Do some wind farm operators have a “run to destruction” mentality?

As $40 billion worth of equipment warranties expire, operators are about to be faced with a whole new world of O&M where the liabilities are their own and not those of the OEM any mroe. But some have accused operators of taking a short-term view. How true is this? Are we seeing a maturing industry, ready to take a more holistic view? I think so, when I spoke to operators during my research for September’s Optimizing Wind Power Performance event, many were keen to share their stories about how their operating models are shifting and the work that they have done towards that.

A significant shift seems to be asset owners taking a longer view. Turbines are designed to last for 20 years but O&M strategies were not. This short term thinking results in cost-reduction this year that compounds costs in coming years. Whilst operators need to find a way to balance cost with performance, companies realise that this will be more important as assets come out of warranty. This necessitates a proactive approach. Clearly, that’s common sense but it’s all very well being a proactive chief operating officer with a pre-emptive strategy but how do operators get staff on board throughout the company?

How does an asset owner get everyone involved in maintenance to act in the best interests of assets? How do they get staff to buy into turbine longevity? On the other hand, for companies that outsource O&M to an ISP, how do they make sure that their assets get the attention they need? I don’t have immediate answers but I suspect a lot comes down to effective employee engagement and motivation strategies or, in the latter instance, some very good negotiation with providers and a clear service level agreement. Like any other business, this comes down to people and operators that have the scale to keep O&M in-house, need to be able to keep their expertise in house. Skilled, conscientious staff are the cornerstone in an effective O&M strategy as are well-managed service providers!

For September’s event this year, we’ve lined up Eduardo Perez from Wind Capital Group to talk about this, from working out who the stakeholders are, and building relationships with them to effective communications-protocols. He will be followed by John Yost of E.ON Climate & Renewables to talk about long-term O&M. We are also pleased to be working with Jean Lemaire of Akuo Energy and e-begreen who will talk about developing a lean wind farm and cost control and – in an effort to be pre-emptive – José Peñarrubia, of Acciona Energy will talk about the impact that poorly-designed plants can have on operations!

The event will also take a look beyond the turbine. Rich Norton from S&C Electric Company will examine which O&M strategy is “optimal” and how plant owners can assess the ROI of O&M dollars. ROI is quite significant
(obviously!); for quite a few operators that I spoke with, component repair costs were spiralling yet many of the reasons they failed were avoidable, particularly recurring faults. Much is said about applying Root Cause Analysis but are operators ready to embrace it? Other technologies are also there but are operators getting the best out of them? Are they listening to the “heartbeat” of turbines and are they leveraging data?

Data is an interesting case in point; how well is the industry using it and, how much do service providers meet the needs of the wind industry? Technologies can, and have, been translated to the wind industry but they do not always provide the functionality that wind operators require. Equally, operators often don’t get the most out of service providers’ offerings. Do we, therefore, need more partnerships? More collaboration between operator, OEM and third party suppliers? More sharing of information and more transparency?

Meanwhile, there’s a plethora of information coming from each turbine but without turning that into knowledge, it’s pretty useless. I spent a long time looking at data management when I prodcuced the event and I was really pleased when Doug Taylor of OSIsoft agreed to speak during that session. Doug will
explore the latest trends in operational data management from wind turbine equipment and how data collected and analyzed is being used to predict failures and prevent catastrophic loss. We will also take a look at other technologies and how well they support operators, and how well operators are using them.

However, technology isn’t the panacea and, often, operators don’t only need a high-tech approach they do need a consolidated approach and they need to get each part to coalesce. It really comes down to creating an effective marriage between technology and people, and maybe a little bit of lubricant…after all, poorly lubricated equipment is often the cause of gearbox failures!

Optimizing Wind Power Performance takes place in Chicago on the 27-28 September. If you want to join the discussions on the day, you can book here: www.greenpowerconferences.com/optimizingwindusa and, all bookings made before 16th August benefit from a 10% discount. If you want to book a team, we also offer a 3-for-2 option!

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  • Renewable energy conference manager, passionate about a greener way to power our future.

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