By Lucas Llado
Wind power continues to be a dominant player in the global energy markets. According to recent analysis by BloombergNEF, the wind market had a record setting year in 2020, commissioning nearly 100 gigawatts (GW) of new projects. As installed capacity of wind power continues to grow globally, the warranty period of a large number of wind turbines is coming to an end, making wind farm maintenance and repair a key component to maintaining the growing industry.
For all you wind operators looking to service and repair your wind farms for optimal performance, it’s important to understand there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to servicing your towers and blades. There is a menu of access methods available to perform at-height services like blade repairs, warranty, periodic and one-off inspections, mechanical services, as well as tower cleaning, and coating repairs. Each service plays a critical role in keeping your wind farm fully operational. Here are some key considerations when determining the access method most suitable for your project work:
As the industry grows, wind turbines continue to scale as well. While technicians have built up great experience over the last 20 years performing increasingly larger repairs on ropes, it’s important to acknowledge how the physics of rope repairs become increasingly challenging beyond certain damage sizes.
When ropes are not the most efficient approach, technicians must be prepared to alternatively service these projects with blade access cable platforms or aerial lift trucks.
It’s important to consider timing on two fronts. First, how quickly does your repair or maintenance need to occur? For quick repairs to avert costly downtimes, rope access maintenance can be deployed both quickly and efficiently.
A second important time consideration is how long the work can take. Cable platforms can be optimal when deployed in very large, multi-day repairs. This tends to be a lower-cost-per-hour approach when compared with the aerial lift trucks, but cable platforms take longer to rig and unrig; they also usually need a 3rd person for safety and operational reasons.
Aerial lift trucks can make more sense when there is lighter or less work per blade with a lot of blades/turbines to cover. Aerial lifts are higher cost/hour than cable platforms but are very quick and easy to deploy technicians on and off blade, and thus effective for larger, repetitive scopes. It’s also important to note any weather standby sensitivities in addition to mobilization cost considerations when weighting project budgets and selecting the optimal access method for a particular service.
Project location matters:
Your scope of work and the services required are not the only consideration when determining the best access approach. Wind projects are developed and deployed where the wind blows, which means technicians need to be trained to deploy to service projects in different types of terrain, in different weather and geographic locations that require different approaches to access the blades.
Some projects are sited in locations where bringing in an aerial lift truck or rigging platforms just isn’t feasible given remote locations, terrain, or access roads. In these instances, rope access technicians can be deployed both quickly and safely to ensure your turbines keep turning. Additionally, as the U.S. offshore wind industry picks up, servicing a fleet of turbines offshore requires boats, careful timing both in terms of weather and tides, and additional safety measures to work over water
At the end of the day, it’s critical to remember that properly maintaining the more than 60,000 wind turbines across the country that are generating clean, reliable power is essential. Wind power capacity totals 122,468 MW, making it the third-largest source of electricity generation capacity in the country. Keeping these wind farms generating power to energize the equivalent of 34 million American homes is no small task, so it’s important to consider all-access approaches to proportionately meet the challenge.
Lucas Llado is VP of Business Development at Rope Partner, which utilizes various at height access approaches to perform wind turbine blade maintenance, inspection, and performance enhancement services that require specialized access methods.