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SKF Wind Farm Management Conference

Straight talk on wind farm service and maintenance at exclusive industry gathering

By Lyn Harrison, Owner of Insight Wind, and 2013 SKF Wind Farm Management Conference panel debate moderator

Knowledge sharing, access to data, the rise of the independent service provider and a growing determination among wind farm owners to take more control of their assets were recurring themes at the 8th annual SKF Wind Farm Management Conference, held in Warsaw, June 12-13. The venue was chosen in recognition of Poland's position as the largest wind power market in eastern Europe.

A high calibre gathering of 148 participants from 21 countries and 52 companies listened to presentations and panel debates on how to realise operations and maintenance (O&M) cost savings in a maturing wind industry. With some of the best brains on the topic rubbing shoulders with service and maintenance experts from other industries, SKF achieved an interesting and relevant mix of professionals for its exclusive and customer-focused event.

In the packed conference room, moderators sparked challenging debate and encouraged some surprisingly straightforward and honest answers. See below for highlights from the most popular debates.

Data woes

Access to data from an operating wind plant, or rather lack of access to insufficient data, was a common refrain throughout the event. In a wind service market that by 2016 will have grown to 200 GW of plant out of warranty and be worth $10-17 billion, according to keynote speaker Morten Keller from MAKE Consulting, the data crunch is of growing concern.

The broader picture is clear. As Vattenfall's Pär Attermo recounted, gearbox failure, blade damage and faulty electrical control systems account for the largest share of lifetime service and maintenance costs. That share was put at 80% by SKF's Erwin Weiss in his presentation on risk assessment. But the fine detail of what goes wrong – how, and when – is often missing.

Rumblings of discontent were heard about the near data monopoly held by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), the turbine suppliers. Asked whether he had sufficient data from OEMs to build accurate simulations of maintenance strategy models, Vattenfall O&M engineer François Besnard replied: "I don't have access to the data." From SKF, renewables applications manager Paul Meaney diplomatically responded: "You really have to dig. It's always more difficult than perhaps it should be." E.ON's Nordic fleet manager Roland Flaig reported that out of 4.2 GW of wind capacity selected for inclusion in the company's energy yield initiative, data from just 3.6 GW was of sufficient quality to be included in the program.

Speakers concurred that service, maintenance, repairs and parts replacement accounted for 15-30% of life cycle costs, with offshore at the high end of the scale. Thus the scope for lowering the cost of wind generation and improving owner returns through reductions in operating expenditure (OPEX) is not inconsiderable.

Let me work magic

It was not until the event's final session that a wind turbine owner took the bull by the horns. Today's OEMs control wind turbine data collection and their priorities do not match those of an owner, said Sven Jesper Knudsen, a data analyst with offshore wind owner Dong. "We need access and control."

Remote monitoring and analytics are key to reducing operating costs and improving performance offshore. Analytics makes the business case for spending, Knudsen said. But opportunities are being lost for lack of data. As pointed out by his colleague at Dong, Christina Aabo, the focus of OEMs is on reducing capital expenditure, which accounts for 70-75% of the levelised cost of wind energy, rather than on reducing the 25-30% share that OPEX represents offshore. As a result, their data collection priorities do not necessarily match those of offshore wind farm owners.

Knudsen bemoaned the lack of data integrity. Better accuracy, quality, consistency, validation and documentation are needed. Actionable information is in short supply, he said. As well as recommendations for best practice data collection, his presentation documented examples of lost opportunities.

Knudsen said he could "work magic" with access to all data, a modern and open data platform for wind turbines and better data integrity. One of the wind industry's biggest problems, he added, is that it is still too small to attract the required firepower to solve the issues.

The knowledge gap

More knowledge sharing and co-operation on data is needed between OEMs, wind farm owners and independent service providers (ISPs)."Knowledge sharing can have a huge impact on availability," said Morten Keller of MAKE Consulting.

Key performance indicators for the same model turbine operating in similar conditions in different countries often differ widely, he added. Mystified owners could learn much from one another. Dong's Aabo echoed Keller. "We need to have a dedicated focus on knowledge sharing," she said.

The operations and maintenance industry is not moving forward on the issue, said SKF's Hannes Leopoldseder. He asked how good practice could best be replicated. From utility E.ON, Flaig's response was immediate: companies must talk to one another. ISPs, he said, were getting better at external communication.

Attermo said a change of culture is required. Vattenfall, he said, wants its staff to learn more by working alongside OEM technicians. IT problems should not be underestimated. Spare parts, for example, are cheaper on the open market than from OEMs, but it takes far too much time to locate them, he said.

A response to that problem came from Mark Huyzer, director of start-up company Spares in Motion, which connects suppliers and customers in the wind turbine aftermarket based on Huyzer's experience in the aerospace industry A transparent spare-part supply chain will reduce delays on parts delivery, break OEM monopolies on original components and result in lower costs, he said. Huyzer called for more data on component removal rates to allow optimisation of stock levels.

The need for strong stock positions among service suppliers is growing as more wind farms come out of warranty and owners select ISPs instead of OEMs for service and maintenance, said Huyzer. In the aerospace industry, manufacturer-approved parts, and parts from designated engineering representatives, have proved to be as reliable as those from the OEM, he said.

Wind farm owners' views on OEM services

Huyzer's comments reflected doubts voiced at the conference about OEMs as the providers of service and maintenance, given that the interests of the owner and the OEM were seldom aligned.

Carsten Brinck from DMP in Denmark, an ISP, warned of the conflict when the ISP is reliant on the OEM to provide a part, yet the OEM offers turbine service to the owner in competition with ISPs.

Brinck joined the chorus of voices identifying full co-operation from the OEM as crucial to wind farm management. But OEM co-operation varies and the incentive for them to actively monitor inefficiencies is limited, said E.ON's Flaig. It was a theme picked up by Thilo Langfeldt of Strategic Engineering Management.

The owner is focused on maximum production at lowest life cycle cost while the supplier of the wind turbine, often the party performing service and maintenance, is focused on minimising cost, particularly during the warranty period, said Langfeldt.

He noted the reluctance of OEMs to offer real, energy-based performance warranties instead of simple, time based availability warranties. Even if an energy warranty is agreed, there is still no incentive for the OEM to optimise performance beyond the reference level. Moreover, it is almost impossible for an owner to prove that a loss of energy calculation is correct, he said. Langfeldt's presentation detailed a series of specific working practices that function as disincentives to the OEM and offered solutions to the problems.

Javier Saldise from Vestas was a lone defender of the OEM position. He energetically countered the criticisms. Vestas, he said, is eager to share knowledge and enter into co-operative relationships. He called for more flexibility from owners and service providers in their working methods. "We have a lot of information," he said. "But we are not able to convince you that we can help you."

The rise of the ISP

Morten Keller described OEM service and maintenance deals as "extremely expensive over 10 years." In Denmark there is a strong and steady move to ISPs from OEMs, particularly as turbines age. "Service costs are going down now in general," he said.

The advantage of an ISP is that experience over multiple brands allows it to become a one-stop-shop supplier to an owner with a wide variety of wind turbine models within its portfolio, said DMP's Brinck. An ISP offers greater flexibility and more independence from the OEM and the natural monopoly it exercises over knowledge and component supply. ISP UpWind Solutions’ Peter Wells agreed. His company operates a policy of full disclosure of all information to the owner.

Different owners have different goals, said Brinck. A utility owner is focused on increasing energy production; a financial owner on cash flow and return on investment; an asset manager's focus is on the return when trading the asset, while an operator working for an owner is earnings focused. A maintenance strategy must be individually tailored to the owner's particular focus, with lots of built-in flexibility to adapt as circumstances change. "Don't settle for outsourcing with full service scopes," he advised.

The ISP sector in the wind industry, however, is made up of a large number of small companies, often with no more than a handful of staff. Consolidation of ISPs throughout Europe is necessary to meet the needs of a growing O&M business, said Brinck. And the business is changing. Asset owners are less willing to outsource all responsibility to an ISP or OEM. "We see a bigger involvement from the more mature operators," said Brinck.

From an owner's perspective, the choice between OEM or ISP for service and maintenance is not a question of one or the other, but both, said Dong's Aabo. The conflict between the two must develop into a co-operative partnership model. Dong's approach will be to keep overall control of O&M and maintain a close working relationship with the OEM, but she also sees the company outsourcing specific maintenance tasks to specialist independence service providers. "We are discussing that strategy as an owner."

Owners take control

Dong is determined to have control over its assets and is taking a lead role in influencing design and development in dialogue with the OEMs, said Aabo, particularly in foundation design and electrical infrastructure. "We are not doing components, but leading innovation." 

The story is similar at E.ON. As owner of its assets, E.ON wants to take charge of asset management, in co-operation with the OEM. "We need to involve the manufacturer," explained Roland Flaig, Nordic fleet manager, E.ON. In describing E.ON's comprehensive energy yield initiative he said four OEMs were involved and all were co-operative and interested. "Sometimes we feel they are not, but in this case they were really on the ball."

The initiative, detailed in his presentation, resulted in the realisation of significant value, said Flaig. Lessons learned in how to increase energy yield are being incorporated into a standard continuous improvement process for all E.ON's operating wind assets. Experience sharing across maintenance teams is facilitated through an asset management newsletter and through an operators' forum.

From the renewables division of Portuguese utility EDP, Ceferino Viescas Fernández described the process of bringing order to the chaos of owning 400 GW of wind capacity dispersed across Europe, consisting of 25 turbine models from different periods supplied by ten OEMs. Half is out of warranty. The approach is step-by-step implementation of uniformity of maintenance, from performance measurement and data collection, to analysis and development of common procedures. "We needed to all talk the same language," said Fernández. "We have tried to make the same structure of service contract for all wind farms across all suppliers." His presentation detailed the approach.

The last word on the owner's dilemma goes to Simon Powles from the UK's RES, one of the oldest and most experienced owner-developers in the global wind business. Owners must take an active role in analysing wind farm performance and turbine behaviour and no longer simply rely on warranties and the service provider, he said. "Catching problems early will reduce downtime and repairs with increased revenues and lower costs resulting."

Participant comments from the conference

Carsten Brink, DMP:

"We see a bigger involvement from the more mature operators."

"Don't settle for outsourcing with full-service scopes."


Morten Keller, MAKE Consulting:

"Knowledge sharing can have a huge impact on availability."

Simon Powles, RES:

"Owners must take an active role in analysing wind farm performance and turbine behaviour."


SKF would like to thank the programme committee for their work in making the Conference a success. The programme committee included members from the following companies: 

  • Vattenfall
  • Dong Energy
  • E.on
  • ZF Services
  • SKF

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