Over the last year, the energy crisis has brought energy resources to the forefront. It is becoming increasingly important to ensure self-sufficient electricity supplies. All of this creates a need to maximize domestic power generation while remaining as clean and scalable as possible. This provides justification for the use of independent energy production forms that are independent of natural resources while also being carbon neutral, such as renewable energy.
However, one challenge that the wind industry faces is that many onshore sites are coming to the end of their operational life. A collaborative approach can help through wind farm owners and operators working with other stakeholders to think together about how we can collectively extend the life of existing assets, allowing the industry to further reduce its levelized cost of energy (LCOE) and demonstrate good practice in circularity and a more resource efficient future.
Typically, the tower, blades and nacelle of turbines remain serviceable after 20 – 25 years in operation. However, maintenance operations may be required to replace or modernize some components in the electric drivetrain, such as the generator, converter, switchgear, and grid connection. This can extend the life of turbines by 10 years or more, avoiding the need for unnecessary replacement of entire turbines. It can also alleviate concerns about the complicated national regulatory frameworks required to decommission old wind farms and build new ones.
Requirements vary widely between operators in terms of operational goals, criticality of assets, the types of technical services that are needed, and commercial terms. Therefore, operators need flexibility from the supply chain.
Modern electrical drivetrain technology with high reliability can reduce the need for unplanned downtime. Taking into account the natural intermittency of wind, this can potentially increase turbine, and wind farm annual energy production (AEP). It can also cut operational expenditures (OPEX) in half by avoiding the costs of repairs and lost production annually.
This is particularly important at sites where the wind farm owner or operator has subcontracted service support or where the wind farm is still covered by the turbine original equipment manufacturer (OEM) warranty or long-term service agreement (LTSA). During a typical warranty period (5 years or more) or LTA (5 to 15 years), an OEM will adhere to its comprehensive turbine maintenance recommendations.
This may present difficulties, such as at the end of the warranty or LTSA period, when an owner/operator may experience a "black box" in terms of how maintenance was applied, or site-specific issues and priorities.
Modernizing also provides an opportunity to add digital solutions. This enables the technique of condition monitoring to identify issues before they arise. Adding this is often relatively straightforward when extending the lifetime of turbines in areas that are well served by cellular networks.
However, using digital technology to make better decisions necessitates more than just connectivity or data collection. Domain expertise is also needed to make analysis to diagnose the underlying messages in the data and recommend actions. Otherwise, it's like discovering you have a fever but not knowing how to treat it; you'll still have the fever.
Digitalization can provide actionable insights into what to do, when to do it, and how to do it, regardless of who the user, owner, operator, OEM, or service partner is.
In practice, this could refer to power electronics such as direct current (DC) capacitors, semi-conductors (IGBTs), or printed circuit boards, as well as electromechanical components such as air circuit breakers and cooling fans. These are often Areas that are known to cause unexpected turbine downtime.
One operator that has extended the lifetime of turbines is Enefit Green, which called on ABB to recondition in 24 wind turbines in Estonia.
However they choose to proceed, wind operators need maintenance strategies that are practical and achievable. We believe that collaboration is the way forward to finding a path to a more sustainable wind economy.