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Owners manoeuvre to take more control

WORLDWIDE: The growing determination of owners to take more control of their assets is one of the emerging themes of wind-farm management.

Problem shared Blade damage is a main contributor to O&M costs, but owners could make savings by sharing knowledge about best-practice diagnosis and solutions (pic:Ainscough)
Problem shared Blade damage is a main contributor to O&M costs, but owners could make savings by sharing knowledge about best-practice diagnosis and solutions (pic:Ainscough)

E.on, Vattenfall, EDP and Dong Energy are among owners who say they intend to become less dependent on technology suppliers for service and maintenance, and more involved in the day-to-day running of wind farms. They spoke at a gathering of operations and maintenance (O&M) experts in Warsaw, Poland, hosted by Swedish industrial group SKF, a parts and services supplier to the wind industry.

Access to wind farm operational data, or rather lack of access to sufficient data, was a recurring theme during the event. In a global wind-service market that by 2016 will have grown to 200GW of projects out of warranty and be worth up to $17 million, the data crunch is of growing concern, according to Morten Keller, co-founder of Make Consulting.

The broad picture is clear. Gearbox failure, blade damage and faulty electrical control systems account for the lion's share of lifetime O&M costs. SKF's Erwin Weis, an expert in risk assessment, puts it at 80%. But the detail of what goes wrong, how, why and when, is often missing.

Rumblings of discontent were expressed over the near monopoly on data currently held by turbine manufacturers. Asked whether he had sufficient data from the suppliers to build accurate maintenance strategy models, Vattenfall O&M engineer Francois Besnard bluntly replied: "I don't have access to the data."

Data deficiencies

The gathered experts agreed that maintenance, repairs and parts replacement account for 15-30% of lifecycle costs, with offshore wind at the high end of that scale. The scope for cutting the cost of wind generation and improving returns for owners through reductions in operating expenditure is not inconsiderable.

According to Sven Jesper Knudsen, a data analyst at Dong, the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) control turbine data collection, but their priorities do not match those of the owners. "We need access and control," he said, arguing that remote monitoring and analytics are key to cutting operating costs and improving offshore performance. Christina Aabo, head of wind-power technology at Dong, pointed out that OEMs concentrate on reducing capital expenditure, which accounts for 70-75% of the levelised cost of wind energy, rather than on reducing the 25-30% share that operating expenditure represents offshore.

Knudsen bemoaned the lack of data integrity. Improved accuracy, quality, consistency, validation and documentation are needed, he said. With full access and a modern, open data platform for wind turbines, he could "work magic", but the wind industry is still too small to attract the resources required to solve the issues, he said.

More co-operation and knowledge sharing on data between OEMs, wind-farm owners and independent service providers (ISPs) is needed. "Knowledge sharing can have a huge impact on availability," said Keller, pointing out that key performance indicators for the same turbine model operating in similar conditions in different countries often vary widely. Mystified owners could learn much from one another.

Spare parts are cheaper on the open market than from OEMs, but it takes too long to locate them, Par Attermo, O&M development manager at Vattenfall, pointed out. This could be resolved by a transparent spare-parts supply chain, said Mark Huyzer, director of startup Spares in Motion, which connects suppliers and customers. It would reduce delays on parts delivery, break OEM monopolies on original components and result in lower costs, he said. His time in the aerospace industry had satisfied him that manufacturer-approved parts can be as reliable as those from OEMs.

Conflict of interest

Huyzer's comments reflect rising doubts over turbine suppliers as O&M providers. Carsten Brinck, executive vice-president of commercial relations at Danish service provider DMP, warned of the conflict that arises when an ISP relies on a manufacturer to provide a part, yet the same manufacturer is offering turbine service to the owner in competition with the ISP.

Thilo Langfeldt, a partner at consultancy Strategy Engineers, argued that while the owner is focused on maximum production at lowest lifecycle cost, the turbine supplier is focused on minimising cost, particularly during the warranty period.

Langfeldt noted the reluctance of OEMs to offer real, energy-based performance warranties instead of simple time-based availability warranties. Even if an energy warranty is agreed, there is still no incentive for the OEM to optimise performance beyond the reference level, he said, while it is almost impossible for an owner to prove that a loss of energy calculation is correct.

Keller described original turbine manufacturer service deals as "extremely expensive over ten years." In Denmark there is a strong move to ISPs from OEMs, particularly as turbines age. "Service costs are going down now in general," he said. The independent service provider advantage is that experience over multiple brands allows it to become a one-stop supplier to an owner that has a variety of turbine models within its portfolio, said DMP's Brinck. ISPs offer greater flexibility and more independence from OEMs and the monopoly they hold over knowledge and component supply.

Brinck described the different goals of different owners. A utility owner focuses on increasing energy production; a financial owner on cash flow and return on investment; an asset manager on the return when trading the asset; an operator working for an owner is earnings focused. He stressed that maintenance strategies must be tailored to the owner's focus, and with plenty of built-in flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. "Don't settle for outsourcing with full-service scopes," he said, referring to complete lifetime service and maintenance packages.

The ISP sector in the wind industry consists of many small firms, often with just a few staff. Brinck says that consolidation of ISPs across Europe is required to meet the needs of an O&M business that is both growing and changing. Owners are less willing to outsource all responsibility, he said: "We see a bigger involvement from the more mature operators."

For an owner, the choice between original manufacturer or independent for O&M is not a question of one or the other, said Dong's Aabo. The conflict between the two must develop into a co-operative partnership model. Dong's approach will be to keep overall control of O&M with a close working relationship with the OEM, but Aabo expects the company to also outsource specific maintenance tasks to specialist ISPs.

Owners take control

According to Aabo, Dong is determined to have control over its assets and is taking a lead role in influencing design and development in dialogue with the OEMs, particularly in foundation design and electrical infrastructure. "We are not doing components, but leading innovation," she said.

The story is similar at E.on. As owner of the assets, it wants to take charge of managing them, in co-operation with the OEM, said Flaig. Describing E.on's recent comprehensive energy yield initiative, Flaig said four OEMs were involved and all were co-operative and interested. "Sometimes we feel they are not, but in this case they were really on the ball."

Flaig described how the initiative resulted in significant value to E.on's bottom line. Lessons learned in how to increase energy yield are being incorporated into a standard continuous improvement process for all the utility's wind assets. Experience is shared across maintenance teams through an asset management newsletter and an operators' forum.

Ceferino Viescas Fernandez, EDP Renewables' head of O&M, described the experience of owning 400GW of wind capacity across Europe, consisting of 25 turbine models from different periods supplied by ten manufacturers, half of them out of warranty. The approach is step-by-step implementation of uniform maintenance, from performance measurement and data collection to analysis and the development of common procedures. "We needed to all talk the same language," said Fernandez. "We have tried to create the same structure of service contract for all wind farms across all suppliers."

The last word on the owner's dilemma goes to Simon Powles, group asset manager at UK-based developer RES. He argued that owners must take an active role in analysing wind-farm performance and turbine behaviour, and not simply rely on warranties and the service provider. "Catching problems early will reduce downtime and repairs, with increased revenues and lower costs resulting," he said.

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