Over the years Bladefence has been involved in many diverse types of blade maintenance projects across Europe and North America. The projects have ranged from inspections to minor surface repairs to extensive structural repairs and everything in between. In essence – if there is a blade problem, we have likely seen it and worked on it. Different blade makes and models have their distinctive differences, but there are plenty of commonalities as well. The causes for blade issues are as varied as the issues themselves but can roughly be divided in to following groups:
- design and manufacturing,
- transportation and installation,
- wear and tear, including weather and,
- unexpected external factors, such as uncontrolled lightning strikes and vandalism.
The types and causes of blade issues and the different maintenance approaches have been a frequent topic of my presentations in industry events, such as in the Electricity Transformation Canada few weeks ago in Calgary, Alberta and in the ACP (American Clean Power) Operations, Maintenance and Safety Conference last March in Orlando, Florida. In many of these events I have been privileged enough to be engaged in deep conversations on these issues, both with the OEM representatives and the Owner/Operators alike. Often, I am asked about the best maintenance practices, how to budget and optimize maintenance projects and how to maximize asset lifetime.
These are not easy questions to answer comprehensively and decisively, as there are many factors that will influence into the decision-making process, such as:
- make, model and current condition of the blades,
- number of blades within the project,
- geographical location and local weather conditions,
- expected lifetime of the project and, the most importantly,
- the financial resources available for maintenance.
In the perfect world situation these factors would be studied and well understood and balanced before the construction of the project, but as we know, the perfect world does not exist. Don’t get me wrong, the industry has progressed significantly since 2011 when Bladefence was established and projects being developed today are in a much better position than then, but wind turbines are long-term assets and projects developed in the 2000s and early 2010s will still be there for a long time and some of the most pressing blade issues with those developments are being dealt with as we speak and some of the situations are not pretty or even sustainable. There have been multiple occasions that I have been approached with a very direct question:
“I have X number of blades with serious issues and X dollars/euros at my disposal, what should I do?”
I know how difficult it is to budget blade maintenance during the development phase of a project and I fully appreciate their current situation. Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions and often the maintenance efforts must be concentrated on the most serious issues. Like one Owner/Operator put to it me:
“We are just trying to keep our noses above the water.”
Keeping your nose just above the water is not necessarily a bad maintenance strategy and, depending on the blades in question and the location they are operating in, it might well work out, but often it will not. What really worries me, however, is that at the same time we are hearing more about extending the lifetime of the projects from 20 or 25 years all to way up to 35 years. For the sustainability of our industry, I am certainly advocating for these extended lifetimes and from a technical standpoint there is no reason blades should not last for 35 years – they very well can last that long and maybe even longer. However, these extended lifetimes will require a timely planned and well-executed blade maintenance program emphasizing preventive maintenance. Trying to keep your nose just above the water and pushing the blades up to 35 years is a recipe for disaster. Plain and simple.
At Bladefence we have long pushed for long-term preventive maintenance programs, and we are happy to see more customers asking for it. Like Suomen Hyötytuuli has.
Be safe out there!