Traditionally, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) focus has been on designing turbines that will last 20 years, perform reliably and produce as the nameplate describes. As turbine reliability increases, maintenance costs and downtime should decrease. However, significant unknowns remain for the turbine life cycle. This means OEMs, owners and independent service providers (ISPs) alike are all watching the installed base closely to learn how to offer better planned and unplanned maintenance solutions. To do so, they rely heavily on data and service innovation for improved production, lower operating expense and extended project life.
Currently, operations and maintenance costs for wind power are typically end up being double or triple the projected costs. O&M providers are rewriting maintenance practices to address costs based on the lifetime of the project. They are innovating in how the services are actually performed for both routine planned maintenance cycles and unplanned services like major repairs, modifications and upgrades.
Project owners range from community-owned one-offs to Fortune 100-owned projects. As such, each owner requires different services from the manufacturer or a third-party. A large-scale project owner such as NextEra Energy or MidAmerican Energy is potentially better off self-performing O&M due to scale. However, where large operators may have the in-house engineering and support functions required to manage projects, the smallest owner operators typically won’t have these support functions available and therefore need a more comprehensive solution from the third-party service provider. This is where ISPs can add value through partnerships, supplemental services, technical support, major correctives and even upgrades.
These dynamics – service innovation, big data, comprehensive solution needs – have led to the evolution of more comprehensive third-party providers who can offer technical support, supply chain management, parts, engineering and innovative solutions.
Beyond the need to innovate service strategies and approaches is the question of how this leads to predictive and preventative maintenance practices. In reality, these should form part of a maintenance approach driven by comprehensive reliability including routine maintenance, detective maintenance and predictive maintenance. In this approach, the service provider leverages data to gain a deeper understanding of turbine performance, continuously re-assessing a failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) which drives the maintenance cycle, and working to optimize the balance of production, cost and project life.
In theory, predictive maintenance and detective maintenance (or condition monitoring) can provide a substantial boost to turbine availability, operating cost and economic asset life. Investments in these areas are often recovered quickly as catastrophic failures are avoided, unplanned events become planned events and more pro-active service enables the use of more uptower repairs, instead of main component change outs.
So, what does the future look like for wind turbine services? This may be dominated by three themes. First, leveraging big data to draw conclusions, innovating service practices, lowering costs, driving production and extending project lifetime. Secondly, the timing, scope and staffing of routine maintenance will evolve as the O&M manual is challenged and improved within a reliability-centered maintenance approach. Finally, value-added solutions will come into play for minor and major correctives, as well as performance upgrades.
Just like any good business or process, the wind energy industry needs to be constantly challenging the service norm by using new knowledge gained from data, technicians and engineers, along with innovative value added services and best practices from multiple industry sources to drive the most competitive cost of electricity possible. This will enable more profitable projects and greater wind energy demand.
[This post was originally published by Windpower Engineering on September 15, 2015]