Inspecting Old Wind Turbines vs. New Wind Turbines: What’s the Difference?

Inspecting Old Wind Turbines vs. New Wind Turbines: What’s the Difference?

17 Oct 2023 Written by Naomi Stol Zamir

Old and new wind turbines both have their place in the renewable energy industry. Wind farms often prioritize new wind turbines, but can still heavily benefit from repowering projects that breathe new life into older turbines.

 

It’s not uncommon for specific industries like manufacturing plants to opt for older turbines to supplement existing power. This emerging use case has added even more momentum to the growing repowering industry.

 

What’s clear: wind farms and other organizations looking to leverage renewables are exploring both new and old turbines. This shift in the industry necessitates a greater understanding of the difference between these two options — especially regarding wind turbine inspections.

 

So, let’s explore the different characteristics and requirements of inspecting, maintaining, and making the most of new and old wind turbines.

Why is Differentiating Between New and Old Turbines Important?

New and old wind turbines reflect technology, materials, efficiency, and design stages. Accordingly, the age of each turbine creates different needs for inspections and maintenance.

 

Treating all turbines the same way will result in either spending too much or too little time and resources inspecting them. Simply put, older-generation turbines will not have the same inspection and maintenance requirements as newer turbines.

 

Awareness of the varying characteristics and challenges of every generation in your wind farm is vital to maximizing output and the life cycle of every asset.

The Core Differences Between New and Old Turbines

Let’s explore the overall characteristics of these two categories of turbines before we talk more about the challenges they present for inspections and maintenance.

Characteristics of Old Turbines

What is an “old” turbine? We can consider an old turbine any asset that has been in operation for a few years or is from a previous generation of turbines. Some of the characteristics of an old turbine include:

 

  • Typically, smaller and simpler designs are used.
  • Less efficient energy production due to different types of wind turbine blades and gearbox design.
  • Legacy control systems provide limited adaptability to changing wind.
  • Constructed with materials that may be less durable, they’ve had more time to wear them down.
  • It may feature simple monitoring systems but typically rely on inspecting for visible signs of wear or damage.
  • Generally noisier than newer models, which may impact the surrounding environment or communities.
  • It is cheaper than new upfront; however, poorly inspected ahead of time may result in decreased efficiency and the need for more maintenance.

Characteristics of New Turbines

New turbines are any assets from the latest generation that benefit from technological and material advancements. Some of the common characteristics of a new turbine include the following:

 

  • Larger, more complex, and able to generate more power.
  • Highly efficient due to improved blade design, materials, and advanced technologies.
  • Advanced control systems allow adaptation to changing conditions.
  • It was constructed out of advanced materials, such as carbon fiber composites, which are more durable and resistant to wearing down.
  • Feature advanced monitoring systems that enable preventative maintenance scheduling and greater output insights.
  • It is designed to minimize noise and can be installed in more varied locations, such as offshore.
  • It is more expensive up front but has the potential to be cost-effective in the long run due to higher efficiency and a longer lifespan.

Differences in Inspection and Maintenance: Older vs. Newer Wind Turbines

Wind turbine inspections strive to identify any possible issues and schedule maintenance before they escalate further. An unidentified issue can result in output degradation, unplanned downtime, or a shorter life cycle.

 

This goal applies to both newer and older turbines. However, the method by which it is achieved varies depending on the age of the turbine. So, let’s review how the above characteristics translate into varying inspection and maintenance needs.

Frequency and Scope of Inspections

Older turbines require more frequent inspections to stay on top of wear and tear that can affect key components and structural integrity. Adopting drone inspections can help conduct inspections faster than other methods to minimize downtime and catch any issues of concern. The turbine blades, bearings, and gearbox are generally the core concerns for wear and tear.

 

Conversely, newer turbines leverage advanced materials, design, and are just beginning their life cycle. You should conduct frequent inspections, but they won’t likely need to be as frequent as older turbines.

 

However, due to advanced technology and design, the scope of inspections for newer turbines will likely be broader than for older generations. Technicians will require a more detailed and in-depth understanding of newer technologies to conduct accurate wind turbine inspections.

Component Lifespan

Older components will have already used up some of their lifespan, along with being made of less durable components than newer turbines. Maintenance scheduling for older turbines relies on accurate inspection data to extend the lifespan of wind turbine blades and other key components.

 

Components found in newer turbines will be at the beginning of their overall lifespan, but technicians will still need to inspect for any possible manufacturer defects to avoid premature failures. In some scenarios, repair or replacement may be covered by OEM warranties.

Overall Costs

Old turbines are cheaper upfront, but they’ll require more frequent inspections and possibly expensive maintenance over time. Conducting thorough inspections of older turbines before you purchase them can go far in making sure the asset you’re buying won’t end up costing too much in the long run.

 

The opposite is true for new turbines: they’ll be expensive upfront but likely cost less to maintain during their first few years of operation.

 

Neither are firm rules, but the main takeaway is that it’s important to keep the cost of inspections and maintenance in mind when deciding to buy a new or old turbine.

Data Collection and Reporting

Turbines from the latest generation are often equipped with embedded sensors that automatically collect and report operational data. This data can be used to identify power degradation, create maintenance schedules, and manage inspection downtime timeframes.

 

Older wind turbines might lack these features. The only way to collect data may be to visit the site direction, conduct visual inspections, and stay aware of any sources of possible failures.

 

Ensure your teams are equipped to work without on-demand data if you’re buying an older turbine without embedded sensors. This will help you better track the lifespan of wind turbine blades and related equipment.

The Challenges of Inspecting and Maintaining Old and New Turbines

Ultimately, one of the most significant differences between old and new wind turbines is how your teams will inspect and maintain them.

Challenges of Old Turbines

What challenges can you expect with older turbines? Your exact difficulties will vary based on the age of the specific turbine, but some common challenges to expect include:

 

  • Wear and tear: Turbines that have been in operation for several years will naturally show signs of that usage. Inspections may need to be done more frequently to identify signs of wear and tear, and then schedule corrective actions before they escalate.
  • Limited data: Older generations won’t benefit from the latest technologies found in newer turbines that provide a wealth of data about the asset’s health. As a result, technicians will need to visit and inspect older turbines to ascertain certain metrics physically, then schedule wind turbine blade maintenance accordingly.
  • Parts availability: An often-overlooked complexity of older turbines is the availability of replacement parts. Depending on the age, the OEM may no longer have manufacturer replacements and you’ll need to scour third-party sites for parts pulled off other turbines. This can be a significant challenge, so be aware of parts availability before buying any older turbines.
  • Regulatory compliance updates: Older turbines may face challenges in adhering to updated regulatory standards. As regulations evolve to address safety, environmental, and efficiency concerns, ensuring that older turbines meet the latest compliance requirements becomes a challenge. Upgrading or retrofitting older turbines to align with current regulations may incur additional costs.
  • Technological obsolescence: The rapid pace of technological advancement can render older turbines technologically obsolete. Limited adaptability to newer technologies may result in difficulties sourcing compatible components, software updates, or skilled technicians familiar with outdated systems. Overcoming these obsolescence challenges requires strategic planning for upgrades or repowering initiatives.
  • Environmental impact mitigation: Older turbines may lack features designed to mitigate their environmental impact. Addressing concerns related to noise pollution, visual impact, and impact on local ecosystems becomes crucial. Implementing retrofit solutions or considering repowering options to enhance environmental compatibility poses logistical and financial challenges.
  • Availability of skilled workforce: As wind turbine technology evolves, finding a skilled workforce with expertise in older turbine models becomes increasingly challenging. Training new technicians or upskilling existing personnel to maintain and repair older turbines requires investment and strategic workforce planning.
  • Turbine lifetime extension: Deciding whether to extend the operational life of older turbines introduces complexities. Balancing the economic viability of extending the turbine’s lifespan with the potential for increased maintenance costs and reduced efficiency requires a careful assessment. Determining the optimal point for decommissioning or repowering involves navigating economic and technical considerations.
  • Integration with modern technologies: Older turbines may lack compatibility with modern monitoring and control systems. Integrating them into a comprehensive digital ecosystem to benefit from advanced analytics and predictive maintenance can be challenging. Overcoming the integration gap while maximizing the efficiency gains of modern technologies requires thoughtful planning and investment.

Challenges of New Turbines

Despite the technological advancements and efficiency gains, inspecting and maintaining new wind turbines present unique challenges for wind farm operators:

    • Initial capital investment: The higher upfront cost of new turbines can strain budget allocations for wind farm developers. Allocating substantial capital for acquisition requires careful financial planning and consideration of long-term returns.
    • Technological learning curve: The sophisticated technology embedded in new turbines demands specialized expertise for effective operation and maintenance. Technicians and maintenance teams must undergo comprehensive training to navigate the intricacies of advanced control systems, sensors, and data analytics.
  • Height and component size: Newer turbines are typically taller and that translates to larger components throughout the asset. While this size is responsible for increased output, inspecting and repairing each component is a logistical challenge, and a costly one too.
  • Limited historical performance data: Unlike older turbines with established performance records, new turbines lack historical data on long-term operational patterns. Predicting maintenance needs based on historical trends becomes challenging, necessitating a proactive and adaptive approach to maintenance planning.
  • Evolving regulatory compliance: The regulatory landscape for wind turbines is continually evolving. Compliance with new standards and regulations requires ongoing diligence to ensure that new turbines meet industry benchmarks and environmental requirements.
  • Dependency on manufacturer support: New turbines often rely extensively on manufacturer support for maintenance and repairs. Establishing a robust and responsive support network from the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) is crucial. Delays in obtaining support can impact turbine performance and overall operational efficiency.
  • Unforeseen technological challenges: Emerging technologies, while promising, may introduce unforeseen challenges or vulnerabilities. New turbines may encounter issues related to software glitches, compatibility, or unanticipated technological hurdles that require prompt resolution to maintain optimal performance.

Effectively addressing these challenges is imperative for wind farm operators to ensure the seamless inspection and maintenance of new turbines, ultimately contributing to sustainable and efficient energy production.

Elevate Pioneering Inspection Solutions for Both Old and New Turbines

Old and new wind turbines have unique characteristics, challenges, and some similarities. But when it comes down to it, both types require timely and cost-effective inspections to optimize maintenance needs and ensure operational efficiency, peak performance, and overall turbine health.

 

vHive has created a unique Digital Twin solution for wind turbine blade inspection, based on a combination of autonomous drone software with AI-powered and computer vision analytics, that allow identification of faults according to severity levels. Insights generated from the digital twins are essential for any turbine inspection to maximize its performance and ensure wind turbine longevity. This technology is compatible with off-the-shelf drones, allowing your teams to rapidly inspect old and new turbines alike.

 

Learn more about vHive’s solution today.

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