THE HERCULES, AN IRON FIST IN A VELVET GLOVE…

The coast of Lower Saxony in northern Germany, where the River Elbe flows into the North Sea, is a forest of steel and aluminium providing one of the most valuable resources of our age: clean, renewable energy.

These offshore windfarms generate a significant part of the country’s energy, along with solar and hydroelectric power.

The country is coming very close to achieving the European Union’s target of 20 percent clean energy by 2020, and windfarms are also helping it to reach the much more ambitious goal of total independence from fossil fuel by 2050.

Germany should be able to achieve this, thanks to a farsighted investment plan begun long ago, and an enviable store of know how accumulated by some of the giants in the sector.

One of these is Adwen, which designs, builds and installs turbines and rotors, and maintains many of the numerous North Sea windfarms near the mouth of the Elbe.

Last year, together with another company, LM Wind, Adwen built the world’s biggest turbine blade. It is 88 metres long, and designed for the new generation of 8-megawatt turbines, which have a rotor diameter of 180 metres.

Until last year, Adwen had two sites on the Elbe: one in Bremerhaven to construct the turbines, and one in Stade, Adwen Blades GmbH, which makes the huge rotors.

This year it has moved all production to Bremerhaven, using Stade to store and ship the turbines, since its position at the mouth of the Elbe makes it conveniently positioned for the offshore farms.

It uses ships to transport the rotors and other components used to maintain the existing twenty-one farms and build four more planned by the federal government over the next few years.

The blade of a turbine rotor is like the wing of a plane: light, flexible, but very large, unwieldy, and easily damaged.

At Stade, the blades are stored on a large area of open land until they are ready to be transported to the ship.

Handling them requires exceptional lifting capacity, fluid and precise movements, power, and offroad mobility.

For these reasons, Adwen rented several Hercules 201.10s from Dieci resellers Arbor AG and Febauma. They were exactly what it needed, using state-of-the-art hydraulic technology to combine power with precision, and featuring electronic load sensing and flow sharing and pedal-controlled inching, which allows the machine to move slowly even with the engine at full revs.

The Hercules is ideal for the delicate task of securing and lifting the blades by their centre of gravity. One small bump, tilt or fall could send tens of thousands of euros’ worth of polymers, aluminium, and high technology tumbling into the river. Thanks to hydrostatic transmission, and a central third differential that compensates for rolling differences between the front and back wheels, the Hercules transports the huge blades from the storage area across rough terrain to the embarkation point, resting them on saddles until they are loaded onto the ship.

The Hercules may be an iron fist in a velvet glove, but it also has a warm heart.

On cold winter mornings, when an incessant, biting wind blows in from the Baltic, operators appreciate the heat and comfort of its cabin.