Coronavirus Could Make It Harder to Keep Wind Farms Up and Running

If a wind farm breaks down during the COVID-19 global pandemic,
who will be there to fix it?

So far, much of the focus on the outbreak’s impact on the
renewables industry has been on factory shutdowns and the
challenges of developing and building new projects on deadline in
such times.

But there’s another concern emerging in the industry: keeping
the world’s huge base of existing wind farms well-maintained and
operating in the field.

The concern stems in part from the ongoing proliferation of
travel bans, an issue of particular concern for the EU. Many
countries have enough domestic service engineers to handle routine
operations and maintenance issues, but larger O&M problems
often require overseas-based specialists. There’s 189 gigawatts of
wind capacity in operation across Europe today.

The European Union may move to block in-bound travel from
non-European countries, but as of March 19 it’s still hoping to
keep its internal borders open. Still, some EU countries, such as
the Czech Republic, are closing borders unilaterally. 

The WindEurope trade body has raised the issue of travel bans
with the European Commission in an attempt to get ahead of the
problem, said Joshua Gartland, the group’s trade and
competitiveness.

“We would like to see the movement of O&M personnel
unhindered by any travel bans,” Gartland told GTM. “We’re a
little concerned that, for example, German engineers going to work
on U.K. offshore wind farms could be held up at the border. This
could then have a knock-on impact for energy production.”

Gartland noted hopefully that exemptions were already being
made to enable the transportation of goods.

Longer downtimes for broken turbines

Beyond travel bans, a shortage of engineering staff could delay
critical O&M work at projects in many markets globally.

Under normal circumstances, major corrective work — such as
fixing a broken rotor or gearbox — typically takes no longer than
a month, according to Daniel Liu, Wood Mackenzie’s principal
analyst for wind power O&M.

“Now I think we could easily see up to six months of downtime
on a particular turbine, which is actually quite significant for
the wind industry as a whole because it is unheard of for any asset
owner to leave a turbine offline for as long as that,” Liu
said.

New wind farms under construction will be the top priority amid
supply chain shortages stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak. “The
primary concern for spare parts supply is not so much keeping
existing turbines operating, but helping new construction get into
the ground as fast as possible. There’s a massive backlog,” added
Liu.

Many companies, renewable plant owners included, are already
feeling financial pain as a result of COVID-19. In response, wind
farm owners may look to trim their operating expenses, potentially
becoming more conservative about sending out engineering
teams — particularly in the face of official advice for workers
to self-isolate.

All told, the availability of operating wind farms could fall
from the current average of 95 percent to around 85 percent, Wood
Mackenzie believes. 

The low end of that range still looks unlikely, Liu said. But
“given that some operators might preemptively shut down turbines to
prevent further damage in this environment or that some works are
going to be pushed back, 85 percent is not unreasonable.”

The good news is that major technical works are rare in wind
O&M, with a maximum of 5 percent of turbines being hit by such
issues in any given year. In other words, most wind farms will be
able to function well throughout the COVID-19 crisis without
regular interventions.

Operators stay upbeat for now

In the meantime, those building and those operating projects are
doing what they can to keep staff safe while meeting their
commitments.

“We are continuing to monitor the situation carefully and for
now we are confident in our ability to keep our assets running,”
a spokesperson for Vattenfall, which operates just under
3 gigawatts
of wind capacity in five countries, told GTM.

EDF Renewables is currently building the 450-megawatt Neart na Gaoithe (NnG) offshore
wind farm off the east coast of Scotland.

“Our priority is to take care of the health and wellbeing of
our people. We are committed to minimizing any impact of COVID 19
on our operations (continued construction and generation), which is
necessary to honor our commitments to our suppliers and maintain
supply to the grid,” the company said in an emailed statement to
GTM.

“Onshore and offshore construction works for NnG continue and
we are working closely with contractors and stakeholders to keep
the situation under review in the coming weeks and days,” the
statement read. Office-based staff are now working from home and
staff in the field have adapted working practices to reduce the
risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Source: FS – GreenTech Media
Coronavirus Could Make It Harder to Keep Wind Farms Up and Running