Wind turbine technology has become a fully commercial venture, but the recent rapid growth of the wind industry has strained its supply chain to meet demand in a timely manner. Furthermore, unexpected component failures, especially electronic controls, gearboxes, generators, and rotor blades, have driven up Operations & Maintenance (O&M) costs.
During the course of the research for a new report just published by Wind Energy Update, it ultimately became clear that reliable and verifiable data on wind industry O&M cost trends is quite rare. In fact, there are no current widely available data sets illustrating these wind industry O&M costs. Proprietary research, reviews of scarce secondary sources and anecdotal evidence obtained through confidential interviews with wind industry owner/operators and component suppliers suggest that O&M expenses are double or even triple what was originally projected, particularly with the latest class of multi-megawatt machines now permeating the global wind market.
Of course, nearly all machine and electrical components have a certain chance of failure within their design lifetime, and wind turbines are no different. Savvy operators can make problematic turbines look better through innovative in the field O&M strategies, and vice versa. Nonetheless, the wind industry’s promises of delivering cost effective clean renewable energy to combat global climate change is being compromised by higher than expected component failure rates. Gearboxes allegedly designed for a 20-year life are breaking down prematurely across most major manufacturing brands, are failing after only 6 to 8 years of operation.