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Comment: The power of virtual reality for wind energy


Anne Schipper

The use of virtual reality technology can change people’s perspectives on wind energy, suggests Anne Schipper from Dutch wind energy consultancy Bosch & Van Rijn.

Everything is better when the sun shines. The bright light gives a warm feeling. Feel the sun on your face, take a deep breath and relax. I don’t need more to be happy. On grey days, when it’s raining all the time, I look outside and get shivers. Only the idea of having to go into that weather makes my head heavy and my shoulders hang. Days like that make me wish for nothing more but sun. ‘Back in the days’ the quickest way to get sun was to get on a plane to a sunny destination. Luckily technology is developing rapidly and we now have another way to experience that sunshine feeling, and it’s called Virtual Reality. 

To me, Virtual Reality (VR) was something extraordinary – even magical maybe – and something that belonged to the future. My mind opened up when I found out that Bosch & Van Rijn, a wind energy consultancy company, experiments with VR as a communication and marketing tool. In my eyes, this was the most unlikely place in the world to come across VR. It had to be serendipity.

I remember my first VR experience vividly. It was a dark, grey day and I was desperate for some sunshine. “Would you like to check this out?” I looked up, wondering what it was that I might like to check out. Richard, my colleague, was standing there, with an Oculus Rift in his hands. “Of course!” I heard myself say, even though I had no idea what to expect.

I could use some distraction from this sad, bad weather feeling. I sat on a chair and Richard put the Oculus on my head. All of a sudden everything was black. I knew I was in the office but I got a very haunting feeling of being alone in complete darkness. I was totally deprived of my senses and had no idea what was going to happen next. It was then when I found out how immersive VR can be. 

Out of the blue I stood on a pier in the middle of the ocean, feeling the wind going through my hair (even though I knew that was impossible). The sun was shining and instantly I had this happy glow going through my whole body. The experience brought me up in the air to go to the nacelle of a wind turbine. Now I know what flying feels like: my body felt light, a nice shiver went from my head to my toes and I got a smile on my face. Standing on the narcelle I breathe in deeply, feeling the freedom of standing so high with an endless view. I turned my head to look around. When I put my hand on my chest I felt my heartbeat raising as I realised that I was inside this virtual world.

The next flight I made brought me to the platform at the bottom of the turbine. I knew I was sitting in a chair but I felt the physical force of my body landing on the platform – impossible as it was. I looked up at the turbine and swiftly reversed, overwhelmed by the hugeness of the turbine. I was a bit sceptical about the Health & Safety instructions, but after this experience I understood them completely.

Almost immediately after my first time I knew that VR was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced. But the question remained: how can it have a big impact on the acceptance of wind energy? How are we changing people’s perspectives by making them experience wind energy in VR?

Perhaps the answer can be found it the theory of S. Schachter and J. Singer. It states that due to the two-factor theory of emotion, people can think they are physiologically stimulated by factor A, while they cognitively label it to factor B. People can misattribute what they feel. Let’s apply this to my first time with VR: the VR experience was factor A and the wind turbines were factor B. I was emotionally stimualted by the physiological powers of factor A, the VR experience. But all I thought of during the experience was the amazing wind turbines that looked so cool while I was flying around them. I experienced emotions caused by factor A, the VR, but linked those emotions to factor B, the wind turbines. And now every time I see a wind turbine, I think of me standing on top of it and flying to the next one. If only…

Bosch & Van Rijn is experimenting with VR as a communication and marketing tool. Richard and I took our custom-designed VR experience to the Dutch Energy fair for a three-day testing adventure. We wanted to see if the theories we came up with in the office actually worked. This is what happened: People were queuing to see, in fact, nothing more than an advertisement for a wind turbine. We took a lot of pictures and the only thing you see is happy faces, half covered by an Oculus Rift. We had amazing conversations with people that were so enthusiastic about the experience they just had.

Sometimes people simply wouldn’t leave, that was how excited they got being almost able to touch those wind turbines. The VR experience was a conversation starter and the conversations we had before, during and after the experience confirmed what we already knew: VR is an astonishing tool to emotionally connect people to wind energy.

Powering public acceptance

One of the applications of VR is to bring public acceptance of wind energy and wind turbines. Giving people an up close experience with the largest moving man-made construction ever engineered will remove the fear people have for them. Creating an emotional bond between people and wind turbines will make them feel more positive about these big structures and increases public acceptance. The story of Den Bosch proves this.

Another application of VR lies in the power it can have for project communication. Bosch & Van Rijn is experienced in project communication and noticed that the fears for noise and impact on the landscape are the biggest concerns stakeholders have. When wind projects are being developed, opponents can be extremely vocal with these fears. VR is invaluable then.

Fears are the biggest in people’s imagination. Using VR, it is possible to show the true impact of wind turbines on the landscape and the sound they will produce. People will experience that the reality will be less haunting than they thought in their imagination. Remove fear and give people a thrilling experience is why they will be able to emotionally bond with wind turbines. This leads to better acceptance of wind turbines in project communication. 

The last application of VR Bosch & Van Rijn is experimenting with now is B2B marketing. We made a promotional VR experience for Dutch wind turbine manufacturer Lagerwey.  The company just started manufacturing wind turbines again. The VR shows the L100 in all its glory, presented in magnificent landscapes, and experienced through an immersive VR track. We showed it to a lot of people, who all know Lagerwey now, and who all love their turbines due to the amazing experience they had while looking at them. VR is getting more mainstream too, which means that VR experiences made for wind turbines are available for everyone sooner rather than later. So this is the time to start promoting your product with VR.

The main thing I learned from my own experience and the theories is that VR has the power to form an emotional bond between people and wind energy. Even for me, being pro wind energy, VR changed my perception. The wind through my hair, the beating of my heart, the deep breath I took standing on top of the narcelle… It all accumulated in a feeling I never thought to feel by looking at wind turbines.

Everything is better when the sun shines. And right now, the sun is shining bright for Virtual Reality and wind energy. VR can change people’s perspectives on wind energy. It is not just a theory. It is a reality.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Anne Schipper works for Dutch wind energy consultancy Bosch & Van Rijn. The company is exhibiting at the EWEA fair in Paris from the 17th until the 20th of November.
 

FURTHER INFORMATION

www.boschenvanrijn.nl

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