How to Drive Down Wind Turbine Inspection Costs

How to Drive Down Wind Turbine Inspection Costs

31 Jan 2024 Written by Sharon

Wind farm operators
must carefully manage costs to maximize energy output while minimizing operating expenses. Potential revenue can vary significantly based on availability and other conditions, making every reduction in operating costs necessary.

Inspection costs are a significant ongoing expense for effective wind asset management. However, there are several challenges to driving down these costs, including:

  • Growing operational costs as wind farms expand.
  • The latest generation of turbines is larger, making them more challenging to inspect and maintain.
  • Remote locations make it costly and difficult to inspect with legacy methods.
  • Turbines must be taken offline during inspections and managed effectively to minimize the wind farm’s total output.

How can you overcome these challenges? Fortunately, leading-edge technologies enable new strategies to reduce and manage inspection costs for the overall benefit of the wind farm. Keep reading to learn more about these strategies and start cutting inspection costs.

Key Strategies for Reducing Wind Turbine Inspection Costs

Wind turbine operators can’t skip inspections — they’re necessary to extend each asset’s lifespan and minimize output degradation. However, relying on legacy methods like rope inspections is costly in terms of labor hours and lost energy from inspection downtime.

Fortunately, wind farm operators can look to new strategies enabled by the latest advancements in technology to better manage inspection costs to build a more profitable operation.

#1 Autonomous Drone Technology

Drone technology has grown substantially recently, and wind farms are reaping the rewards. Wind asset management significantly benefits from upgrading to autonomous drone inspections from legacy methods.

We can look at the overall market share to see how the wind energy industry is pivoting to these new technologies. The size of the wind turbine inspection market is expected to grow from US$32 billion in 2022 to US$60 by the end of 2035.

Why are so many wind farms moving to drones? Advanced drone technologies have created more reliable hardware and powerful autonomous software, both streamlining the entire inspection process. Some of the ways drones cut costs are:

  • Inspection efficiency: Autonomous drones are able to conduct inspections in roughly 30 minutes, removing the complexity of manually piloted drones and legacy methods. Autonomous drones allow technicians to initiate the inspections and then focus on other tasks while the drone conducts efficient inspections.
  • Consistent data capture: These inspection processes are conducted autonomously. Your operation will benefit from consistent data acquisition. 
  • Scalability: Inspections will be scalable as a result of drones’ efficiency and consistency. As your wind farm’s needs change, your autonomous drones will be ready to keep up.
  • No need for specialized hardware and training: Since autonomous drones are powered by software, not hardware, your teams can use off-the-shelf drones, further reducing the need for skilled pilots and expensive equipment.

Turbines won’t need to be down for long, and each inspection will require fewer labor hours — both of which contribute to driving down inspection costs. You’ll also create a safer working environment for technicians to help retain talent and avoid costly incidents.

#2 In-House Inspections

Traditionally, wind farms have relied on third parties to conduct inspections on their behalf. These inspections were usually carried out annually, which can compound any issues that occur between inspections as they’re not identified.

With legacy methods, third-party inspections make more sense. However, it’s now increasingly beneficial for wind asset managers to pivot to in-house inspections and away from third parties

Wind turbine technological advancements make it easier and more cost-effective to optimize your own workforce and remove the dependence on external inspectors — you’ll also avoid paying an additional fee for third-party services.

Now, manually piloted and autonomous drones both reduce the time and training necessary to inspect a turbine. Training internal staff to conduct inspections allows you to conduct inspections more regularly and as needed when issues arise.

Create comprehensive training programs for in-house teams to undergo initial training along with ongoing sessions to stay on top of the latest technologies and best practices. The goal is to make sure your teams are ready to use the full potential of their tools and reduce the learning curve.

In addition, take specific actions to foster a culture of continuous improvement. Ask for feedback, conduct regular assessments, and identify any areas of improvement for inspection processes. Then, implement corrective actions and keep the cyclical process in motion.

The result: your teams will be able to find detrimental issues earlier, schedule repairs, and keep turbines operating optimally.

#3 AI Analytics for Faster Issue Resolution

Nearly every industry has been affected by advancements in AI over the past few years, and wind farm management is certainly no exception. The latest evolutions in AI and analytics can help streamline operations in several ways, including:

One powerful use of AI is the possibility to create predictive maintenance schedules. Frequent turbine inspections generate data that can be provided to these tools. From there, the right platform can suggest the most optimal way to maintain each turbine to minimize output degrading and extend lifespans.

Predictive models are able to anticipate potential before they escalate, which minimizes unplanned downtime and inspection costs if issues worsen. vHive offers analytics capable of proactively addressing health and performance, so teams can inspect or repair issues before they significantly affect turbines.

We’re likely only beginning to see how AI and advanced analytics will enhance the profitability of wind farms. Staying on top of these advancements is crucial to continued growth.

#4 Create a Single Source of Truth

Cloud-based platforms have enabled entirely new ways to streamline operations by creating a single source of truth across the organization. Wind farm software helps bring all available data under one roof, reducing or eliminating data silos in the process. Real-time access to necessary data and cross-departmental collaboration go far in streamlining the entire operation, including inspections. 

 A cloud-based platform breaks down these barriers for the benefit of the entire organization, allowing stakeholders and departments to collaborate more effectively. The result is a boost in efficiency by saving time on data sharing and accessibility from anywhere, removing lengthy cross-departmental processes.

Adopting a single source of truth also helps your teams stay ahead of evolving regulations by making data readily available for reporting. Teams can also integrate compliance into the operational framework, avoiding the fines and penalties of non-compliance.

Availability of all relevant data allows technicians to more effectively schedule inspections to minimize downtime — allowing wind turbines to get back up and running as quickly as possible. 

Additionally, as the wind farm expands and increases in complexity, integrated cloud-based platforms sidestep the need to use new tools or upgrade existing ones continually. Starting with a centralized environment paves the way for scalable costs during growth phases.

The Role of Digital Twins in Cost Reduction

A wind turbine digital twin is a virtual environment that replicates your real-world wind farm. Digital twins have advanced significantly in the past few years and can have a direct impact on operational costs, such as:

  • Access to turbine-specific data: A significant benefit of digital twins is the centralization of all or most available data. Technicians and engineers can focus on each turbine to review all relevant data, informing when to conduct inspections.
  • Accurate decision-making: Your teams will be able to understand, at an in-depth level, the condition of every turbine on the farm. Having a unified view and the ability to access all relevant data quickly enables precise decision-making on everything from expansion to inspection schedules.
  • Enhance turbine lifespans: One of the main goals of inspections is to identify any issues before they escalate. Digital twins help with more effective scheduling and analysis of inspections, allowing you to understand which turbines need maintenance before issues affect the total lifecycle.

Strategic Planning for Cost-Effective Inspections in 2024

Technological advancements we saw last year can help you start 2024 ahead of the competition. Staying on top of tech advancements and their applications in wind asset management goes a long way in cutting costs and creating a competitive advantage.

Strategic planning and investments are crucial for succeeding in the increasingly competitive wind energy industry. So, let’s explore a few strategies to help you plan for 2024:

  • Ongoing investment in advanced technologies: Taking on the upfront investment of technologies to streamline inspections is necessary to cut costs. Adopting many technologies will incur ongoing costs upfront, but ideally, their benefits will far outweigh their costs.
  • Expanding in-house teams: Moving away from third-party inspections and expanding the capabilities of in-house teams can go far in cutting inspection costs. Equip your teams with the right tools and training to prepare them for carrying out inspections.
  • Staying aware of new technologies and trends: We’ve broken down some of the most impactful technologies to cut costs, but new tools will undoubtedly emerge in the following year and beyond. Take the time to stay aware of these advancements so you can adopt them as soon as possible.

Ultimately, you need to conduct a thorough economic feasibility assessment before adopting any new technologies. You should know beforehand if you’ll be able to balance the upfront costs with long-term benefits to ensure your investment is in line with your cost-cutting objectives.

Cut Turbine Inspection Costs with vHive

Reducing inspection costs goes a long way in creating a lasting wind farm operation. Expanding in-house teams, adopting digital twin software, and staying on top of future developments help create a more cost-effective operation so you can remain profitable.

vHive is a leading provider of autonomous drone inspection and wind farm software to help cut costs and improve efficiency. 

Ready to learn more? Discover how vHive can help you cut inspection costs in 2024.

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