By Martin Sørensen, director of alliances, WindESCo

As the wind industry continues to scale-up globally, now is the time to reimagine how key players within the sector interact with each other, learning lessons from industries such as rotorcraft — where the correct functioning of complex gearboxes and rotating blades is a matter of life and death, incentivizing greater collaboration between aircraft designers, manufacturers and service providers.

Credit: Dennis Schroeder / NREL

There is growing recognition that innovation in the wind industry thrives when businesses talk to each other about the challenges they face. Key to enabling this are independent service providers (ISPs) that can act as unbiased advisors and form the glue between key stakeholders.

By adopting a more open approach to collaboration, innovation and data sharing, all parties can ultimately benefit. Crucially, when more conversations happen between businesses, the industry benefits as a whole. Because trust needs to be earned — but it stems firstly from understanding.

ISPs can build bridges

“Independent service providers” is a term used to describe third-party businesses that offer vital support to help wind farms produce energy more efficiently. Although ISPs can occupy many positions in the wider supply chain, the need to improve wind turbine performance has led to a rise in businesses offering data analysis services to optimize wind assets.

The leading firms demonstrate a deep wind turbine expertise and first-hand understanding of how complex factors such as wind dynamics, turbine controls and wind loads affect revenue, offering the fine-grained insight into asset performance necessary to address inefficiencies and significantly boost annual energy production (AEP) and profitability.

ISPs offer operators increased control over their assets. A better understanding of their turbines’ performance means that operators can justify key strategic decisions to investors using hard data. This is particularly important when portfolios have a diverse mix of wind turbine assets, demanding broad yet deep performance improvement data and experience on a range of models, rather than a single OEM.

ISPs’ position in the market ideally places them to act as a go-between, serving the interests of OEMs, operators and other key wind industry stakeholders with no conflict of interest.

OEMs and ISPs: natural partners?

So how can OEMs benefit from the contacts and expertise that leading ISPs provide?

Credit: Joshua Bauer, NREL

Although the exact relationship between OEMs and operators can differ for each project, there are two key gains to be had from engaging with third-party data analytics companies: feedback on common turbine issues and hitting contractual expectations.

ISPs can help OEMs deliver peak performance margins from their components and, in turn, empower wind farm owners and their operators to optimize asset performance.

Feedback on common turbine issues

With the surge of investment in new wind assets, OEMs are focused on engineering the most reliable and well-built turbines on the market. To that end, an open dialogue with wind farm operators, who deal with the machinery every day, can help OEMs optimize their designs, providing a competitive edge.

ISPs can provide greater transparency around asset performance for OEMs and operators. With access to data and analysis often overlooked by other parties, ISPs bring information that can open a dialogue about how specific models or processes can be improved for the benefit of all stakeholders. This could include valuable intelligence on key issues such as pitch bearing failure modes, blade misalignment issues and even operational considerations such as the placement of access hatches.

Meeting contractual expectations

OEMs and operators will often have agreements in place to ensure that wind turbines at a specific project deliver to pre-arranged specifications, in terms of reliability and AEP.

By fine tuning asset performance, ISPs can ensure that OEMs are able to deliver profitable turbines for their customers. Critically, depending on the ISP in question, the investment necessary to achieve this can offer a high ROI, with leading providers ensuring payback times of 12 months or less.

A new wind industry, based on trust

The wider benefits to the industry from a more open, collaborative relationship between OEMs and operators won’t materialize overnight. Creating mutual understanding and collaboration for innovation takes time. But once wind industry businesses start to pull in the same direction, technical and structural efficiencies will deliver higher margins for those who are ahead of the curve. A strategic agreement with an agile start-up could lead to an OEM’s technology moving years ahead of the competition.

Discussions between OEMs and operators can lead to supply-chain wide knowledge transfer around critical topics like asset management best practices, third-party partnerships, O&M concerns and more.

Beyond the immediate financial gains of implementing AEP improvement programs, operators will also see long-term benefits as more efficient turbine designs start to filter through. Within the next decade, 60% of the global wind market will be controlled by three OEMs. Amid this consolidation, ensuring continued innovation will be crucial.

Importantly, ISPs can work to build lasting trust by articulating the concerns of both OEMs and operators. This leads to stronger relationships between key stakeholders, generating stable revenue streams for OEMs, helping operators and asset managers deliver higher revenues for their investors while shortening the road to decarbonization.

ISPs can therefore play a central role in building an ecosystem for AEP improvement to enable a holistic overhaul of wind fleet performance, ensuring optimized wind turbines become the norm and delivering more energy to the industry every day.

The wind industry of 2050 will be collaborative

As the world looks ahead to a zero-carbon future, renewable energy will increasingly bear the responsibility of powering homes, transport and industry. This offers the wind sector a global opportunity for expansion, securing wind as the new resource of choice for investors.

Across the EU, strategic partnerships to enable green tech knowledge transfer will play a key role in boosting innovation. Denmark, for example, has outlined ambitions to apply the skills of its renewables industry across the scale of India’s market following the Green Strategic Partnership signed between the two nations earlier this year. Denmark’s other partnerships include a Memorandum of Understanding with the US around offshore wind, and a Green Maritime Agreement with China.

By taking steps now to build more open relationships between OEMs and operators, strong growth should follow, ensuring the sector is poised to deliver clean energy more profitably, and ultimately, more sustainably.

With over a decade of experience driving innovation and business development in Cleantech on several continents, Martin Sørensen is WindESCo’s Director of Alliances, working to build mutually beneficial links within the wind sector. With a background in renewable energy, Martin previously worked at Vestas Innovation & Concepts Department, where he managed the financial and technical due diligence of emerging technologies for Vestas to invest in. 

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