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Giving new life to aging wind turbines

12 December 2018

As a result of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive 2009/28/EC many wind turbine generators (WTGs) across Europe are running out of maintenance warranty. This deadline doesn’t have to be a burden: it can turn into an opportunity to increase wind turbines’ service lives and improve performances, says Steven Olsen

WTGs operate in particularly harsh environments, which places considerable challenges on the equipment during operation. For example, strong and unsteady winds and gusts can cause skidding or excessive loads, while ambient moisture can create a corrosive atmosphere and lubricant degradation.
This is one of the reasons why WTGs, when installed, are covered with a warranty and service contract that often lasts 10-15 years. However, as the equipment ages and its warranty expires, maintenance becomes a key issue. Major and expensive components start to reach the end of their service life and need to be refurbished or replaced.

The inspection and maintenance activities on WTGs are particularly laborious and costly, as the defective equipment may be located over one hundred meters above the ground, exposed to changing winds. For offshore wind farms access becomes an even greater challenge.

Furthermore, the warranty and service contract often prevents WTG operators from thoroughly understanding their equipment and how to effectively inspect and maintain it, as these tasks are performed by the contractor appointed under warranty. As a result, at the end of the warranty period, operators will often find themselves exposed to high maintenance costs and prolonged downtime as service contracts are no longer valid. In these cases, many operators may feel resigned to decommissioning WTGs or at the very least undergoing expensive reparation operations.

However, there is an alternative to these costly options, if the WTG operator is able to find an aftermarket partner. Aftermarket products can provide a high-quality, cost-effective solution to obtain spare parts or to completely repower these aging wind turbines. In this way, it is possible to extend the service life of WTGs, improving the overall performance and reducing maintenance or decommissioning costs.

Altra Renewables, a division of the Altra Industrial Motion Corporation, provides technically advanced aftermarket products to satisfy the complex and challenging needs of the wind power industry. The many brands within Altra Renewables, such as Matrix, Svendborg Brakes, Stromag, Ameridrives, Warner and Twiflex have extensive experience in engineering and manufacturing integrated solutions for the wind energy sector.

Aftermarket products

The aftermarket products provided by Altra Renewables are designed with as few moving parts as possible in order to simplify and reduce maintenance. Also, the components can be customised to address the specific needs of each WTG project and improve the overall turbine performance. In addition, when specialist equipment is necessary, the company is able to design, manufacture, test and supply brand new apparatuses, thanks to in-house facilities and experts.

Choosing Altra Renewables’ aftermarket solutions does not only mean purchasing high-quality, customisable aftermarket components that can be easily maintained. Once the aftermarket products are delivered, Altra Renewables provides fundamental support, providing WTG operators with training and guideance on how to perform preventive and responsive maintenance for onshore wind turbines. In this way, the personnel have the chance to understand their equipment and learn to repair its parts in the event of failure.

The most challenging and highly regulated WTG applications are found offshore

The most challenging and highly regulated WTG applications are found offshore. Here WTG operators cannot easily conduct maintenance operations themselves as the training and certification required to authorise access to the site is restrictive. In these situations Altra Renewables offers onsite maintenance services. These are performed by highly specialised, certified engineers from Svendborg Brakes.

Ten to 15 year-old wind turbines pose a number of issues to their operators. They are at risk to failure and their maintenance is both challenging and expensive, especially as often they are no longer covered by warranty and service contracts. Therefore, in order to keep them operational and maximise their cost-effectiveness, it is necessary to find experienced manufacturers of aftermarket solutions that can provide economical, reliable components. In addition, having highly-skilled professionals that can maintain the WTGs components in the challenging offshore conditions is fundamental in ensuring optimal performance and minimal downtime.

Steven Olsen is managing director for Altra Renewables at Altra Industrial Motion

Key Points

  • Aftermarket products can provide a high-quality, cost-effective solution to obtain spare parts or to completely repower aging wind turbines
  • Components can be customised to address the specific needs of each WTG project and improve the overall turbine performance
  • Altra Renewables offers onsite maintenance services, performed by highly specialised, certified engineers from Svendborg Brakes

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