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Report explores true cost of wind turbine operations, maintenance


Independent wind energy analysts have been working with Wind Energy Update to determine what factors into operations and maintenance costs. They have been exploring how much turbine operators and investors can expect to invest in operations and maintenance over coming years — and how such costs can be mitigated.

Data analysed in The Wind Energy Operations & Maintenance Report suggest that average operations and maintenance (O&M) costs run at approximately US$0.027/kWh per kWh.

This may sound like a small investment, but profitable wind farms require operators to run a tight ship. The report quotes an operator saying, “Just a one-percent improvement in O&M makes a huge difference on the bottom line.”

Some of the component failure cost trends exposed in this new report include:

  • Until recently, wind O&M cost trends had been decreasing, although there is still scatter in even in more recent studies. This general trend of decreases in O&M costs could be attributed to the expansion in overall wind farm size and the resulting efficiencies of larger scale operations and broader fleet maintenance plans.
  • Wind turbine O&M costs are subject to often unanticipated increases overtime. In fact, these costs are estimated to increase, on average, 253 percent over the 20-year life of the various wind machines.
  • One data trend line in the report’s analysis suggests that O&M costs actually go up over the time period of consideration, especially when the new data is considered. This is also supported from anecdotal data suggesting an increasing trend in wind O&M costs.
  • High O&M costs associated with gearboxes, generators, drive trains and blades have been virtually universal across major brands — though there are a few exceptions with recent upgrades and success stories.
  • A significant amount of R&D is currently going into gearbox reliability. Many gearboxes, designed for a 20-year life, are failing after 6 to 8 years of operation.

It’s no surprise that the majority of R&D continues to focus on the big three components which generate the largest failure costs: the tower, rotor blades and gearbox.

“Gearboxes are still the Achilles’ heel for the wind industry, and can cost up to $500,000 to fix due to the high cost of replacement parts, cranes (which can cost $75,000 to $100,000), post installation testing, re-commissioning and lost power production,” says one long-term veteran O&M technician.

More information on the true costs, challenges and solutions for wind energy operations and maintenance is available in the report at www.windenergyupdate.com/reports.