Working closer to the sky: who are the professionals in charge of wind farm maintenance?
Engineering skills, high-altitude skills and a keen analytical mind. Wind turbine technicians are versatile. They are the people who help Ignitis Renewables, an international green energy company, ensure the smooth development of its wind farms, which is gaining momentum.
The most efficient performance of wind turbines is achieved through proper maintenance. This includes regular inspections for oil changes, various tests and inspections and repairs. Using specialised equipment, technicians inspect the blades of the wind turbine, the casing that houses the main components of the turbine, the tower itself, the generator and other components.
Ignitis Renewables is already starting to use advanced technology such as drones to assess the condition of wind turbines, but most maintenance and repair work is not automated.
Qualified engineers on staff
"Virginijus Jagela, Head of Maintenance and Management at Ignitis Renewables, points out that the people involved in maintaining wind turbines have a highly analytical mindset. According to V. Jagela, they must be able to analyse individual system parameters, detect changes in them and understand their impact on the operation of the wind turbine.
V. Jagela points out that the maintenance of wind turbines involves specialists from various fields. "Turbines are serviced by technicians who know electromechanics. They look after the generator and other electrical components. There are also mechanics who are responsible for operating and monitoring the gearbox and other mechanical components. They monitor the condition of the gearboxes, change the lubricants, monitor the condition of the tower and other similar tasks. Other specialist teams carry out tasks such as wing maintenance, etc. These people spend most of their time hanging on the blades and inspecting their surface. They look for cracks and repair them," says an Ignitis Renewables expert.
He adds that wind turbine technicians also work on the power plants, maintaining their lifts and other lifting mechanisms. Cranes are also used for major repairs and are operated by specially trained teams.
"All the technicians are qualified electromechanical, automation or mechanical engineers. But that is not all, they also acquire specific knowledge by attending wind turbine maintenance training courses organised by the equipment manufacturers," says V. Jagela.
A special focus on safety
Technicians usually work at very high altitudes of hundreds of metres, which puts turbine maintenance in a high-risk category. However, V. Jagela points out that all measures are taken to ensure the safety of the employees. For example, technicians are not allowed to work alone – all work is carried out simultaneously by at least two trained professionals who are also certified in high-altitude climbing and wind turbine safety.
Technicians wear personal protective equipment such as special clothing, safety boots, helmets and safety harnesses attached to anchor points. "When working in the cabin of a wind turbine, technicians must also carry rescue equipment to evacuate from the turbine in the event of a fire or other hazard," says the maintenance and operations manager.
He adds that maintenance work on wind farms is only carried out in good weather conditions. According to V. Jagela, technicians are not allowed to work if the wind speed is too high and there is a high probability of lightning.
Monitoring, maintenance and repairs
Wind farms are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week. According to V. Jagela, specialists at the dispatching centres constantly monitor the parameters of the turbines and record faults remotely.
According to the manager, maintenance work is planned in accordance with the manufacturer's standards. He notes that turbine manufacturers routinely draw up long-term maintenance plans covering a period of up to 12 years. "Different work is carried out each year according to a fixed schedule. For example, the gearbox oil is changed every four years or so, and the blades are inspected every two years," says the Ignitis Renewables expert.
Any faults detected by the specialists at the dispatch centre are rectified immediately. "All necessary repairs are carried out, regardless of their nature or extent. This can range from replacing sensors for a few hours to major repairs such as replacing bearings, blades or gearboxes. In the latter case, turbines can be shut down for months," says V. Jagela.
He stresses that regular, high-quality maintenance of wind turbines is the only way to keep them in good condition. It is the timely maintenance and repair work that allows a wind turbine to operate for 25 or even 30 years.