Understanding Windmill Maintenance and Operation Costs

Whether you plan to install a few windmills on your property or intend to create a wind farm, there are a few windmill maintenance questions you need to tackle.

For example, how often do wind turbines need maintenance, and how much work does that amount to? Along with installation costs and return-on-investment calculations, these are some of the top questions you need to answer before moving forward.

It’s worth noting that wind turbines last for roughly 20 years, which is less than solar panels. However, wind turbines continue to work after dark and can be placed in areas where solar gain is negligible. Consequently, before embarking on any windmill operation or maintenance plan, it’s important to review the details and crunch the numbers.

How Often Do Wind Turbines Need Maintenance?

So, do wind turbines require a lot of maintenance? That depends on who you ask and whether they do proactive or reactive maintenance. However, the general rule of thumb is to perform maintenance every four to six months. Failure to do so is why you often see wind turbines standing still during high winds. To prevent this colossal failure and waste of wind energy, consider the following maintenance factors.

Wind Turbine Predictive Maintenance

As with all mechanical parts or machines, the best way to prevent expensive repairs or parts failures is to perform predictive maintenance. To accomplish this, companies rely on complex calculations managed by computer systems. These determine when the wind turbines need maintenance and can even identify what the potential consequences might be of delaying.

To do this, proactive windmill farm operators place sensors on key positions of the wind turbines. These sensors transmit data to the computer systems for analysis and prognosis. The data gathered generally covers the following areas:

  • Physical movements of the rotor shaft
  • Foundation displacement
  • Lubrication levels
  • Temperatures
  • Vibration levels

Wind Turbine Preventative Maintenance

For predictive maintenance to work well, you also need preventative maintenance. This works in the same way as preventative maintenance on vehicles, such as oil changes and tire rotations. Like a vehicle, the more regularly you complete predictive maintenance, the lower the likelihood of predictive sensors missing key data and the lower the chances of the turbine failing.

Wind turbines and their components all have maintenance intervals included. These could range from biannual maintenance to tasks you need to complete after several years. Consider these potential tasks:

  • Turbine blade inspection
  • Tower foundation assessment
  • Nacelle evaluation
  • Drivetrain alignment
  • Inspection and tightening of bolts
  • Fixing of corrosion and cracks

Windmill Inspection

Whether you need to complete predictive maintenance, preventative maintenance or repairs, it likely begins with an inspection. The best wind farms are so proactive that workers complete regular checks ranging from daily to quarterly. These routine checks make it easier to spot and address irregularities. Inspections might also become necessary to diagnose problems.

Wind Turbine Maintenance Issues

When people think of wind turbine issues, they start to think of potential parts failure. However, the biggest maintenance issue is the budget. Though maintenance can be costly, repairs are even more costly, so plan accordingly. These are common mechanical issues wind turbines might experience:

  • Slot damage caused by abrasion from magnetic wedge
  • Stator magnetic wedge loss
  • Rotor banding failure
  • Rotor insulation damage

As far as the specific parts that break most often, wind experts name bearings, stator wedges and rotors. Cooling system failures seem to occur far less often than other named issues.

Preventive Maintenance Checklist
Identify preventive work and maintain optimal equipment functionality

How Do You Determine Windmill Operation and Maintenance Costs?

According to a report published by the U.S. Department of Energy, windmill maintenance accounts for 10% to 20% of the total windmill operation costs. However, you need to look beyond this to get a better picture of the cost of wind energy and the return on investment.

Installation Cost

The cost of installation varies widely based on economies of scale. The more wind turbines installed, the more companies save in the end. Prices have also declined rapidly over the years. The Department of Energy shares that, in 2008, wind turbine installation cost $1,800 per kilowatt, and now it costs $770 to $850 per kilowatt

Energy Generation

People often question the viability of wind turbines. They do, quite often, seem to be sitting quite still. However, the DOE estimates that the health, climate and energy benefits from wind projects in 2020 averaged $76 per megawatt-hour. The benefits, therefore, far outweigh the short-term cost.

Tax Benefits

Companies receive tax benefits for wind installations. This significantly reduces the cost of installations and operation. Companies could see anywhere from 10% to 20% differences in cost after tax credits. However, these benefits will wane over time, thereby making maintenance and operations cost management more important.

Machine Reliability

Companies can significantly reduce maintenance costs by purchasing wind turbines with high reliability ratings. The DOE believes that the biggest determining factor for reliability comes down to the specific machines chosen, so choose wisely. However, it did not recommend specific brands or models in the report. It also observes the importance of environmental factors.

Wind Farm Maintenance Training

Are your employees already skilled at operating wind farms, or do they need additional training? Every company should provide its own training program. Beyond the basic hard skills showing competence, employees might also need training on climate change, diversity issues, ethics, company culture, company procedures and other key topics.

How Wind Farms Can Use Fluix for Maintenance

Wind farms generate a lot of data and require regular inspections. Completing these inspections and tracking the data requires strong organizational skills and the help of technology. Companies can use digital checklists and apps to generate real-time inspection data and compare this with predictive data from sensors in the turbines. Going digital also makes it easier to track costs, tax benefits and overall return on investment.

At Fluix, we take pride in being one of the best data collection apps in the world. Not only do we help your workers enter data, but we also provide a central dashboard for analysis and decision making. Local wind farms or a huge enterprise, we can improve workflow, increase data accuracy and automate tasks at your sites.

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