Brazil is optimistic about the future of wind power generation. Wind energy association Abeeolica predicts 18GW by the end of 2019, and the EPE, the state-run agency in charge of energy planning, is looking at 22.5GW by 2023 - or 8.1% of Brazil's energy matrix.
Whichever figure is reached, an increase of such scale from the current 6.2GW will create significant opportunities for increased business in operations and maintenance (O&M).
The current maintenance market, which services 260 wind farms, is estimated to be worth $157 million. With 450 projects in various stages of development, that figure could soon reach $500 million, says Lucas Araripe, business development director at Casa dos Ventos, a developer with a portfolio of 14GW of wind projects in development. In the next two years it expects to be operating five new projects in north-east Brazil.
Equipment manufacturers and suppliers are working to meet the demands of a growing market, but the O&M market is much newer in Brazil. "O&M for wind is a recent opportunity in a young market, still on a learning curve," says Araripe.
The first 50 projects, supported by the government's Proinfa renewables development fund, began operation in 2005. But it was the next 2GW of projects, planned through an auction system, when a benchmark for wind energy in Brazil was set. Of the 2GW of wind installations, 35% started operation in 2011 and 2012.
Even then, developers had little or no experience. But strict financing rules set by the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES) led to a demand for a low-risk operations and maintenance strategies. The contracts all covered specific requirements, and lasted an average of five to ten years.
"Wind farms are monitored to check output, but they do not demand thorough, deep maintenance. It is unclear exactly how long they last. Even abroad it's hard to find professionals and know-how for wind farms that are in operation for over 15 years," said Elbia Silva Gannoum, executive president of Abeeolica.
With investments of $1.3 billion and installed capacity of 800MW, state run generating company Eletrosul has a maintenance contract with manufacturer Wobben for its turbines on three wind farms in Rio Grande do Sul. The contract represents 2% of the installation cost and provides a preventive and predictive maintenance plan, held almost weekly.
"This is more than just an O&M contract," says Ronaldo dos Santos Custodio, director of engineering and operation at Eletrosul. "It's an agreement that guarantees performance. Wobben sets a minimum performance standard and, therefore, services even when replacement parts are necessary. A blade replacement, for example, is included within the scope of the contract. O&M is one way to ensure performance."
Yet, as the first supplier contracts are coming to an end, the O&M market in Brazil is expected to change profoundly in the coming years. It will follow the more mature markets, where O&M is no longer niche, but is now a sector dominated by specialist companies performing various types of service.
"I imagine that the local market will also go through this phase in approximately five years, when new contracts will be necessary," predicts Araripe, who adds that this can also open the way for the developer to take on the O&M activity. He expects greater competition, which will help to drive down costs of maintenance and increase output.
O&M suppliers have high hopes from the new wind projects being developed in Brazil. "We expect a sharp growth in service activities relating to O&M of wind farms' electrical systems," says Rogerio Piva, service sales manager at ABB Brazil, part of the Switzerland-based electrical systems specialist. Its Brazil portfolio includes systems operations, asset management, maintenance contracts and emergency service and spare parts delivery. The company has developed specific O&M solutions for electrical wind farm systems, and has a team dedicated and trained to serve this market.
ABB recently won the contract from Casa dos Ventos to supply substations for two projects in north-east Brazil. GE, the turbine manufacturer for both projects, plans to construct two service centres that will focus on O&M programmes run by developers in the north-eastern regions of Chapada do Araripe and Garanhuns.
"Maintenance is essential not only for safety, but also to ensure the full operation and production capacity," says Pierre Francois Chenevier, senior vice president Latin America for Alstom Wind. It should start after three months of operation and run in cycles according to each turbine's features and operating system.
"Depending on the component, major replacements might be needed after six, nine or 12 years of operation, which should be anticipated and planned, in order to avoid interruptions," he says.
Blade supplier Tecsis and its service subsidiary WindCom, which work with turbine manufacturers such as Gamesa, GE and Alstom, operate under a blade lifecycle management contract, which involves predictive and preventive interventions, managing and enhancing blade lifecycles.
"In this model, wind blade maintenance becomes proactive, aiming to anticipate component failure," explains Paulo Cerqueira, commercial director of Tecsis and CEO of WindCom. "A major concern with blades is with the physical degradation of the coating." He says that erosion or collision of foreign objects can reduce power generation by up to few percentage points.
With a shortage of engineers in Brazil, developers and manufacturers need to invest in creating a capable O&M team. This involves many hours of training and sharing experience among professionals in other countries.
Tecsis uses the workforce of its factories, where it employs more than 300 specialist engineers. The company also invests in specific training programmes for field services contracts. Alstom has developed its own O&M teams qualified to tackle even more complex activities. And Eletrosul, in addition to relying on services from Wobben Windpower, maintains its own professional team to service the internal electrical work, transmission and the project infrastructure.
Despite the lower output of the early projects installed under Proinfa, wind projects in Brazil have recorded high capacity factors. In 2014, the average capacity factor was 41%. Looking at only the projects developed through auction, which began operation in 2011, the capacity factor rises to 43%.
In Europe capacity factors are nearer 30%, and 35% in the US, says Gannoum. "The wind we have here makes a big difference." Some projects have reached above 50% in some months, peaking even at 80%, she adds.
So far, these conditions are not reported to be affecting the durability of turbines. "Our first turbines began operating in 2013, and our installed base has been growing steadily since then," says Christiano Forman, director of Acciona Windpower Brazil. "We identify prior to installation how the specific wind conditions at the site will affect the turbine. So far we have not identified specific impacts outside normal operating challenges."
The continued growth of wind power in Brazil is certain, thanks to the 14GW of projects contracted in 2009, says Gannoum. In a country suffering from severe energy shortages through drought, the 2.5GW of wind energy already on the 5.9GW electricity network is crucial.
By contracting 2-3GW a year, it is possible to achieve the ambitious targets. But it requires good energy price conditions at upcoming auctions, Gannoum warns. She would like to see a cap of $66.03/MWh set for the coming auction, higher than the last auction, capped at $53.45/MWh. The economic crisis, currency crisis and Brazil's strict local supply chain requirements have raised the cost of wind power by 22%. "All this cost has to be priced and impacts calculated," she adds.
And where growth continues, a servicing market is not far behind it.