This article is part of the 2017 Renewable Energy Handbook. A complete digital version of the Handbook is here: https://goo.gl/Sg4mHO
An operations and maintenance (O&M) strategy is important for a wind-farm owner because of the long-lasting impact it can have on the profitability and efficiency of a wind site’s operations. According to Aaron Barr of MAKE Consulting, a research firm focused on renewable energy, larger owners often pursue self-perform (maintenance) strategies to fully control their assets, trim costs, and optimize O&M practices.
Smaller owners, however, may not be able to justify the capital expense required to self-perform and instead rely on services offered by OEMs. Although at a cost premium, these services provide minimal risk strategy to troubleshoot turbine performance issues, offer access to spare parts, and ensure high technical availability. On the other hand, many service providers can offer maintenance services at a discount, but may not be able to provide all elements of the O&M scope.
Many turbine owners struggle with major component reliability. Large components, such as gearboxes, generators, blades, and bearings, are expensive to repair and may result in significant downtime and lost production. Over time, the nature of these failures has shifted.
“For years, gearboxes were the focus of asset owners because they were experiencing high failure rates and substantial replacement costs,” said Barr. “However, reliability engineering efforts have improved the failure rates of gearboxes, and advanced diagnostics and condition monitoring efforts have been combined with innovative up-tower repair processes to dramatically reduce the cost of gearbox service.”
The focus has recently shifted to other major components, such as bearings, generators, and blades, which have developed reliability concerns as OEMs build larger turbines.
The supply of qualified technicians has also presented major challenges to owners, explained Barr. The U.S. fleet of turbines has grown substantially while the number of technicians has struggled to maintain pace. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, wind-turbine technicians will be one of the fastest growing occupations over the next 10 years. Although the shortage of technicians is an issue for large asset owners, it also creates a workforce opportunity for the U.S. job market.
The biggest opportunities for cost savings over the life of a turbine lie in attention to detail, adherence to rigorous routine maintenance practices, and leverage of power of data, said Barr. The costly failures that occur in turbines are typically a result of improper maintenance, inadequate lubrication, or missing a data signal that would have provided advanced warning of a pending failure. Leveraging data can lead to advanced prognostics of component failure, improved tracking of turbine conditions, optimized energy production, and improved scheduling of routine maintenance, said Barr.
The wind-turbine services market is currently one of the most innovative areas of the industry and is developing new services and technologies to help owners maintain their turbines. Many new technical innovations focus on the aftermarket, including performance improvements, reliability upgrades, diagnostic tools, prediction algorithms, and low-cost repair processes. There are also innovations such as aerodynamic blade enhancements, control card reliability improvements, up-tower gearbox repair processes, and mobile cranes that help reduce risk, lower costs, and improve operating efficiencies.
This section written by WPE&D research assistant Emily Wild.