Round up and key insight from European Wind O&M Forum, Hamburg

Last week saw a truly international delegation gather at the 6th Annual O&M Forum in Hamburg to discuss key themes and trends across the O&M field. 

The meeting was attended by major operators of wind farms including AKUO Energy, Axpo Power, DONG Energy, EDF, EDP Renewables, EnBW, E.ON, ESP, GDF Suez, juwi, Mainstream Renewable Power, RWE Inngogy, Scottish Power Renewables, Scottish & Southern Energy, Statkraft, and Vattenfall who weighed in on critical discussions regarding cost reduction and increasing asset lifetime amongst others.

There were a number of key themes that emerged from the meeting including the need for more effective data management, the attitude towards remote monitoring, consolidation and optimisation of the industry, creating a local supply chain and bridging the gap between operations and investors.

Axpo Power, one of the first speakers to take the stage, stated that effective asset management is critical. ‘Pooling information and resources, user groups working together, getting developers to strengthen their O&M strategy and making information flow are all aspects that need to be improved to drive the industry forwards’ said the operator. The wind industry has a fragmented nature, and it is clear that wind farms need to pool together in order to insource capabilities and services to reduce costs. If there are fewer vendors per wind farm then there are less technologies to maintain, making spare parts easier to source and allocate and making data more consistent across one farm.

Creating a local service market with capabilities for major component supply, engineering repairs and technical expertise, which can all be sourced locally, will spread the risk and cost associated with O&M. It also instils a level of confidence that will transpire throughout the supply chain and add to more efficient asset management and asset lifetime reliability. Evidently supply chain management is a theme that runs deep in the wind industry – creating a database of spare parts that different operators can tap into and use for failure analysis over multiple wind farms is just one way to improve efficiencies.

Seeing the bigger picture and managing data is key, as Axpo Power demonstrated with their new data system that is capable of providing a live data feed that monitors the plants product analysis, failure modes, power curve analysis and other key variables. What is more impressive is that this unique system was developed in-house by students. Axpo Power says ‘it is paramount to be proactive and innovative to keep getting better results that evolve with the technologies and new efficiencies that are coming online’. EDPR furthered this by discussing the importance of producing guidelines to enable technicians to categorize failures more effectively – ‘business is one thing, but technical is another level, and there needs to be a standard for experience, which is especially important for major component inspections’.

In one of the networking breakout sessions, Dong Energy mentioned how the attitude towards remote monitoring in the US has only just changed; previously it has been very cost adverse. Dong Energy explained that it requires discipline within an organization to implement an effective CMS strategy. Most companies are capable of developing good systems, but the key to success is how you implement it and use the system to maintain the asset with an effective strategy. For example, the diagnostic alerts need to be registered correctly, as the analysis and subsequent decision that internal management make must be data driven and data informed – ‘the focus needs to be on implementation as more often than not technology is not the answer if it is not implemented correctly’.

The need to involve investors was another re-occurring theme. Many of the operators mentioned that investors tend to outsource as a reflex, thinking that O&M is the OEM – typically because they are not aware of the options that are available and don’t know the value of sourcing. Therefore, the focus really needs to be on asset management, which is the language that investors speak. They need reassurance on how they will get a return on the expected lifetime of the asset. Naturally there is a long term risk associated with investing in wind, as if the asset is not maintained correctly it will not perform at its optimal level of output. Financial asset management, commercial asset management and O&M asset management are all needed – but more importantly all must work in tandem.

Akuo Energy identified a profound stakeholder issue regarding the lack of awareness from investors, and of the risk mitigation opportunities that are available to the wind industry. They highlighted that the industry is moving from a traditional O&M model to structural integrity management – ‘it is no longer just O&M as an isolated issue, operators are dealing with the financial issues that are involved at the start of the process’.

Some 90% of players finance their project privately – meaning that the industry still needs subsidies to maintain growth in the market – but investment is also needed from a stakeholder management perspective. The key to success could be a case of channelling much of this information through financial avenues, highlighting the opportunities that exist, having regular interactions, being aware of the potential benefits and most importantly making investors aware of the ground breaking technologies and innovative options for cost reduction and risk reduction. Marrying investors with the operators to consider possible evolutions will drive this exciting industry forwards.

The key themes and conclusions that ensued this industry meeting will be addressed in more depth at the Wind O&M Summit in Dallas (14-16 April, USA). With already over 150 individuals confirmed, including many North America wind industry figureheads, it is expected to sell out in the next couple of weeks. Attendees include operators from NextEra, Iberdrola, Pattern, EDPR, EDF, E.ON, Alliant, AES, BP, Noble and turbine manufacturers such as Siemens, GE, Vestas and ISPs Outland, Broadwind, Rope Partners, Run Energy and many more.