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Wind energy advances to lower breakdowns, maintenance

9 May 2012 – Technological advancements in wind power mechanisms will negatively impact upon the wind energy operations and maintenance market, but will improve renewable energy generation, according to a new report by business intelligence company GBI Research. This report found that mechanical developments will allow wind farms to run far more efficiently, increasing profits and helping the environment, once initial investments are made to upgrade aging turbines.

The global wind energy operation and maintenance (O&M) market is currently being driven by an increasing number of installations backed by financial incentives, capital subsidies and tax rebates, the component failure rates of turbines, and the aging nature of the majority of wind turbines in operation. However, upcoming technological innovations in wind farm components are expected to cause reductions in O&M revenue during the long-term future, as improved efficiency of wind power systems will decrease risks of breakage.

Europe represents the largest global O&M market, gaining estimated market revenue of US$2.8 billion in 2011. As one of the first large-scale installers of wind turbines, the region is also the largest market for wind energy O&M, with a substantial number of ageing wind turbines requiring regular repair and maintenance. During 2011, the USA contained some US$40 billion of wind installations that were out of warranty, providing another huge market opportunity for maintenance.

Direct drive train (DDT) technology eliminates the need for a gearbox in wind turbines, which represents one of the major causes of breakdowns, as seen in the negative publicity generated around recent gearbox failures in the UK’s offshore Kentish Flats wind farm and Lackawanna wind farm in the USA. DDT improves power output, increases reliability, and reduces costs over the life of a turbine, and, although direct drive wind turbines are more expensive than geared turbines, they are more economical considering the entire life of a project.

Tension control measurement technology for bolted joints on turbines is another advancement that acts to minimise O&M costs. An estimated 90% of bolted joint failures in wind installations occur as a result of insufficient bolt tension. This technology can therefore potentially save millions of dollars over a plant’s 20 year life.

The global wind energy O&M market grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.6% from 2005 to 2011 and reached US$5.6 billion in 2011. The global wind energy O&M market is expected to reach US$13.3 billion in 2020 at a CAGR of 9.6% over the forecast period 2012 to 2020.