Vestas extends servicing reach

WORLDWIDE: The servicing market has been steadily increasing in importance for wind turbine manufacturers over the last decade.

Any turbine… Vestas is quite open about its move into servicing other brands of wind turbines (pic: Availon)
Any turbine… Vestas is quite open about its move into servicing other brands of wind turbines (pic: Availon)

As turbine prices per megawatt drop and the number of installed machines grows, it is rightly seen as a priority area for growth.

Vestas' purchase of service companies Upwind and Availon, with their strong presence in the US and Germany respectively, gives the Danish manufacturer something that it really wants in this area - experience in working across non-Vestas turbine fleets. And, interestingly, Vestas is quite overt about trying to take potential business from other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

Historically, turbine OEMs' servicing strategies have been based around long servicing deals tied in with turbine-purchase contracts. Around the periphery are the independent service providers (ISP), such as Upwind and Availon. While the use of ISPs varies depending on the region, turbines are still most likely to be serviced by the company that made them.

It is not a particularly common situation that a product can only be maintained by its manufacturer - if you own a Ford Focus you would not expect to have to go to Ford when you need a new tyre. And with an increasing number of service deals coming up for renewal, Vestas and others could be looking to change this model.

"We have a growth plan to build our serving business," said Christian Venderby, Vestas senior vice president for services. "We took a look at the opportunity. Availon has a strong reputation as a service provider worldwide. It is strong in Europe and globally, and we are looking to strengthen our multi-brand capability."

"What we are looking at is how to get better practices across the company (Vestas). What we're interested in is operational capabilities. Some ISPs have had some growing pains that we can support, given our strong balance sheet," he said.

The financial power of the OEMs could help this become an ongoing trend. Dan Shreeve, a partner for Make Consulting, has seen the interest in multi-brand service building for some time, and believes it is directly linked to the focus on growing profitable wind-services revenues.

"The impact on the sector is significant, as turbine OEMs are confronting ISPs head-on and leveraging their operational scale, financial strength and technical prowess to defend their own fleets and attack new market opportunities amidst competitor turbine fleets," he said.

Local market specialism

The ISPs are often smaller and more likely to specialise in individual markets. They can provide an easy entry into countries where the OEM is underrepresented. And they can be acquired cost effectively.

Shreeve said: "Other turbine OEMs are sure to respond, and, in fact, the acquisition of additional services revenue is an underlying benefit to the recent spate of executed and rumoured turbine OEM acquisitions. Make fully expects additional M&A activity in the sector as Vestas' peers respond to develop their own multi-brand strategies."

Vestas is not alone in servicing other machines. Gamesa, which recently acquired a 50% holding in services systems specialist.

NEM Solutions, said it has been able to service other manufacturers' machines for a number of years. Models include Alstom, Vestas, Nordex, Siemens and GE turbines.

One OEM that has yet to follow this route, but has been focusing heavily on its servicing capability, is Siemens. It reports 24GW under contract for servicing, all for Siemens turbines.

"We don't currently service other OEM's turbines," the company said. "That said, we wouldn't necessarily rule it out, but we recognise that our sweet spot is our own technology."

Changing market

Most observers know servicing will become increasingly competitive. The question is how this competition will change the status quo. Just as technology and remote servicing will become more complex, will the smaller ISPs be squeezed out or bought by the OEMs?

The intent seems to be there, and has been for some time. In 2013, Vestas CEO Anders Runevad said:. "We want to grow services by 30%. We want a more segmented portfolio and a greater offering from scale by doing the same things across the globe. We will be creating a new services organisation."

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