Maintenance is obviously very important to the efficient running of a wind farm and the quality of these operations is often overlooked. It is an essential element where quality, unless properly planned and audited, can spiral out of control. Since the slowdown of wind turbine construction, owners and developers have been investigating further into the costs of running existing wind farms and are realising the importance of preventative maintenance instead of running wind turbines components to destruction.
Maintaining turbines since 2008
As wind farms are getting older, the demand for a higher level of maintenance quality is increasing. This is a challenge that requires an availability of skilled, experienced and competent wind turbine maintenance contractors. Gone are the days of quickly training technicians on the job, to carry out maintenance on recently built wind turbines, still full of lubricants and with freshly tightened bolts from construction. These skilled technicians are a key element to the longevity of wind farms.
As turbines have grown in size and complexity, the task of keeping them maintained properly has also grown. 20 years ago, most wind turbine blades were fixed, nowadays they pitch via electronic or hydraulic systems and technicians require knowledge to be able to deal with maintenance and faults.
When it comes to maintaining profitability over the lifecycle of a wind farm, even a 1% improvement in O&M can make a huge difference, especially when some turbines provide thousands of kilowatt hours of power a day. Downtime means a loss of income for a wind-farm operator, and any measures, including the mobilisation of skilled and experienced technicians, that can be implemented to avoid this will quickly pay dividends.
There is no doubt that putting together a structured, effective O&M strategy requires a lot of work, such as purchasing enough spares to maintain the sites and investing in training new technicians. But it means that services can be structured in a way that delivers the best performance and highest generation from the site.
Most electromechanical components will eventually fail without frequent, properly performed maintenance, and this is especially true for wind turbines. Failure can be expensive in terms of lost output, time and income. Having a comprehensive strategy in place before failures occur is critical, and this can be achieved by ensuring that O&M strategy development keeps pace with the wind power sector itself.
O&M strategy key points
These have a real impact on the planning of maintenance. No work can happen on a wind turbine without the correct documentation being approved. Complications in completing this documentation, or if it is of poor quality, can cause delays to maintenance works, particularly if in addition, unscheduled works or new procedures are involved.
While it is true that there is more H&S red tape to be aware of than ever, it is not a good idea to try to ignore the preparation time. Rules and regulations are there for a reason and ignoring them in order to increase efficiency will have the opposite effect, putting not only the daily operations at risk, but also lives.
Thankfully, H&S knowledge for technicians, has improved vastly over the last ten years, as workers now require much more training and competencies. Understanding how to escape from a nacelle efficiently, via evacuation kit, gives them much greater confidence. And I know of a couple of occasions, when the training already been put into good practice. Thankfully without injury….
Properly Scheduled maintenance
Knowledge of a machine's usual faults is helpful when planning maintenance. The early identification of any service work required gives the freedom to choose the most convenient and efficient time to do work. With older machines, the history of the model, common faults and common weaknesses are well known, but with newer, more complex machines, this kind of analysis will need more time.
Operators of newer wind farms with lower failure rates often consider a pre-emptive strategy unnecessary, carry out fewer maintenance operations and do not allocate time for identifying potential weaknesses. This can mean that if any downtime is needed, it is often much more expensive.
Due to the relatively young age and rapid expansion of the wind-power industry, many technicians are new to the sector. This can easily result in operations being restricted by the availability of suitably experienced and skilled technicians, which affects work planning. A great deal of effort must be dedicated to ensuring that new technicians gain the experience and knowledge they need to become authorised technicians and fill the required resource voids at their sites. Technical training should be well structured from the outset, with awareness of wind-turbine safety rules underpinning all training.
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