Gerard van Bussel


Prof. Gerard van Bussel


Holder of the Chair in Wind Energy

Private life

‘I am married with three children. Perhaps I should say six, because my sons- and daughters in-law are also part of the family, I think. In various combinations, we enjoy going sailing in our yacht, which is moored in Friesland. We live in Pijnacker, so, if possible, I cycle to work.’

What is your favourite hobby?

‘Actually, I have far too many hobbies for the time I have available. For example, I love swimming. As a student of mathematics and physics at Radboud University Nijmegen, I was quite fanatical about it. I was one of the founders of the student swimming association there: Hydrofiel. I tend to swim less now, about once a week, but I still always do 40 lengths in an evening. I am also a qualified voluntary miller. As a youngster, I would spend hours at an old windmill, but I have very little time for it now. Instead, I advise the De Hollandsche Molen Association on combating the effect of the environment on windmills: increasing numbers of windmills are surrounded by new buildings, which prevents them from catching the wind. Of course, we try to prevent that. Finally, I enjoy DIY; I’m reasonably good at woodwork and have a diploma in welding.’

Career high point

‘Actually, the whole of my career. I started as a research assistant at the end of the 1970s. The first modern wind turbine built at that time was the size of an old windmill, with a diameter of 25 m. It was quite an achievement for the time. By way of comparison: currently, there is a wind turbine in production with a rotor diameter of 150 m. During all those years, I have watched as wind turbine technology has developed from the very early stages to the advanced technology that it is now. It has been wonderful being able to experience that! I am also particularly pleased that the wind energy club has ended up back in AE, the faculty where it first started. After the early years, we had to leave the faculty, because it was felt that wind energy did not fit in with AE. I spent a few years in Mathematics and later in Civil Engineering. Since 2005, we have been back in the AE stable and now participate fully in both research and teaching. I am especially proud of our Open Jet Facility (OJF), a large wind tunnel developed to test scaled wind turbines. Thanks to its unique open jet tunnel, the air flow can move freely over the measurement equipment. That makes it ideal for research on wind turbines as well as many other experiments. For example, cyclists and bobsleighers come here to conduct research on reducing resistance.’

Most enjoyable aspect of work

‘The variety: teaching on the one hand, and on the other hand conducting research with smart and enthusiastic young people. In addition, wind energy research is a truly international business, so I often travel abroad. International alliances are often essential in order to obtain research funding. The good thing about EU-funded research is that you get to see what other people are up to. At conferences, you only find out about the great results, but in practice you also see the mistakes that are made. It is an excellent learning process and also one of the main reasons why the European wind energy industry is the world’s best. I often spend my evenings reading student reports and other reports. I do this out of genuine interest and enjoyment in my work. Another particular highlight: I have recently had the honour of chairing doctoral committees. This gives me an insight into other areas of research, for example in TPM and Electrical Engineering. The preliminary interviews with the PhD students are fascinating: you can actually see them beaming as they talk about their passions. If I can also help to make the day a success, it is particularly satisfying. Ultimately, I think my job is the ideal job.’

Your greatest challenge at the moment?

‘We are heading towards the depletion of raw materials. This means we face an enormous challenge: convincing people of the major steps that need to be taken towards making energy supplies sustainable. In the long term, that can only be achieved with renewable energy because it is the only solution for the generations that will follow us. Sadly, we have already lost the battle for the wind turbine industry here in the Netherlands: the political world has decided against it. This is a great shame, because onshore wind power costs almost the same as coal and gas. I am worried that the same will happen with offshore wind energy, because it is still too expensive. Our Cabinet is adopting a short-sighted approach by opting for cheap energy only. But, in my view, cheap ultimately means expensive in the long term. Take the example of Bremerhaven in Germany: in and around this small city, private parties have already invested billions of euros and a special port is being constructed where offshore wind turbines will soon be built and transported. Wind energy at sea is being given all the room it needs there, and that could also have happened in Den Helder. The fact that it is not happening really depresses me. One of the major things driving our research is the desire to reduce the investment costs of offshore wind farms.’

Why Delft?

‘I am a techie through and through, so Delft is the only place to be. Funnily enough, I did not study here in Delft. At secondary school, I was mad about model gliders, which I built to my own design, so a course at AE would have been the perfect choice. But on the information day, my father was horrified when he heard that many people here ultimately drop out. So I went to study mathematics and physics in Nijmegen, closer to where I lived. But I did ultimately return to Delft. I had no problem engaging with the engineers here, thanks to the broad scientific basis I had gained.’

Best character trait

‘It is also my worst: I almost never give up. If I think something should be possible, I persist until it is successful. The more people say that it is not possible, the more persistent I become. It’s a good characteristic to have for research, but it can also be counter-productive.’

Worst character trait

‘People sometimes take me too seriously. And I can also really have a go at people. Perhaps I should joke more when I’m trying to explain things.’

Key issues on the political agenda

‘The current government has no real vision for the future: they have no idea what the Netherlands should be like in 20 years’ time and definitely not what the road to 2030 should look like. That is certainly true for energy policy. There is a complete lack of initiative in that respect. To put it more strongly: the current penny-pinching politics will put paid to everything: from education to science, infrastructure and energy policy. There needs to be a real change.’

Source of inspiration

‘Conversations with my wife. She sees the world from the perspective of an ecologist, and I am a techie, so we often discuss the issue of what sustainability really is. I also find art very inspiring. We have a number of works of art by local artists in our house and in the garden. We also have a large statue from Zimbabwe. I like talking to artists and am really impressed by their attitude to life. Most of them struggle to get by, but their creativity gives them an enormous drive to continue. Their vision of life gives me inspiration and takes me away from the world of technology, in which everything always has to be logical and needs to be proved.’

Personal philosophy

‘“Take it easy”: if you have too much to do, try to put things into perspective. Don’t let things drive you mad and just accept that less important things sometimes need to be neglected. It’s a sure way of keeping your head above water.’