February 17, 2012 | Business Policy, Engineering + Technology, Wind Plant Optimization

As the future of the U.S. wind industry grows less certain day by day, wind farm developers and equipment manufacturers will continue to announce workforce reductions in the US. Driven by steady demand in international markets, they will be moving work, which would have otherwise been done in the US, overseas to other manufacturing plants. Whilst we continue to do what we can to influence the lawmakers to see sense (a rare commodity in Washington D.C.), as an industry we must focus even harder to control our own destiny.

In my youth, the first car I could afford was a 1959 Mini. Not to be confused with the BMW Mini now being offered, this was the British Motor Corporation’s Mini. It had one warning light -- for oil pressure. Consequently the only time it received any attention was when the light came on and I added oil, and later in its life, when steam came out from under the bonnet and I added water. This maintenance program, I now understand, can be best described as reactive or, as it turned out, catastrophic. In the car I drive now the maintenance program operates by measuring viscosity in the oil and sending me a message (it could speak to me, but I find this unnerving) at the appropriate time to do something about it.In my last post I talked about progress manufacturers have made in reducing the capital costs of turbines. Also last month, Larry Jacobs talked in his interview about the benefits of preventative turbine maintenance. I’d like to look at this a little closer.

It continues to amaze me that, despite thirty-plus years of building and operating wind farms, the industry is relatively immature when it comes to developing or adapting technology to improve performance. As we advance, it is probable that the same level of savings realized by manufacturers in the costs of the equipment will also be realized in the O&M area. I see what the preventative maintenance tools can do. By moving to a proactive program (like with my car) it is easy to calculate the ROI by avoiding last-minute maintenance visits and catastrophic breakdowns. All of this helps to improve the efficiency of generating electricity from wind and to bring down the cost.

So, returning to what we can control, the industry has reduced the capital costs of turbine equipment and is aggressively using innovation to do the same on the maintenance side. These advances will continue to make wind energy competitive, despite the uneven playing field we find ourselves on.

As an old coach used to say, even if the referee is biased, you still need to find a way to win.