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Issue 2/2020

Turbulence in the service market

Michael Hahn, 22 May 20
2019 was a bumpy year for the wind sector, and the turbine servicing business was no exception. Senvion’s insolvency in particular had far-reaching repercussions — as reflected in the latest edition of the BWE service survey.

It’s a business worth billions: all around the world, new wind turbines are being built all the time. This naturally means rising demand in the service sector too. And even though new installations are few and far between in Germany right now, the roughly 30,000 turbines already standing still need regular repairs and maintenance. For operators, the question of who should service their machines – manufacturers or independent companies – is one that merits careful consideration.

Quite aside from this basic question, however, 2019 was a year of some uncertainty. In April, turbine manufacturer Senvion was forced to file for insolvency. Operators were suddenly faced with the question of whether they would continue to receive the same expert support for their machines that they were accustomed to. At Senvion’s rivals – particularly the independent service providers – telephones were ringing off the hook. The acquisition of Senvion’s European service business and intellectual property by competitor Siemens Gamesa – hitherto a relatively minor player in the service sector – for EUR 200 million dramatically redrew the landscape. Overnight, the German-Spanish outfit had added nine gigawatts (GW) to its European service portfolio.

Independent companies lead the field

The repercussions of Senvion’s insolvency are also reflected in the results of the latest service survey by the German Wind Energy Association (BWE), an opportunity for wind farm operators to say what they think of their turbine service providers. Of the 2,222 questionnaires sent out for the survey’s 20th edition, 800 were completed and returned, with feedback on more than 5,000 turbines. The data was evaluated by the Berlin-based firm INWT Statistics.

As in previous years, the survey assessed the service of manufacturers and independent providers separately. Only those companies for which ten or more questionnaires were returned by at least five different respondents were considered. A look at the results shows that independent service companies, with an average overall score of 1.85 (on a scale of 1 to 6, in which 1 represents the best possible result and 6 the worst) once again outperformed manufacturers, which only managed 2.88. Both scores are an improvement on the previous year (2.09 and 2.91 respectively). Personnel shortages remain a major point of criticism, with respondents complaining of work being neglected, or completed with delays. Other sources of dissatisfaction include feedback on work completed, and goodwill.

Enercon’s overall score of 2.43 secured it the top spot among the manufacturers, as well as being an improvement on the 2.57 achieved in 2018. In all, feedback was collected on 2,303 turbines serviced by Enercon – the highest number in the survey by a considerable margin. The company’s strong performance is partly explained by the slump in new installations. According to a market study by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Enercon recently relinquished its dominance of the German market to Vestas, which also built the most turbines worldwide in 2019, while Enercon fell from sixth to tenth place in the international ranking.

Shorter downtimes

The dearth of new installations has freed up personnel in the service area, Enercon confirms: “This allowed us to further optimise the planning of scheduled work, and consistently ensure it is carried out in a timely manner.” Meanwhile, the supply of replacement parts to service technicians was streamlined thanks to the introduction of an e-hub system, reducing the time needed for unscheduled repairs, the company reports. “As a result, we were able to optimise turbine downtimes.”

Second place in the manufacturer ranking went to Nordex, which improved its overall score from 2,92 to 2,70, with better marks in the sections “Scheduled maintenance work” and “Unscheduled repairs”. The Hamburg-based manufacturer is happy with its performance. Service manager Volker Bartolles called 2019 sa “good year”, adding: “We have learnt to do better at catering to customers’ wishes and entering into dialogue with them.” Specific improvements reported by the company include better reachability of the service department for customers, and increased turbine availability thanks to the introduction of a system for early detection of turbine faults, for instance.

Nordex is followed in the ranking by Vestas, with an overall rating of 2.85 – a definite improvement over 2018, when a score of 3.2 left it in sixth and last place among the manufacturers, in line with previous years. “Our customers have benefited from substantial improvements to troubleshooting at startup, electronic invoicing and clarification of rebates or contract invoices. These processes are now much faster and more transparent,” says Daniel Fröhling, senior service director for Germany at Vestas Northern & Central Europe.

GE Wind Energy replaces Vestas at the bottom of the table this year, backsliding from 2.98 (enough for fourth place last year) to 3.28. The company was awarded worse scores in almost every area of the BWE survey – most noticeably for “Feedback on completed work”. The manufacturer has taken this result very seriously, and is making every effort to bring about improvements with a view to providing first-class customer service, promises Michael Jäke, service manager for Germany at GE Wind Energy. “Last year we hired additional service technicians and opened two new service centres. We also overhauled and streamlined numerous service processes, upgraded our remote monitoring centres, and introduced new planning and fleet management tools.”

This is a shortened version of the story from issue 02/2020 of new energy. To access the full article including all survey results, see the following PDF file:

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