In part 1 of the interview ; we found out how energy consult helped form the beginnings of wind power as a pioneer of operations management of wind power plants. What became of this and what energy consult does today is the topic of today’s conversation with Hennig Wegner, Sales/Business Development Manager at energy consult GmbH, Hartmut Flügel, Technical Operations Manager, and Malte Mehrtens, Authorised Signatory and Technical Director.
What has changed since the early years of wind power?
Wegner:“In the period between 1996 and 2000, the number of wind power plants produced increased enormously. The EEG created the political basis for a form of power supply made from renewable energy and secured profitability for 20 years – wind power became an industrial business.”
Flügel:“The entire industry is much more professional today, including when it comes to the quality of products: manufacturers currently offer full maintenance contracts over 10 to 15 years – that was unimaginable at the start of the 90s! The owner has the opportunity to pass on its plant responsibility. Also, there are precise regulations for occupational safety and set testing cycles and requirements. In some cases, these regulations are not yet as important to operators as they are standard in other industrial areas.
Today we have more than 25,000 wind power plants in Germany. Various professional groups support these through maintenance, repair, monitoring and testing.”
Which effects have the changes had for the investor or operator
Wegner “Where individual plants were once constructed at a location, today they are major wind farms with an average of five wind power plants, which corresponds to an output of more than 10 megawatts and not uncommonly investment amounts of more than 30 m euros, if the space and all other conditions permit it.”
“Today there are so many coordination tasks to perform so that, with the lowest possible operating costs, the highest possible availability and maximum yield is achieved – an operator cannot do this in passing as it did 25 years ago. Every year, a variety of new regulations and requirements are added to the project, so that we have to make the decision: which measures result from this for us and who actually has to do what?”
Can you give us an example, Mr Flügel?
“The reporting obligation to the German installations register has not existed for very long. Here you have to know who has to report what and by when, so that there are no negative legal consequences. The plant operator is not automatically informed of such a change. That’s why we at energy consult regularly scan the sea of regulations, ensure that the valid regulations are satisfied, and inform the operator about these changes and corresponding measures.
How has energy consult adapted to the changed requirements?
Mehrtens: “In 2012, direct marketing was introduced, on a voluntary basis in the first two years. The requirement was that the wind farm had to be remote controlled for the direct marketer – energy consult implemented this in no time at all for every wind power plant that we support. This allowed us to secure financial benefits for our customers.”
Wegner: “Right from the start, energy consult has always kept its finger on the pulse of development and has taken part in the dialogue with manufacturers, project developers and associations such as the BWE. We were and are also involved in the development of technical solutions and maintenance concepts. In spite of structural transformations, the same experts are still working at energy consult today who predicted developments in the early days of wind power, who took on challenges and who helped shape the future.
Today, we therefore have the technical experience and data at our disposal that comes from 25 years of wind power plant support. With 37 employees, we currently support 778 wind power plants with a total of 1.5 gigawatts of output. Today, the wind power plants are monitored by us 24/7 and all data is electronically secured and processed.”
Flügel:“Today we have experts for every area of wind power plant operations management and offer the operator total protection. We have moved away from the purely technical operations management towards an operations management that has integrated all required aspects in its processes and always keeps an eye on all the regulations and laws for its customers.
We are geared towards continuous risk minimisation, both in terms of on-site technical support as well as in terms of commercial or tax-related aspects. We also prepare the documents that our customers pass on to their accountants for their tax return and work with their accountants and auditors. Today, we can answer any question that comes up with regard to the operation of a wind power plant.”
Mehrtens: “From grid connection planning to technical testing, we are technically very diverse. At the same time, we have a lot of technical expertise. We draw findings from the technical condition of the wind power plants and can use these in further tests. This allows us to monitor possible sources of faults before faults occur.”
Mr Flügel, you yourself are also the manager of several wind farms. What tasks are left for the owner of a wind power plant to take care of today?
Flügel: “The typical management decisions on investments, major repairs, maintenance and liquidity planning continue to be made by the operator companies: technical operations managers are not decision-makers, but consultants that give voice to recommendations.
Mr Mehrtens, how can an asset manager identify a good operations manager if they don’t have much technical knowledge regarding wind power?
Mehrtens:“They can recognise this by seeing that the reporting is comprehensive, there are few problems in the operation of the wind power plants and, in the event of problems, these are directly and openly addressed. Our reporting includes the analysis of technical and energetic availability, yield analysis and analysis according to performance characteristics as well as a summary of faults occurred and their causes. Of course, an institutional investor requires a different reporting system than the operator of a citizens’ wind farm does. That’s why we also take into account the requirements the customer has for the wind power project.
The transparent reporting alone, however, is not enough to build trust, instead we have regular meetings with our customers in which we lay out the strategy for the wind farm together. Of course, for this we advise our customers which maintenance makes sense when and why and which contracts are recommended with direct marketers, service companies or insurance companies. These meetings take place either in person or by conference call, depending on the requirement. However, I find it very important to visit even those customers whose wind power plants are running without any problems at least once per year, in order to find out the individual requirements and to adapt our services individually to the customer.”
Technical expertise, total protection for the operator and the trust-building direct contact with the customer are what characterise energy consult. Find out how the company intends to continue to fulfil its claim as the future-oriented wind farm manager for various wind power technologies in part 3 of the interview.