Lower service costs key to cheaper energy

WORLDWIDE: By 2020, the global operations and maintenance (O&M) market will have increased more than six-fold from $3 billion in 2008 to $19 billion, according to a recent report by research firm GlobalData.

Offshore wind accounted for 8% of the wind O&M market in 2012, according to the report, which estimates that the sector will grow to a 29% share by 2020, reaching $5.6 billion. The UK, Germany and China will be the largest contributors. It is this growth in the offshore share of the market that illustrates how the sector is evolving.

Developers initially assumed O&M strategies for offshore wind would be the same as for onshore, except with boats providing access instead of trucks. However, costly experience showed that many onshore solutions are not workable or practical under much harsher marine conditions.

"Higher turbine maintenance, high logistics costs and a lack of skilled manpower make offshore wind services more challenging than the onshore equivalent," says GlobalData senior analyst Prasad Tanikella. "Although onshore wind also faces similar issues, the impact of these factors on the offshore segment is more significant."

O&M currently accounts for as much as 25% of the cost of energy from offshore wind. Not only is accessing turbines at sea costly and risky, the revenue lost when an offshore turbine stops working is far more than its onshore equivalent.

Earlier this year, the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) argued that increasing the capacity factor of offshore wind farms and limiting O&M requirements would be the key to future drops in offshore wind's levelised cost of electricity.

Once the industry realised it had relatively little in common with its onshore cousin, it turned to the offshore oil and gas industries for solutions to a common problem. But again, solutions were limited.

Growing specialisation

The continuing growth of the market is leading to investments in innovative access solutions for dedicated maintenance vessels to work in the field, as well as improvements in remote diagnostics and monitoring to control the situation from land. Market growth has also triggered a rise in the number of providers of specialised wind turbine O&M services.

These offshore wind O&M strategies have evolved to cope with the next generation of wind farms in deeper waters, further from shore, in harder-to-access locations.

We need to take advantage of this vast resource, but we need to make sure operations run smoothly and maintenance can be carried out swiftly and safely.

Katie Daubney is a contributor for Windpower Monthly

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