Operations and Maintenance Eased by New DevelopmentsBy Cas Biekmann | Fri, 03/26/2021 - 09:24
Innovations in O&M are allowing these players to turn issues into opportunities.
In the O&M realm, more than one type of company can generally be found competing for the same space. These players include wind turbine original equipment manufacturers, suppliers of components, independent service providers and asset owners. Demand for these services is increasing, because wind capacity is growing as well, especially since several gigawatts of new capacity has been installed in recent years, increasing from 3.9GW in 2017 to 6.977GW in 2020, according to PRODESEN 2020-2034.
Many of these wind projects have passed the original warranty periods that provide opportunities for companies to either sign on for longer periods or to look elsewhere in the market. “In the case of our first wind farm, the company that provided the turbines also took care of the operation and maintenance of the project. This contract lasted for five years and we have recently decided to renew it,” said Gustavo Ortega, Director General of Grupo México Energía to MBN. As project portfolios expand, an increasing number of renewable developers might become interested in beginning their own O&M arm.
Despite the uncertain environment in Mexico’s energy sector, some key players in the O&M area see a great deal of opportunity. “Although we are concerned about the development of new energy projects, the O&M area involves long-term contracts and recurring activity, which provides stability in regard to our work in Mexico until more renewable projects materialize or other opportunities arise,” said Jorge Mediavilla, Director General Mexico of Ingeteam in an MBN interview. For power producers competing to offer the cheapest prices, O&M is essential. “Our clients are constantly looking to increase their value proposition and become stable power producers in the country,” Mediavilla added.
New Challenges to Overcome
As wind developments that stem from auctions enter operations, companies, therefore, have more projects within their portfolio to deal with. “When I joined Nordex in 2018, we had one project under O&M. However, we ended up 2020 with almost 1,300MW under O&M, almost 10 times as much. All of it is with our new customers, although we had to adapt our business structure to ensure a smooth process to meet the new demand. O&M is among the business lines we expect will help maintain our operations when markets become unstable,” said Albert Sunyer, Country Manager Mexico of The Nordex Group.
In countries like Mexico, O&M is no easy task. Wind projects can, at times, be far removed from the usual city-based infrastructure, and the terrain can be tricky as well. “One of the biggest challenges Mexico faces in the area of O&M is the difference in geography. In countries like Spain, geography differs much less because it is a smaller country. In Mexico, different areas represent significant differences in geography. There are cultural differences as well. In this regard, Mexico presents very different challenges depending on the region. Due to our international experience, we can bring know-how to Mexico and adapt faster to situations. The company can also provide Mexican clients best practices that have been applied successfully in more than 20 countries,” Mediavilla pointed out.
A pandemic can definitely complicate things for companies, and for the most part, these issues demand an entire new layer be added to operations. Most players in the O&M area all of a sudden had to establish and enforce strict sanitary protocols. Nevertheless, these actions alone are not enough, says Ortega. “Since we provide transportation for our employees, we had to almost triple it in some cases in order to maintain a safe distance inside the vehicles. Working schedules also were adapted to avoid any congestion in working areas. Furthermore, talking to our employees has been important. Although they are protected at work, they could find risk elsewhere.”
Technology Lightens the Load
Technological innovations, such as drones and remote monitoring, had already played an important role before the pandemic. But as COVID-19 forced many to work from home, these benefits only became even more apparent. Industry 4.0, and its focus on interconnectedness, data-collection and AI, offers opportunities for wind energy as well, thus enabling more predictive maintenance practices instead of the traditional corrective approach. Drones provide distinct advantages, especially in how effortless they are when operated. Previously, companies would have had to rely on light airplanes. The main disadvantage is that planes require extensive flight plans and pilots with special training. Applying modern applications like drones eliminates these shortcomings. With a drone, one single skilled operator can do all the work, without having to take a foot off the ground.