The argument for non-OEM wind turbine servicing

Sulzer technician working inside a turbine nacelle (Photo: Sulzer)
Sulzer technician working inside a turbine nacelle (Photo: Sulzer)
Specialist maintenance providers can help to improve the reliability and lifespan of wind turbines (Photo: Sulzer)
Specialist maintenance providers can help to improve the reliability and lifespan of wind turbines (Photo: Sulzer)
Independent repair specialists can work on components from a wide variety of wind turbine designs (Photo: Sulzer)
Independent repair specialists can work on components from a wide variety of wind turbine designs (Photo: Sulzer)

Jason Horton at worldwide independent service provider for rotating equipment, Sulzer, looks at the benefits of creating a partnership with a specialist maintenance provider in terms of improved lifespan and reliability of wind turbines.

Wind turbines can achieve an online availability of about 98%, giving operators approximately one week in the year when planned maintenance can be completed. It is essential to use this time efficiently, concentrating on the most important issues, which can be identified using preventative maintenance techniques.

Preserving the reliability of a wind turbine is essential for keeping it operational and cost effective. By working to prevent potential failures, condition monitoring and repair work can be planned ahead of time, ensuring that any downtime is minimized. This concept can include predictive maintenance procedures such as vibration analysis as well as onsite repairs or modifications to resolve issues.

Since wind turbines were first commissioned on an industrial scale, the technology and design of the components has progressed rapidly, enabling units over 1MW to be installed with an expected working life of around 20 years. As each new design comes to market, it incorporates the lessons learned from its predecessors but also has the potential to introduce its own issues.

Creating a comprehensive maintenance strategy for wind turbines requires considerable expertise in the various parts of rotating equipment, the systems behind the electronic control panels, as well as flexible field service teams that can provide planned and reactive repair solutions to remote areas. However, the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will generally only look after their own equipment, which can lead to a complex set of arrangements for each turbine.

Developing a partnership with an experienced, independent provider, says Horton, can deliver a number of advantages, one of which is access to their considerable experience in repairing a variety of wind turbine designs. Such an arrangement has the potential to maximize maintenance efficiency and allow all the components within an installation to be covered by experienced engineers from a single source.

In addition, a greater breadth of experience, supported by expert design engineers, allows modifications to the original components to be introduced that will improve durability. By delivering these as part of a planned schedule, productivity can be maximized and component failures avoided.

Sulzer offers a specialist on-site wind turbine repair service that can react to unplanned maintenance issues, with a particular emphasis on generator repairs. With high turbine availability as a priority, Sulzer has dedicated resources that can be deployed to both onshore and offshore generating facilities. In many cases, according to the company, this can reduce downtime and maintenance costs substantially compared to the alternatives of either a workshop repair or complete replacement.

Take, for example, an offshore turbine generator that had failed due to a rotor earth fault. With the accumulated costs of a crane barge, a new generator and the associated labour costs, the most likely outcome would have been the decommissioning of the turbine.

However, a team of specialist Sulzer engineers visited the turbine, confirmed the original fault finding analysis and disassembled the generator for further inspection. Several new parts were installed, including slip rings and brush gear assemblies before reassembly and testing.

Once the turbine was reconnected to the grid, it was generating the required output and normal operation was resumed. In all, the on-site work had taken the Sulzer engineers just 20 hours but had saved the wind turbine from being decommissioned and also improved its reliability for the future.

The root cause of the fault was identified as carbon contamination, which had led to electrical tracking between phase and earth through insulated components. This failure mechanism could have been avoided using regular, professional maintenance, which requires in-depth generator knowledge.

Ultimately, this example illustrates how expert advice can drastically change the outcome of a situation and very often can save time and money in the long term. As wind energy continues to grow as a source of power, the importance and requirement for a reliable repair partner that can provide monitored maintenance solutions, with an understanding of how wind turbines operate, will become more prevalent. This will especially be the case, as larger turbines evolve and their location moves further offshore.

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