UpWind Solutions are a major player in the North American wind farm Optimisation and Maintenance (O&M) market, providing wind farm owners with independent engineering and maintenance solutions.
After its establishment in the year 2007, UpWind Solutions operated for many years as the leading independent service provider for wind farm operators in the United States, offering owners a viable alternative to the occasionally uncompetitive servicing contracts that operators are sometimes locked into with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). In 2015, the company, was acquired by Vestas for 60 million dollars, and continues today, operating as a wholly owned subsidiary of its Danish parent as part of Vestas’ expansion into the North American market. At the time of its acquisition, the San Diego, California-based firm had over 300 employees and was responsible for maintaining 3 gigawatts worth of turbines in 9 US states. This figure has now grown to 5 gigawatts.
Running a wind farm is a potentially costly business. Although renewable energy sources such as wind power are based on the promise of utilising a free, unlimited natural resource, wind turbines are complex electro-mechanical systems that operate continuously in all weathers and in often isolated locations, meaning that they are prone to maintenance issues that reduce their efficiency and raise their operating costs. The purpose of an independent service provider such as UpWind Solutions is to help wind farm owners gain the best possible return on their initial investment by keeping turbines maintained and operating at their maximum energy-producing and financial potential. To this end, UpWind offers a number of services, ranging from turbine maintenance, parts replacements, regular inspections, technical support with both hardware and software, and helping operators avoid any potential impact on local wildlife.
The activities of UpWind Solutions Inc. fall roughly into the following broad categories:
- Maintenance and repair
- Parts replacement
- Engineering solutions
- Technical support
- Reduction of impact on wildlife
- Charity work
Maintenance and repair
Like all systems with many complex moving parts, wind turbines require constant maintenance as components become worn or defective. Not only are breakdowns expensive in terms of the cost of repair itself, they also incur additional costs by rendering systems inoperative during windy periods leading to a loss of revenue. Wind farms also face the additional drawback that many of them are in isolated locales leading to delays in repair. To counter these problems, UpWind Solutions offer a system based on “Reliability Centred Maintenance” to operators. This reduces operating costs by using mathematical modelling and statistical analysis to predict when maintenance is most likely to be required based on degree of usage, component age and other factors.
This process includes regular examinations of hydraulic systems, gear boxes and other parts prone to wear, along with regular greasing, fluid top-ups, and preparing detailed reports for customers. Predicting component lifespan is conducted on the basis of factors such as examining grease and motor circuits, identifying temperature anomalies that might indicate excess friction, and carrying out blade inspections to identify any possible misalignment, a factor that in turn reduces efficiency and increases the load on other components, such as the gearbox. Drones are also employed to reduce the safety risks of human operators conducting inspections high above the ground.
By identifying parts in need of repair or replacement before a component fails, the costs incurred by a breakdown and resulting stoppage can be largely avoided. Early identification also allows repairs and essential maintenance to be scheduled for periods of low wind to minimise disruption.
UpWind also offer consumers a replacement parts service. This includes a wide range of components such as filters, electrical components ranging from generators to cabling and convertors, and major mechanical components such as blades and computer hardware.
Being responsible for 5 gigawatts of turbines from various manufacturers gives UpWind a wide base of technological expertise. This allows the company to give expert advice on optimising output, and hence, revenue, by identifying turbines that fall below their expected performance, and then focusing on the specific components to blame before recommending upgrades.
Reduction of impact on wildlife
While wind farms are generally praised for their low environmental impact compared to traditional energy sources, one area where they can have a more negative effect is by posing a risk to wildlife, particularly bats who are harmed by the sudden pressure differentials caused by rotating turbine blades, often fatally. UpWind and their parent company Vestas, offer solutions that adjust various turbine parameters at appropriate times of day to significantly reduce the potential damage to local bat populations.
In addition to their regular business activities, UpWind also collaborate with the charity “Light the World”, which brings renewable energy sources to developing regions of the world. Additionally, they are sponsors of the KidWind organisation, which trains teachers across the United States to bring wind technology into the classroom and educate children on energy matters, and the KidWind Challenge, a prize competition for children to design their own wind turbines.