- Wind turbines are an increasingly important part of the global energy market but keeping them properly maintained can present unique challenges.
- While they are complex pieces of machinery, they still have many of the same basic components of many mechanical assets so many basic principles of asset maintenance still apply.
- Wind turbine maintenance refers to the process of keeping wind turbines running smoothly.
Wind turbines are an increasingly important part of the global energy market but keeping them properly maintained can present unique challenges.
While they are complex pieces of machinery, they still have many of the same basic components of many mechanical assets so many basic principles of asset maintenance still apply.
Let’s look at some things to look for when maintaining wind turbines and what you can do to keep costs under control to boost your return on investment.
What is Wind Turbine Maintenance?
Wind turbine maintenance refers to the process of keeping wind turbines running smoothly. It includes routine inspections, cleaning, lubrication, and repairs. Wind turbine maintenance tasks include turbine inspection, turbine cleaning, turbine lubrication, and turbine repair.
Turbine inspection is the most common type of maintenance. Inspectors typically use various tools to inspect the blades, nacelle, tower, and generator. They may also take measurements and photos.
Cleaning involves removing debris from the blades, nacelle, tower, and generator, among other things. Cleaning is usually done manually, although some companies offer automated cleaning systems.
Lubrication involves applying grease or oil to various parts of the turbine. Lubrication helps prevent wear and tear, keeping the turbine working properly.
Repairs include replacing damaged parts, such as blades, bearings, and gearboxes. Repairs are often performed during scheduled maintenance visits.
What kind of maintenance do wind turbines need?
Regular inspections are the first step in the maintenance process. These include visual inspections of things like:
- The exterior of the generator
- Electrical systems and cabinets
- Generator frame
- Desiccant ventilation
It’s important to make sure your technicians inspect the internals of the more critical pieces of the turbine such as the gearbox and shaft coupler. A boroscope can give your technicians a good look inside the gearbox without having to take it apart to get inside.
GE recommends these inspections to take place soon after installation (after 360 usage hours), and then semi-annually (every 6-7 months or around 4,000 usage hours). After 5 years or 40,000 hours, you should perform a complete, thorough inspection of the turbine.
Disassembly and overhauling
It’s a good idea to manually disassemble and inspect the subassemblies of the generators every year. This gives you a good idea of how the more critical parts of the turbine are holding up and when you might need to schedule maintenance for them.
Function tests are physical measurements of the generator using the simple manual operation to check the equipment is functioning properly, or by using more sophisticated testing equipment such as thermographic imaging equipment.
By design, wind turbines have many moving parts, and keeping them well-lubricated is one of the most critical and cost-effective ways to keep them in good working order. The most important thing you need to keep well-lubricated is the gearbox. Unlike most other repairs, a failed gearbox can keep a turbine offline for up to 14 days.
The gearbox is not the only important component that requires regular lubrication. There are generator bearings, blade bearings, and other points on the blades that need lubrication as well. Wind turbine blades are designed to move or “feather” to the optimal angle to match the highest wind speeds and the parts that control this feathering need to stay lubricated too.
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The stress and requirements of each of these components mean that you need to use a wide range of oils, greases, and other lubricants to ensure the best results. We’ve already talked about how difficult it can be to simply get your technicians to the repair site so they must have all the correct items they need before they ever get to the turbine. The best way to do that is by effectively managing your inventory with inventory management software.
Other repairs and replacements
As with most other complex mechanical assets, there are other more common components that need to be repaired and replaced regularly. Keep an eye out for bolts that need to be tightened, change filters and bearings regularly according to recommended schedules, and perform and other tasks common to mechanical equipment.
The time frames for performing these tasks loosely follow the bathtub curb for asset reliability which tells us that most equipment failures will happen soon after installation of the asset, known as the “infant mortality” period. If an asset makes it through this period, the frequency of required maintenance falls considerably until the asset begins to approach the end of its useful life.
What happens if a wind turbine is poorly maintained?
When wind turbine components fail, they can cause unscheduled stoppages, which for the operator means unscheduled service at higher rates and repair costs, potentially voiding the manufacturer’s warranty, not meet peak electricity demand, and lost revenue. Also, any repair or replacement of large components often requires the expensive rental of cranes and other equipment. In extreme cases, a wind turbine can catch fire, with disastrous consequences.