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The wind industry needs to ’invest in ageing fleets to avoid a steep decline in output and increased risk of catastrophic failure’

Published: 24 December 2020 - Rachael Morling

As the industry takes an increasingly optimistic view of turbine life, there needs to be a more proactive approach to mitigating the risks of catastrophic failure and a decline in energy production. To enable fleets to run as profitably and for as long as possible, new technology combined with data analytics must be applied to ageing assets to enable effective predictive maintenance. This is according to ONYX InSight, a leading provider of data analytics and engineering expertise to the global wind industry.

In a recent panel entitled, ‘Maximising profits from ageing fleets’ hosted as part of ONYX InSight’s Global Wind Turbine Technical Symposium, leaders in wind asset operations and maintenance (O&M) identified three key challenges for owners and operators looking to get the most out of their ageing fleet:
• Uncertainty around when O&M strategies should be adjusted 
• Resilience of major components 
• Turbine data readiness
• Uncertainty around when O&M strategies should be adjusted 
 
As with most assets, the condition of a wind turbine alters as it gets older. In order to enable ageing assets to perform to optimal levels, O&M strategies need to be adjusted to account for these changing requirements. However, there is currently no formal industry definition of what constitutes an ageing fleet (some O&M leaders believe it to be as early as eight years while others benchmark 18 or 19 years – closer to original design life of 20 years) and therefore no industry best practice in place leaving decisions siloed with individual owners and operators.
 
Resilience of major components 
Main shafts, pitch bearings and gearboxes can all cause major issues for owners and operators considering asset life extension. In a poll of industry experts at ONYX InSight’s global technical symposium, 62% of owners and operators identified blade repairs as the greatest cause for concern in ageing fleets. These major component challenges can put owners and operators off looking at extending the life of assets and increase the appeal of ‘run to fail’ O&M strategies 
 
Turbine data readiness
Many older turbine models do not have CMS systems installed and historically, it has not been economically viable to retrofit onto ageing assets. This means that owners and operators managing legacy fleets are plagued with a lack of data amplified by missing technical and paper-based documentation. Without these systems in place, owners and operators do not have the insights or analysis capabilities to inform life extension strategies. 
 
The solution
High quality data analytics can mitigate all these challenges. The introduction of more cost effective, high-quality advancing sensing technology onto the market, led by ONYX InSight’s ecoCMS, has transformed the economics of retrofitting condition monitoring on to older, sub-2MW turbines, enabling modernisation and life extension through detailed analysis and affordability modelling. As a result, thousands of units of ecoCMS have been shipped and installed across the globe.
 
With this technology installed, data analytics and predictive maintenance solutions can fill data gaps through reverse engineering and help owners and operators predict and manage issues with major cost components such as blades and drivetrains. These solutions can be fundamental in empowering owners and operators to build intelligent O&M strategies with timings and maintenance decisions geared specifically around the performance and condition of their fleets.
 
“One of the main risks is that an issue on one turbine quickly becomes an issue across a whole fleet,” says Sven Thiesen, Director of Sales, Europe, ONYX InSight, said: “It can be easy to think that it is not worth investing in new technology for older assets, but we have proven a positive return of investment for CMS technology on turbines that are 15 years old.”
 
Bruce Hall, CEO, ONYX InSight, said: “With the right partners and strategies in place, owners and operators of ageing fleets have a real opportunity to maximise their profits and keep their turbines running for 25-35 years while driving the global growth of renewables by ensuring existing assets meet their full production potential and the wind industry continues to attract investors.”


 
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