Three experts talk about Optimizing Wind O&M

I interviewed three speakers ahead of the Optimizing Wind Power Performance Congress which takes place in Chicago on the 27-28 September. We talked about short term challenges wind asset owners face, the increasing role of the OEMs in O&M, maintaining investor confidence and the increasing role of technology to aid O&M.

I spoke to:

–  Bruce Hamilton, Director, Energy, Navigant Consulting

–  Dr Karl-Heinz Mertins, Director Technology & Operations, Exelon Wind

–  Jean Lemaire, Chief Operating Officer, Akuo Energy & Chairman, e-begreen

Jean, what do you see as a major trend in the coming years for wind farm performance and O&M optimization?

JL: “I believe this industry and the offshore wind industry in particular needs the development of a specific science geared towards wind farm O&M, logistics and availability.  There will clearly be a difference between ‘lean’ operators and maintenance service providers, who possess that knowledge and can properly implement it and the others. And this difference will be about competitiveness and long-term business sustainability. It will not necessarily be an option. This trend has been observed in a lot of industries facing similar situations and requirements.”

What are the biggest short term challenges for operators?

BH: “O&M challenges vary according to the phase of the project. Most U.S. wind plants are still in the warranty phase, when the biggest challenges are related to managing the OEM. Each plant owner wants the OEM to give his turbines first priority and not waste time arguing over who is paying. In the post-warranty phase, the challenges range from identifying and trouble-shooting persistent turbine faults to planning and executing a strategy to address emergency repairs, including immediate sourcing of spare parts, cranes, and labor.”

How big a role do you see the manufacturers playing in ongoing maintenance the next 5-10 years?

BH: “The WTG manufacturers (OEMs) have been making a big push in the O&M area in recent years, as evidenced by longer warranty and initial O&M periods, lower O&M pricing, and a willingness to accept corrective maintenance (CM) risk.  Their motivations include:

a)      O&M is becoming a larger portion of the total wind market due to the slowdown in new units

b)      OEMs are becoming more comfortable with CM risk due to their growing cumulative experience base

c)       A desire to retain qualified plant personnel by providing longer term assignments.

Since these drivers are all still in place, we can expect to see increased OEM involvement in O&M in the coming years. We may also see more hybrid maintenance situations where the OEM handles sophisticated work in the turbines while other O&M providers handle the routine work where turbine-specific expertise is not needed.”

KHM: “I see the role of OEMs in ongoing maintenance generally increasing.  Compared to third party service providers, the manufacturers have an intrinsic advantage in understanding the technical fundamentals and design details of their products. This can make them more effective in high-value-add activities such as trouble shooting, root cause analysis, and the provision of product upgrades.  Main challenges for some OEMs tend to be in cost control and customer centricity.”     

What are the key factors in maintaining investor confidence?

KHM: “Predictable performance, business case certainty: the ability to establish a track record that matches the expectations of the financial model.  To this end, third party service providers and OEMs will be required to offer forms of long-term performance guaranties. The traditional time based availability should be replaced by a production based goal for energy capture.  This requires strong financial backing for any organization that provides the services.”

BH: “Investors want to have confidence that the long term project pro formas are realistic. Two examples where that has not been the case are projections of the wind resource (which are generally too high) and forecasts of gearbox corrective maintenance (which are generally too low). Although the industry has collectively improved its ability to forecast in both of these areas, investors who have been burned in the past have learned to closely examine the pro forma assumptions in these areas and add safety margins when their concerns aren’t sufficiently addressed. Investors occasionally require insurance products to cover their risks, which has the result of increasing total project cost.”

?How do you see the role of technology aiding plant operations in the next few years?

KHM: “Further progress in information technology will allow us to extract actionable information from myriads of existing raw data streams – without having to add new sensors.  Examples are smart algorithms for automated machine health analysis, particle swarm theories for the detection of power curve deviations, probabilistic methods for locating of wind turbine failures, to name a few.” 

Do you believe that data and analytics are the way to go to solve the O&M and performance challenges?

JL: “Of course they are not the only tool but they are a prominent one. I am a big advocate of quantitative approaches when it comes to solving the challenges we face. It is not a matter of being sophisticate for the sake of being sophisticate.

These tools are what we need to solve the problems at stake: large investment decisions at the O&M stage when you think about costly spare parts, lost production opportunity in the order of several million USD for availability shortfalls, the deployment of a consistent strategy over a fleet of several hundreds or thousands of turbines geographically-dispersed. But my view is that sound models should drive data collection strategies. And not the other way around.

Many people start with a nice SCADA or complex CMS system only to discover that they can’t make sense of what data they really need to focus their attention on, with what degree of priority…”

Can you express one wish for wind farm performance and O&M?

JL: “Yes, that everyone involved, operators, OEMs, part suppliers and service providers start an intense collaboration and exchange of ideas and data about O&M and performance issues. Together we are stronger and we make this industry stronger to the outside world. To this aim, I can only encourage people to attend the next Optimizing Wind Power Conference in Chicago. It will be the perfect place to start that collaboration!”

Other Speakers at the event include:

–  Dan Juhl, Chief Executive Officer, Juhl Wind

–  Peter Wells, Chief Operating Officer, Upwind Solutions

–  Blaine Sundwall, Director, National Control Center, Iberdrola 

–  Eduardo Perez, Vice President, Operations, Wind Capital Group

–  John Yost, Vice President, Operations, E.ON Climate & Renewables

–  José Peñarrubia, Director of Construction, Acciona Energy

–  Dr Karl-Heinz Mertins, Director Technology & Operations, Exelon Wind

–  Kevin Borgia, Executive Director, Illinois Wind Energy Association

–  Jennifer States, Program Manager, Wind and Water Power Technologies, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

–  Sue Ellen Haupt, Scientific Program Manager, Weather Systems Assessment Program, National Center for Atmospheric Research

–  Frank Coenen, CEO, Bellwind 

–  Diarmaid Mulholland, General Manager, Global Wind Services, GE Wind

– Senior Representative, S&C Electric Company

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