies and backgrounds and I hope I will be meeting some more innovators looking to talk with industry about their plans. With any luck, this should allow them to create their very own field of dreams that will be built on sound commercial principles rather than mysterious voices.
Chris will be leading the pre-conference workshop, “Business planning and supply chain opportunities for new market players”, at the Offshore Wind Market Development USA on 10-12 May in Boston