Well over half of the $15bn the onshore wind industry will spend on operations and maintenance (O&M) this year will go to unforeseen repairs and correctives caused by component failures, according to new research by Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.

Unplanned failures are currently costing as much as $30,000 per turbine each year for repairs and spare parts, as well as leading to an average seven hours of lost production per machine – not including downtime for pre-emptive shutdowns or long delivery-times for materials, equipment and technician call-outs, all totting up to a total $8.5bn a year.

“Spare parts and associated logistics comprise approximately 50% of the direct costs associated with unplanned repairs,” stated principle analyst Daniel Liu. “Capital components alone – gearboxes, generators and blade – can cost up to $10,000 per turbine per year in replacements.”

The trend, he added, points to the impact of plunging tender prices on world wind markets, which are “sharpening [asset owners] focus” on operational expenditures in the “search for new solutions to reduce costs”.

The report found that the drive to digitalise O&M has led to “a proliferation of services across the value chain”, with remote monitoring and diagnostics tools used to identify turbine failures and provide turbine performance now “widely used by most asset managers”.

But Liu noted, that “for all the touted benefits offered by digital technology, adoption rates by asset owners are mixed”.

Many of the largest asset owners, he added, “only deploy a basic form” of digital technology and examples of a “full digital ecosystem deployment are rare”.

“Data analytics platforms need excellent historical datasets to produce quality forecasts and analytics,” said Liu. “This can be difficult to obtain, due to organisational hurdles, the time required to digitise and data control by OEMs and other groups.

“Some leading self-performing asset owners prefer instead to rely on their operational experience and heavy personnel engagement to manage assets, with some asset owners in the North America shunning digital technology altogether.

He stated that many asset owners were still testing the cost-benefit fundamentals of rolling out digital solutions on wind farms.

"In quite a few cases, the basic economics do not always stack up for digital solutions,” said Liu. “Deployment costs for retrofitting a complete ecosystem to existing fleets and operations ranges into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per site. While CMS, drone inspections, and performance monitoring have proven use cases and are widely deployed … some have a payback period up to seven years or longer.”