Data security becomes an issue
At the same time, the trove of data also provides the operations managers with the opportunity of improved forecasts. “The more data and fault parameters we can glean and evaluate from individual turbines, the better we can tell where damage could occur next and thus act accordingly beforehand,” says Axel Lembke from BayWa r.e..
Wherever more and more data is gathered, the subject of data security also plays an increasingly important role. “There is certainly a risk from hackers,” says Lembke: “Here we must provide secure communication solutions and already have such on offer.” Especially in terms of the visibility and security of the farms on the Internet, the operations managers are being called on to close gaps left by the manufacturers. “Unfortunately, many operators do not wish to spend much money on this, although inexpensive solutions are available,” says Lembke: “But it would not be good for the image of the sector if wind farms went down or even caused blackouts as a result of hacker attacks.”
Gathering, evaluating and archiving data is also an important prerequisite for continued operation. The original type testing, which was carried out for approvals before construction, set a lifetime of 20 years as the baseline. If the operator wishes to continue operating a turbine beyond this period, it must be able to prove the safe operation of the turbine. This can be financially advantageous, as the EEG set down in the year 2000 that all wind turbines in operation back then could receive the EEG tariff for a further 20 years. In order to be able to have the necessary appraisal carried out, the operator must be able to provide the most important documents and data relating to the turbine. After the year 2020 there will be no more EEG-tariffs for these turbines, however, and new calculations will have to be made. “If no major changes are made to the electricity market in the meantime, then a continued operation beyond 20 years will generally only be possible at very good sites and with very much reduced administrative costs,” says Marcus Brian, press spokesperson at Das Grüne Emissionshaus. Accordingly, the costs for maintenance and repairs must be limited to the essentials and organised as efficiently as possible.
Smaller providers face tough challenges in terms of the multitude of tasks, says Lembke. BayWa r.e. has thus set up a partner network to open up its structures to smaller operations managers. “We want to exchange services on the one hand and pass on qualifications to the partners on the other,” Lembke adds. An operations manager could call up services from the control centre of the Munich company, for example, but also possibly carry out on-site work at turbines belonging to BayWa r.e.; “After all, the wind power sector wants to be taken seriously as a reliable and safe power plant operator,” says Lembke.
Smaller operators stress on the other hand, however, that they are particularly flexible because of their lean structures and are better able to administer their controlling function by working together with external service providers. “We do not provide any maintenance and repair work using our own personnel and can thus always broker for the customer an independent and inexpensive offer by specialists,” stresses Torsten Flemming from deanBV. And Sven Harder from Westwind stresses: “Unaffiliated operations managers are independent and are thus in a better position to carry out their controlling function for the service providers and manufacturers.”
And what about the future? The prospects are not good, partly because many operations managers expect a consolidation within the sector as a result of the growing cost pressures. The first effects can already be seen: “I get the impression that manufacturers reducing employee numbers and closing sites is causing competent contacts to be lost, and activities are only moving forward slowly,” criticises Harder. At the same time, competition is growing; grid operators are taking over the complete control of their wind farms themselves and project developers are trying to set up a new field of business. Additionally, the trend in paying for operations management is moving away from a percentage share of electricity yields towards a fixed fee model.
And a further trend was also uncovered by our survey; the “classical” separation between the technical management, which contracts out and monitors service and maintenance tasks, and the maintenance companies which perform such tasks, is crumbling. Although there are still operations managers that decline such a merging, more and more companies are offering both and are thus contracting themselves. Whether this will benefit the operators remains to be seen.