Wind energy has grown exponentially over the past decade, increasing by 29.7% (on average) per year, in line with the 2008 projection by the U.S. Department of Energy that the U.S. could derive 20% of its energy from wind power by 2030. In the following white paper, we discuss current challenges in the wind industry, the solutions a robust maintenance management program or CMMS software solution can provide, and future developments in the sphere, as the wind industry continues to move towards a larger share of the total energy marketplace.
The Current State of the Wind Industry
At present, there are over fifty wind generation manufacturers (also known as original equipment manufacturers or OEMs) around the globe. In the U.S. over 470 manufacturing facilities produce components for wind turbines. Wind turbine maintenance and service providers consist of: OEMs, end- user wind farmer owners, and independent service providers (or ISPs). Wind OEMs continue to dominate operations and maintenance (O&M) of wind installations, but that has been steadily changing as ISPs and utilities have begun to encroach into the sphere, according to Windpower Monthly.
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) sees the U.S. wind industry as a large market for wind power capacity installations and a growing market for American manufacturing. Over the past five years, the U.S. wind industry has added over 35% of all new generating capacity, second only to natural gas, and more than nuclear and coal combined. Further confirmation of the industry’s growth was evident in the installation of approximately 50,000 megawatts (MW) of wind power capacity, at the close of 2012, and the 8,300 MW of wind power under construction at the outset of 2013. Currently, U.S. wind power capacity alone represents more than 20% of the world’s installed wind power.
Though past and present performance of wind turbine OEMs has been consistently robust, insiders like Andrew Longeteig of Vestas (a wind turbine manufacturer) are concerned about a recent slowdown. “The U.S. wind industry has slowed, largely due to the uncertainty of the federal Production Tax Credit extension at the end of 2012, which has led to a significant reduction in turbine orders for 2013…” Fortunately for the industry, congress extended the tax credit, but not indefinitely. Nevertheless, despite declines in unit-level costs, IHS, an emerging energy research firm, predicted that annual O&M spending will double to nearly $6 billion by 2025.
The National Science Foundation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and NASA high-end computing funded a joint-research effort between the University of Delaware and Stanford University to study the potential of wind turbines to fulfill future energy demands. The results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), and in that report participating scientists assert that wind turbines could fulfill half the world’s 2030 energy demand, with minimal environmental impact, by installing four million turbines. Wind energy has grown by 29.7% (on average) every year over the past decade and if that exponential rate of growth continues, the U.S. could derive 20% of its energy from wind by 2020. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), in conjunction with six leading wind turbine manufacturers, has undertaken a campaign towards achieving that goal.
Challenges in the Wind Industry
Operations and maintenance is the nexus of lean manufacturing, affecting everything from profitability, safety, environmental compliance, and asset life, to consumer confidence. Three areas for improvement that are adversely affecting the ascendancy of the wind industry are 1) unruly maintenance costs, 2) lack of historical maintenance data, and 3) under utilization of the maintenance software systems that can redress both 1) and 2). Currently, $40 billion worth of wind installations are at (or near) the end of the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) warranty periods, with current energy demands such that more operational turbines were out of warranty than covered, in the previous year, according to an extensive study commissioned by Sandia National Laboratories. Wind farmers whose OEM’s have expired are weighing the pros and cons of managing their wind farms maintenance internally or outsourcing it to OEM’s or ISPs.
Wind Turbine Maintenance Costs
The affect O&M has on overall operational efficiency (OOE) is amply expressed in its portion of the total cost of a wind turbine, 20 – 30%, nearly a third of the expense. Consistently, the two greatest factors influencing O&M costs are: 1) expenses associated with scheduled maintenance and, 2) the costs of unscheduled maintenance.
According to a presentation developed by Lucintel in 2011, gear box, generator, and turbine blades represent the three primary components in a wind turbine generating site that require regular servicing. They estimate these components represent 80% of the total turbine maintenance cost, which is a substantial portion of the total cost of a wind turbine. In Lucintel’s research, they found that wind farm O&M teams are severely resource-constrained and, consequently, critical scheduled and unscheduled preventative maintenance (PM) lags behind, due to systemic shortages of qualified technicians. According to National Wind Coordinating Committee (NWCC) estimates, total wind industry maintenance costs breakdown as follows:
- 75% – unscheduled maintenance
- 20% – preventative maintenance
- 5% – major planned overhauls.
These estimates back up the industry-wide consensus that a fantastic opportunity exists to improve OOE in the industry by implementing sound predictive maintenance (PdM) practices, which have consistently been linked to reducing unscheduled maintenance.
Historical Maintenance Data and Underutilization of CMMS
Mass production of wind turbines (on an industrial scale) is a relatively young industry (less than a decade old) and, as such, robust operational data is hard to come by. It is not uncommon for experts to rely on anecdotal data to manage PM or PdM (e.g., what component is likely to fail, on which turbine, or how to avert it). Inadequate documentation, e.g., the lack of maintenance comments recorded on completed PMs and work orders, and inconsistent review of comments provided, is a systemic problem.
Capturing equipment history data is extremely important at this early stage in the life cycle of these critical assets. Harnessing historical and current asset performance data and providing an electronic repository of machine condition, spare parts, and equipment failure data, can greatly reduce wind turbine maintenance costs, but under-utilization of the systems that support consistent, enterprise-wide, accurate data-capture, i.e., computerized maintenance management software (CMMS), remains a consistent trend throughout the industry.
Current estimates of successful maintenance software systems implementation are between 20 and 60 percent, despite the findings of the CMMS Best Practices Study conducted by Reliabilityweb.com (and a plethora of supporting evidence) which demonstrated that CMMS’ core functions (i.e., work order management, reporting, and inventory functions) are “very important to users.”
A study conducted by Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) within the power industry found that the annual maintenance cost of repairing machinery after it breaks down (corrective maintenance) is $17 to $18 per horsepower, while the annual cost per horsepower using PM, is between $11 and $13, and using PdM is between $7 and $9 – a substantial savings, in the short- and long-run. The study by EPRI revealed a potential maintenance cost savings of 47% by using PdM techniques. CMMS allows for maintenance and reliability (M&R) specialists to more accurately visualize the “P to F Curve”, also known as the Potential to Failure diagram, which illustrates the period between when equipment begins to fail and when it has completely done so. By providing alerts and appropriate work orders earlier on the curve, O&M specialists can detect and correct equipment anomalies prior to complete failure and reduce the costly downtime associated with it.
A report by the business intelligence firm GBI Research indicates that technological advancements in wind power mechanisms will allow wind farms to run far more efficiently and reap more profits as older wind turbines are upgraded. Similarly, as older workers retire, and more tech-oriented workers enter the workforce, those upgrades will enable the industry to better engage them.
David Berger, a recognized CMMS/EAM system expert, sums it up thusly, “Many senior management teams have come to the realization that, given the aging workforce being replaced across North America with younger, less experienced technical resources, modern knowledge management tools such as a CMMS/EAM are critical to help smooth the transition.
These tools retain much of the knowledge lost when technicians and other maintenance staff retire or leave, for example, standard operating procedures and job plans, failure analysis data, diagnostic techniques and a complete asset history. Furthermore, younger technical resources have come to expect these tools, and are comfortable and proficient in their use.”
Wind Industry Maintenance Strategies
Although maintaining equipment at a wind farm has some unique challenges, the wind industry can certainly pursue some of the best practices PM and PdM approaches that their peers in the industrial and general manufacturing sector are utilizing. By adopting continuous monitoring or frequent monitoring of machinery health conditions, wind techs are able to schedule required maintenance activities at the proper intervals.
Furthermore, by utilizing a host of pertinent PdM technologies, such as CMMS, wind industry personnel responsible for caring for these critical assets are in a better position to identify when an impending failure may be approaching, providing valuable time to plan, schedule, and execute the required corrective tasks before the condition becomes an emergency.
The Future of Wind Power
Organizations seeking to make quick, informed decisions that will contribute to meeting production schedules, ensuring quality, safety, and environmental standards are in compliance, satisfying customer demands, extending equipment life, optimizing worker productivity, and reducing costs, recognize that they must adapt maintenance management practices that enable them to leverage comprehensive and accurate operational, maintenance, and financial data into a common platform, most likely via an enterprise asset management (EAM) systems.
Insiders expect to see more fluid (and more robust) exchanges of data between OEMs and end-users, which will enable end-users (many of which plan to maintain their turbines internally for the first time) to better care for their assets. Warranty tracking, equipment repair/replace algorithms, and Root Cause Failure Analysis (RCFA) are also expected to be improved upon in wind industry maintenance software in the coming years.
Investing in technological advances will always play a decisive role in the evolution and expansion of the wind industry, but there is also a keen understanding of the need to continually parallel that by investing in the development of the culture of O&M teams. “Companies can review, select, purchase, implement, and train on using the best designed systems on the market, but if they fail to educate the technicians on the value of using the system and put in place accountability measures to ensure the system is being used according to agreed upon work processes, they have failed.” (reliabilityweb.com)
In much the same way that the law of cause and effect operates, companies that actively address the “soft” side of maintenance today (cause), will be leaders in the wind industry of tomorrow (effect).