At BVGA, we have been grappling with the question “Does our industry have an accepted definition of what ‘good performance’ is, and have we simply reached the stage where average is actually good enough?”

We are in constant contact with owners and operators of wind farms from across all parts of the onshore wind industry – from international utilities to single turbine projects. We know that the majority of owners believe that their sites are being run to a high standard. We also know that a site often has to be performing very badly for it to appear on someone’s radar as needing attention.

In February this year I chaired a panel on ‘Digitisation in O&M‘ at New Energy Updates Wind O&M Europe conference in Munich. I took a Slido poll of the audience of wind farm operators and O&M suppliers from across Europe, on two questions:

  • Question 1 – As an industry, how effective are we at using digital technology to make our O&M more cost effective? (on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being Poor and 5 being Best in Class)
  • Question 2 – In O&M, what area offers the biggest financial gains?
    • Predictive analytics (avoiding unplanned failures).• Improving data capture from site work (e.g. using electronic forms).
    • Increasing Technician utilisation (maximising their ‘wrench’ time).
    • Performance analysis (identifying the cause of poor power curves).
    • Benchmarking (how do I compare with the rest of the industry).

For question 1, the majority of the audience selected ‘Poor – we have a lot to learn’. For question 2, the winner was ‘Performance Analysis’. The fewest number of audience members choose ‘Benchmarking’. I found these results intriguing. I thought we would consider ourselves either average or better on digitalisation. I also expected that we would consider Predictive Analytics and Benchmarking more important. They have potential to add value and there is a large volume of commercial activity in both of these areas.

These results prompted us to conduct a wider online poll into how our onshore wind industry views itself and our asset management challenges. Some of the key findings from this online poll are as follows:

  • Over 50% of respondents rated themselves ‘better than average’ or ‘best in class’ for planning for end of life.

offshore wind industry

  • Over 50% of respondents thought they were ‘better than average’ or ‘best in class for minimising downtime’. Yet 90% rated themselves either ‘average’ or ‘below average’ for their spend on O&M.

  • 80% of respondents rated themselves ‘above average’ or ‘best in class’ for their technical innovation. Over 50% rated themselves ‘above average’ or ‘best in class’ for implementing strategic initiatives.

  • Over 50% rated themselves ‘better than average’ or ‘best in class’ in the automation, creating value from data, integration of their systems, and ability to ‘know what they need to know when they need to know it’.

The above are, of course, a subset of the results, but in general they corroborate our initial proposition that our industry sees ‘average’ as ‘good enough’. Or, perhaps more accurately, most of us now see ourselves as performing ‘above average’. My challenge to this is that we can’t all be above average. So do these results mean that the industry is genuinely plateauing in terms of being able to extract any more value from our assets? Or are we actually missing out on improvements by not challenging ourselves enough? Additionally, our survey results clearly contrast to the straw poll in Munich. This difference in opinion could be due to the difference in respondents or indication that the question is not yet settled. Where and what these opportunities are will be the subject of a future blog.

Finally, the survey presented an open question to all participants: ‘What are your biggest business concerns?’. It is hard to summarise free text answers, but life extension, and in particular the planning and regulation, was a common theme. BVGA has recently delivered life extension studies for four wind farms in the UK. I can confirm that planning and regulation is indeed a vital part of the process, and can be more of a show-stopper than the condition of the turbines.

All of the above points to the fact that there is a wide diversity of approach and opinion in the onshore wind industry. In terms of developing a long-term asset management strategy, many onshore wind farm owners recognise that they have an opportunity to work toward being best in class and to raise the standard of what ‘average’ is.

If these are areas that you are grappling we would be delighted to share perspective, please get in touch to discuss.

Graham Gow