As part of looking after three wind projects in Ireland totalling 35MW, Brian Maloney oversees a range of sub-contracts, such as operations and maintenance (O&M) contracts with turbine manufacturers (OEM) and independent service providers (ISPs), high-and low-voltage electrical service providers, statutory-inspection providers and civil contractors.
"My job is primarily to ensure compliance, legally and contractually, as well as maximising return on investment from the sites and minimising downtime. Managing our contractors to meet RES's strict health and safety standards is paramount," he says.
Maloney has one full-time member of staff, a site manager who also works on-site across the three projects. All projects are managed by renewable-energy developer and operator RES, which built and, in the last few years, sold on the projects. As part of the RES family, Maloney also has access to in-house RES experts who work across all the company's sites in the UK and Ireland. They bring expertise in areas such as health, safety, quality and environment, reliability engineering, grid-code compliance, supervisory control and data acquisition (Scada), finance and community relations. Maloney's daily activities use various combinations of these resources.
"Communication and decision-making are the two most time-consuming areas of my role," he says, "whether it be liaising with my site manager to discuss wind-farm performance, working through site issues with an O&M contractor, meeting with a funded community group to ensure legal compliance, or simply talking with one of the local landowners."
While the older Vestas machines have no condition monitoring systems (CMS), the 2.3MW Siemens machines' CMS is monitored by Siemens as part of the maintenance contract. RES also monitors the data in-house using its own proprietary algorithms.
Maloney and his site manager work closely with the RES 24-hour control centre in Glasgow, which monitors live data and can flag up any infrastructure problems. The centre manages over 400MW of wind projects and some solar projects. It gathers and monitors data on all alarms, production/operational data, performance ratios and availabilities. It also provides a 24-hour alert to both RES and the O&M providers if there is a problem on site and provides work/access control, lone working monitoring, and grid balancing where required.
"My job is to run the wind farms as viable business entities for the owners and, in parallel, maximise profit for RES through the efficient use of internal resources against the asset management fees. I try to understand as much as I can about every aspect of the business," he says. As a result, his role is much less hands-on than when he first started out in the wind industry as a site manager and engineer for an ISP. "I can still watch others have all the fun being involved in the practical tasks, such as the site manager overseeing a team from the turbine O&M changing blades or gearboxes (at a height not for the fainthearted), or hearing from our control and instrumentation (C&I) and grid engineers about their development of a proprietary grid control system designed to meet the current strict grid compliance standards." The 2.3MW platform met the original grid requirements but not the most recent ones. The RES C&I engineers spent two years developing a proprietary control system which completed final rigorous testing with Eirgrid late last year.
Taurbeg is six years younger than the other two sites, and the newer - and much larger - Siemens turbines are easier to manage, coping better with changing wind conditions, and storms in particular. "The technology has improved immensely over time, but even my latest technology still hovers on the cusp of old and modern," he adds, referring to the power factor correction system in the Siemens turbines, which use capacitor banks, while newer models use full converter solutions. "It was the most hi-tech solution available in its day," he says.
"The 2.3MW machine is as such a legacy machine now," says Maloney, so he does not expect any further improvements will be made to workings such as the control or pitch systems. The manufacturer is, however, working towards plans to extend the turbine operational lifespan from 20 to 25 years.
Plans for the future of all three sites will be considered in time, but the operating availability, and more recently the performance ratio analysis of the projects, has not changed much since Maloney has been running the projects. This year, the Taurbeg site will see a slightly reduced availability as it undergoes its major ten-year service along with accumulator replacements (to ensure statutory compliance). Proper servicing is vital to the longevity of the wind farm and high availability in between servicing. "Next year, it should be back up there at expected availability again."
Beenageeha, with the same turbine models as Milane, is inland, with a lower wind speed, and little turbulence. It is less problematic than Milane, which is on a steep turbulent ridge, and battered by the Atlantic wind. Milane produces more power but has a lower availability because of the battering the turbines take. All in all, the two conditions balance out, he estimates.
Repowering or lifetime extension decisions are a few years away yet and will depend on the market, Ireland's energy directive, the owners' development plans, local council planning and European habitat restrictions etc.
No day is the same for Maloney, and he often has to deal with "curve balls" - from Irish and European directives concerning rare breeding birds nesting on site to major component failures or new legislative requirements. But every job has its routine tasks, which for him includes managing budgets and operating plans; complying with current legislation, grid connection and power purchase agreements; developing community relations local to the projects; and ensuring accurate and timely payments to stakeholders.
Escaping the office is something he particularly enjoys, especially when he can get involved from a distance with the "real world Lego set" of cranes and equipment involved in major component replacements, or the C&I engineers working their way through programme and technical commissioning bugs.
He also likes giving wind-farm tours to the local communities. "I love educating people and building enthusiasm for wind power, which is very important at such a critical time for renewable energy."
Rewards and challenges
The most challenging aspects of Maloney's role is undoubtedly the unexpected events, such as a major component fail. The appointed in-house personnel, the external O&M and crane companies and component suppliers may need to be mobilised very quickly to arrange component replacement. The key is effective communication and timelines between the various resources. "It's disruptive, but it's what makes the work so diverse and interesting," he says.
AT A GLANCE — THREE PROJECTS MANAGED BY RES
- 35MW across three projects:
- Taurbeg, Co Cork, Ireland. Inland site, in rolling hills and near forest, with 11 Siemens 2.3MW turbines, operating since 2006. Full service contract with Siemens
- Milane Hill, Co Cork, Ireland. On steep slope, battered by Atlantic winds, with nine Vestas V47 660kW turbines, operating since 2000. Service contract with independent service provider (ISP)
- Beenageeha, Co Kerry, Ireland. Inland site, with six Vestas V47 660kW turbines, operating since 2000. Service contract with ISP.