William Beuckelaers, Director, OffshoreWind4Kids, talks about the genesis of his passion project and why kids need to be taught about renewable energy while they are young
William Beuckelaers, Geotechnical Engineer with Jan De Nul, celebrates his birthday in January every year. 2021, however, was special. He turned 29 and wanted something memorable for his pandemic birthday. So, when his parents asked him what he would like as a gift – he said a ‘Wind Turbine’ so that he could have an apt background for his online work calls.
When he started playing around with his new gift, the idea of building a small-scale floating wind turbine struck. “I knew I had some things from my childhood that I could use. Some tubes that I could connect and create a floating structure. I started out by building a floating barge using things I had in my attic. 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,” William shares.
Two weeks later, William was off to the Belgium coast with two supporting structures to test - a monopile and a spar buoy. When a parent asked William if he also does it for kids – he had no response back then. But some months later, he did.
William started OffshoreWind4kids in April 2021 with the hope to teach young minds more about engineering, technology, and renewable energy. The organization uses a hands-on ap-proach where children can play with small scale offshore wind turbines, illustrating various aspects of offshore wind energy. Since its conception, he has held multiple demo days all over Europe, including a recent one with Atlas in the Netherlands. With the belief that, “If they experience the same joy as I do, perhaps they might be inspired to consider a future career in engineering?”
Lending a helping hand
What started as a LinkedIn post and a buy me a coffee page today witnesses the support of industry leaders. Atlas Professionals being one of the partner affiliates. With the offshore wind industry developing rapidly, the transfer of knowledge to curious, young minds is crucial and Atlas believes in being proactive and promoting this initiative. To reach as many children as possible, William plans to use local hubs, “We plan to initially set up hubs in five countries: Belgium, the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands and Ger-many. There are some talks at a very nascent stage to take these demo days to international waters as well. It is good to see such an overwhelming response and to know that companies care about these challenges and are ready to invest in the future of wind.”
With the rapidly growing wind industry, the challenge lies in finding the right skillset. He as-serts, “We need a lot of people to join our industry. I often see that it is not easy to find the right people, just because there is a dearth of skilled people out there.” While in university, the gender gap within the classroom made him wonder where all the women in engineering were. "It is important to tackle this problem at an early age and involve parents. I looked up the statistics, and only 17% of engineers were women at my alma mater. We all know that it is not enough. We have a lot of big societal challenges ahead of us, especially around renewable energy, and we need all the skillset available out there,” he says.
Striking a fine balance
Managing a full-time job and a passion project means William needs some assistance. In the initial days of setting up the non-profit, he used his holidays, weekends, and evenings after work to set the sails in motion. He now plans to reduce his time at work to be able to focus on OffshoreWind4Kids more. He shares, “I have had good volunteer support, and my brother now manages the marketing – I know I have a long road ahead for me but when kids get in-terested, and we receive feedback from the parents post the demo, it is all worth it.”
So, when a kid asks, “Is there someone sitting inside the turbine controlling it?” William knows the wind of change is here.