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How Are Wind Turbines Maintained?

Every technical system needs routine maintenance to ensure adequate service life. Highly complex systems such as wind turbines require regular inspection to guarantee trouble-free operation. A differentiation needs to be made between inspection, maintenance and repair. The inspection of a wind turbine requires a visual evaluation of the entire structure without any remedial work being performed. Such an inspection of a wind turbine can take approximately one day.

The maintenance of wind turbines takes place at predetermined intervals, usually once or twice a year whereby all important mechanical and electrical assemblies are checked. In addition, minor repairs can be performed and consumables such as greases, oils and filters can be exchanged. On average, this requires about 20 working hours. Aerial Work Platforms, Spider Lifts and Cranes must be ordered and delivered to necessary job sites to allow aerial access for maintenance crews.

More serious damage, above all to the rotor blades, is rectified during repairs. Depending on the extent and complexity of the damage, this can take up to a few days. While mechanical assemblies tend to be less prone to damage, areas such as the electrics, electronics, sensors and hydraulics require more frequent repair. However, such repairs normally result in little down-time and are relatively simple.

Wind plant operators have little control over most of the elements of O&M, but they can influence both scheduled and unscheduled maintenance costs. There are sophisticated theories as to how best to minimize these but, in essence, a balance needs to be struck between the superficial attractions of carrying out very little maintenance – with low initial costs but potentially high risks of expensive failures – and carrying out too much maintenance, which would be costly and the incremental benefits may be marginal.

On the other hand, repairs for gearboxes, rotor blades or the generator are extremely complex. Spare parts are expensive and the repair work requires significantly longer down-times. Damage also occurs frequently to the tower’s foundation, flanges and the tower, above all in the form of corrosion. Damage to the rotor blades is usually the result of erosion and lightning strikes.

Maintenance is done by specialist Wind Turbine Technicians, or “Windtechs” as they are known in the industry. A Windtech may work on both the construction and maintenance of wind turbines. These technicians are often skilled at using aerial access equipment such as Aerial Work Platforms and Spider Lifts to reach necessary heights.

For obvious reasons, experienced wind technicians are in great demand. They work at heights of more than 300ft and do a large amount of work within the nacelle where most of the electronics and moving parts are housed. If you are thinking of a career change, you will need the right qualifications, a head for heights, and be comfortable working in confined spaces

To minimize downtime, and as part of their warranty coverage, wind farm operators adopt both preventative and predictive maintenance. Preventative Maintenance is planned maintenance to prolong the lifespan of assets. It can include adjustments, cleaning, lubrication, repairs, and replacements. Predictive Maintenance is more sophisticated and uses sensors to monitor the condition of the assets.

Maintenance check-ups typically take place a few times a year, with computerized maintenance management system software (CMMS) used to record when each turbine has been serviced. A CMMS will also automatically send notifications when a maintenance check is due.

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Over the last 30 years we have proven in Europe that MEWPs/AWPs are the safest and most efficient way aerial height access. Since 2009 this concept is finally available here in the US. We have transformed the aerial lift industry by owning, leasing and operating a reliable fleet of MEWPs/AWPs in North America. Our fleet consists of top-of-the-line truck-mounted aerial platforms ranging from 108 feet to 336 feet and tracked spider lifts ranging from 50 feet to 165 feet.

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