I spent a fascinating couple of days in Hamburg at the Wind O&M (Operations & Maintenance) Forum, hearing about the wind energy industry’s efforts to reduce the levelised cost of energy (LCOE in £/kWh) of electricity produced by onshore wind turbines. Whilst the industry has made huge strides in progress since the world’s first wind farm* was commissioned in 1980, the wind energy market continues to expand and evolve rapidly, with ever-larger wind turbines (up to 8MW each) coming into service both onshore and offshore. Economies of scale are a significant factor in driving down costs towards the UK’s cost of energy target for offshore wind of £100/MWh by 2020.
Much of the focus of the event was on condition monitoring, life extension and reliability; I was surprised to learn that some 60% of wind turbine downtime is unplanned (this of course includes many early turbines which are approaching the end of their life), compared with a figure of 20-30% for thermal plant such as gas turbines. During the event it was commented that gas turbines are fully instrumented and that their operators ‘know all there is to know’ about their equipment, whereas I was struck by the comparatively small number of parameters (typically vibration and temperature along with periodic oil sampling) monitored in the typical wind turbine. During the forum it was commented that although the industry collects a large quantity of condition monitoring data, only 2% of that information is used to create value, and that the ‘digital transformation’ of the industry is only just beginning.
I suggest the industry needs a structured, impartial, engineering-led review of the reasons for unplanned downtime, the critical parameters that should be monitored to control and forewarn of these conditions, and the analysis and data fusion that should be performed to result in dependable and actionable information that will allow operators of wind farms, old and new, onshore and offshore, to achieve levels of dependability much closer to those demanded by operators of gas turbines and similar plant. If you’re interested in the potential benefits of this approach then please contact Cambridge Consultants for an informal discussion.
* According to Wikipedia, the world’s first wind farm was 0.6 MW, consisting of 20 wind turbines rated at 30 kilowatts each, installed on the shoulder of Crotched Mountain in southern New Hampshire in December 1980