The new playing filed: multi-brand wind turbines service

Yesterday I had the pleasure to meet my friend J. here in Hamburg.

J. works for V., a very big Danish wind turbine manufacture. Specifically he works in what looks like the new battle field for our industry – multi brand wind turbine operation and maintenance (O&M).

Basically it means that V. is offering not only Service for its own wind turbine models – it’s providing it also for competitors models, like Siemens/Gamesa, GE and the like.

There are several good reasons to do that - for instance:

  • Operational synergies. If you have wind farms already under maintenance in a specific area adding MW under maintenance will have a lower marginal cost.
  • Knowledge of the business already accumulated. iI you have thousands of WTGs under maintenance you should have a very clear idea of what could go wrong next during the life of the turbine. This  also include more in house knowledge to propose to the customer solutions like “fix it, don’t buy a new one”.
  • Scale factor in procurement: cheaper spare parts due to a very robust supply chain.

Additionally, customers could find interesting the “one stop shop” solution – for instance big utilities owning wind farms with several wind turbines brands might like the idea of having a single counterparts taking care of all the portfolio.

What strikes me the most is the possibility to implement technical retrofits solutions such us the vortex generators on competitors' WTG models. This basically means that when a wind turbine manufacturer discover a new technique to get more energy out of a turbine it could be able (in some cases) to apply this solution to the turbines of competitors.

I suspect that the market will probably move to a consolidation in the Service business arena, were several small to medium companies are operating locally

V. gave a clear example of it purchasing 2 O&M companies, UpWind Solutions in the US and Availon in Europe.

I also believe that sooner or later a war on intellectual property infringement will start, as several components are “tailor made” (that is, fabricated for a specific wind turbine manufacturer).

For sure you can reverse engineer them, but build them again could lead to legal problem. The same apply to the software of the WTG: many improvements are due to new algorithms and control system, and if you want to implement them you will probably need to put your hands on the software of the competitors.

There is always a second time: wind farm repowering

At the beginning of the year I’ve had the pleasure to work at my first repowering EPC – Vergao, in Portugal, together with Generg (a big local player).

This is supposed to be one of the many projects that should materialize during the next years. My former manager Luis Miguel thinks that repowering is “the next big thing” in wind energy.

I agree with him that sooner or later it will kick off. In theory, wind turbines are designed for a life of 20-25 years. Through heavy maintenance and substitution of the main components (e.g. gearbox) it can be probably extended a bit more. This practice is called life extension or retrofitting.

However, at the end of the day the question is: does it make sense to keep running old turbines? Or it’s more cost effective to install new WTGs?

Older wind farms are usually in incredibly windy site (class I, according to the IEC classification) and are probably using turbines of less than 1 MW.

Therefore it will be possible to reduce the number of installed turbines (a ratio of 3 old for 1 new would not surprise me) and even so increase the total production.

What can sometime hinder the repowering is not the availability of a better technical solution – and it’s often not even a problem of financing. What can complicate the picture are difficult legal frameworks, low social acceptance, environmental constraints , etc.

In theory, there are scenarios where the best solution will be to dismantle the wind turbines and scrap them (or sell them to third world countries).

Coming back to my personal experience, working at a repowering has been a very interesting professional experience.

There are quite a lot of unusual challenges, as the existing WTGs have to be dismantled while in parallel new ones are erected. This makes the time schedule more complicate than usual, and bring new health and safety challenges due to the many teams working at the same time.

I’ve also had the opportunity to look into new topics, like the possibility to “recycle” the existing foundation incorporating it in the new one (yes, you can do it), the market price of used turbines or the environmental requirements linked to the dismantling and scrapping of wind turbines.

Wind Energy in Finland

One of the things I enjoy more in my job is that it gives me the possibility to work in several  different countries.

In  the last months I've had the pleasure to visit several time Finland for a project developed by Neoen (the French developer that it's about to launch its IPO) and Prokon.

It's a 81 MW project called "Hedet". 18 Nordex/Acciona N149 4.0-4.5 MW turbines will be installed under a full EPC contract in an area near Närpiö (a low - medium wind site in West Finland).

It will be built in 2019, bust some preliminary works for roads and tree cutting have already been started.

The energy will be used to power a Google data center (see my other post on this topic).

It’s interesting to note that this is a private, unsubsidized PPA – meaning that it is a transaction between companies, not a “classic” setup where the electricity is sold by the developer to an utility for public consumption.
I believe that this kind of deal will increase in the next years given the sharp decrease of solar and wind plants.

In addition to Hedet there is a second group of wind farm that will be built in Finland in 2019, a portfolio of 107 MW divided in 4 different projects, all of them with the N149/4.0-4.5 MW.

These project are developed by Ox2 (a big player in Northern Europe) and not EPC (they are "Clean Sell", to use a regrettable expression I've heard to define a Supply and Installation project).

The Ox2 projects are founded by IKEA - now you know were your money end when you buy the "Billy" bookcase (I think I bought like 5 of them when I was young).

Wind energy use is growing in Finland – the country started somehow late (in 2010 they had less than 200 MW installed) to accelerate strongly in the last few years. The country has over 2 GW installed now, covering about 5% of consumption.

I would like to thank our colleagues in Finland and all the subcontractor we’ve worked with in the last months. Thank you for your hospitality!

Raki wind farm, Cile

 

A spectacular video of Raki wind farm, a beautiful project I’ve worked at.

Owned by Rame Energy (formerly Seawind) It is a 15 MW wind farm in the Bio Bio region (more or less in the middle of Chile).

WTGs are 5x V112 3MW turbines, and civil works have been developed by CJR.

The earthworks were not especially complicated, while the geotechnical study for the foundation required a more detailed, in depth study.

Talinay Oriente 90MW EPC Wind Farm

Although I don’t normally post stories about wind farms I’ve worked at I want to do an exception for Talinay, a project with whom I have a relationship almost emotional.

Located in Chile, in the Coquimbo province, near the Limarí river, it has been a project entirely developed by Vestas with internal founds and my first “hands on” EPC experience.

We’ve had the pleasure of optimizing the layout both in the preliminary phase, working together with the wind & site team, and in the constructive project. It was tough, because it is located in a mountainous area where impressive earthworks are needed.

It is a mix of V90 and V100 turbines of the 2MW platform, with an installed capacity of 90 MW.

Connected to the grid in March 2013, it has been constructed at an amazing, “china style” speed: with almost 400 peoples working together on site during the busiest period, it was a record for the foundation (5 per week, with two concrete plants on site working full time day and night) and the turbine installation (4 WTG per week).

The wind farm was completed in 6 months.

Almost all the big players of the sector have been involved: from the engineering side support was provided by IDOM, SISENER and ESTEYCO, while the main subcontractor was GES who worked with local and international subcontractors (among them, Hormigones Melón, Burger Gruas and CJR).

On the electrical side, it was one of the first (or maybe the first) PASS installed in Chile. The transformer was developed at lightning speed (155 days ex works), while the substation was made by ABB and Siemens.

Now is property of the Italian utility ENEL Green Power, who also signed a service agreement. Part of the money of the deal comes from a loan from Denmark’s Export Credit Agency (EKF). ENEL has an aggressive expansive approach in the Chilean market, where is developing several other wind farms (some of them with Vestas).

Below you will find several interesting pictures: two trucks pulling a tower section due to the high slope of the road, PASS switchgear and line trap, concrete plant and other interesting views of the wind farm.