Wind Energy’s Unsung Hero – O&M
November 24, 2015
While the world continues to buzz about the growth of renewable sources of electricity like wind energy, there is another important industry that is also rapidly growing. In fact, this other industry is key to ensuring that the steel we put in the ground yesterday continues to operate safely and efficiently, and is ready to capture the wind when it blows. The wind energy Operations & Maintenance (O&M) industry is a critical part of our renewable future – without it, promises made, cannot be kept. But like the unsung hero who often goes unnoticed, the wind energy O&M industry is of fundamental importance, but can sometimes be forgotten. There are two critical aspects of this industry in my mind: the women and men who keep turbines turning, day in and day out; and the research and development (R&D) industry that is constantly seeking new and innovative ways to improve on the O&M bottom line, alongside all those Asset Managers around the world.
There are now well over 5,000 commercial scale wind turbines in Canada, operating in all provinces, and two of our three territories. The O&M market in Canada is projected to grow to approximately $450 million in annual spending across the Country by 2020. If current estimates regarding the growth of wind and solar come about, then the O&M industry will certainly grow too. Naturally, this will also effect jobs. In fact, non-hydro renewables worldwide are employing an increasing number of people. This is also the case here at home – a report from Clean Energy Canada concluded there are more jobs in the clean energy sector than there are in the oil sands.
The data regarding economic and installation trends in the wind energy sector point to a rapidly growing fleet that will need constant attention. This is sparking an O&M innovation boom with a goal to increase efficiencies and drive down costs. In fact, one of the fundamental tasks of an Asset Manager is to continually seek new ways to reduce O&M costs for wind farm owners. As a result, companies are placing more emphasis on O&M needs; this in turn is leading to new ways to inspect wind turbines, look at data, measure their performance, assess their state of repair, and extend their life. The end result should make Asset Managers happy – O&M costs are declining resulting in a lower Cost of Energy. Care must be taken – since even though the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) states, “…it is clear that annual average O&M costs of wind power systems have declined substantially since 1980”, O&M costs do tend to increase for individual projects, as wind turbines age.
In closing – there is an important and growing sector arising from the continued progress of wind energy in Canada and worldwide. The emergence of new and innovative approaches promise to be both exciting and effective in reducing costs for Asset Managers, and ultimately for rate payers and consumers. One thing is certain though – we cannot possibly meet our commitment of a renewable future, if the wind turbine that was constructed yesterday, is not ready to catch the wind tomorrow.
Join us on February 24 and 25, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario for the CanWEA Operations and Maintenance Summit as we discuss ways to help Canadian wind operators make informed decisions when it comes to operating their wind assets in Canada. From cold climate considerations, market operations, data analysis and use, to worker health and safety.
Featured Photo ©Siemens Canada Limited
Former Director of Technical and Utility Affairs at the Canadian Wind Energy Association