TRUE COST OF WIND TURBINE OPERATIONS & MAINTENANCE
Independent wind energy analysts have been working with Wind Energy Update, UK, 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 from over 100 operators and component providers analysed in “The Wind Energy Operations & maintenance Report” suggest that average operations and maintenance (O&M) costs run at approximately $0.027/kWh or €0.019/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 1% improvement in O&M makes a huge difference on the bottom line”.
Primary data findings:
• 79% of wind turbines are still under warranty. This is about to change.
• O&M costs for wind power are double or triple the figures originally projected, they are particularly high in the U/S/ which is now the world’s largest wind power market.
• There is a -21% change in wind farm return on investment. This underperformance of wind assets is most likely attributable to both differences in power production and O&M costs over original estimates.
• Until recently, wind O&M cost trends had been decreasing. 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% over the 20-year life of the various wind machines.
• Average values of O&M costs are $0.027/kWh or €0.019/kWh per kWh.
• A significant amount of R&D is currently going into gearbox reliability. Many gearboxes, designed for a 10-year life, are falling after 6 to 8 years of operation.
• High O&M costs associated with gearboxes, generators, drive trains and blades have been virtually universal across major.
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-$100,000), post installation testing, re-commissioning and lost power production,” says one long-term veteran O&M technician.