Wind energy pioneer Gates discusses life extension for older turbines

With the repowering of turbines continuing to be a trend in the wind industry, leading experts gathered at the American Wind Energy Association’s O&M and Safety Conference to discuss ways owners and operators can increase revenue and reduce operating costs by leveraging new technologies to extend the life of older turbines.

Bob Gates, a managing member at ReNu Control and one of the pioneers of the wind industry, shared insights about key steps that can be taken to extend the life of turbines that were installed 15-30 years ago. Gates is an owner/operator of the Victory Garden wind energy facility, where many industry milestones have been achieved.

Gates, a two-time chairman of the board of AWEA, believes many older turbines still have “good bones” and can see their lives extended if owner/operators focus on a few critical updates:

  • “New brains” - Gates said control systems need to be upgraded because they are obsolete and new technologies can power improved efficiency. The age of older control systems is also problematic because replacement parts and technical expertise are limited or don’t exist.   
  • Generator heat management - Gates explained that new technologies like cutting-edge sensors and data diagnostics make it possible to identify and maintain optimal generator heat levels. This process lessens the wear on generators and can extend their life cycle.
  • Lattice towers - Most people don’t envision a lattice tower when they think of a wind farm, but lattice towers are still in use are facilities like the Victory Garden. Gates said most lattice failures can be traced to the load being disproportionately borne by individual legs of the tower. Tower leg load reduction and management can lengthen the life of lattice towers, according to Gates. This can be achieved by allowing the tower to ramp up its production when the nacelle is not over an individual leg and then easing back on production when the nacelle rotates and is over an individual leg.

Gates concluded by stressing how firms need to stay abreast of rapidly evolving operations and maintenance trends within the wind energy industry and pivot from viewing older assets as a liability to an economic opportunity.