Are we, as an industry, getting closer to eliminating the need for mobile cranes entirely? The market for the installation, operation and maintenance of wind turbines continues to grow globally. So does installed wind energy generation capacity, and the need to rethink processes and technologies across the industry persists if we are to continually optimise operations.
By Thomas Lamberth Sandbjerg, Liftra, Denmark
While the fields of preventive maintenance and small corrections are where we find many new developments and still see improving competencies, it is in the areas of installation and major corrections that the greatest challenges continue to be present.
More than ever, we are seeing solutions out there that aim to remove mobile cranes from the equation altogether to provide operators with options that have major economic and environmental advantages. It is nothing new that crane rental fees can be hefty. Less known, yet just as relevant, are the many indirect costs that frequently follow. For instance, bridges and roads may require reinforcement to allow passage of the trucks carrying the crane, the site itself may need elaborate preparation to provide a level area big enough for the large crane structure, and special permits may need to be obtained.
Turbine height is another factor that inflates crane costs. With current turbine development nearing 10MW capacity, the systems require increasingly taller towers, which already reach above 150 metres, only adding to the headaches facing the corrective maintenance field.
Finally, availability presents a separate challenge. Until the crane reaches the wind farm and performs the necessary operation, turbine downtime and the resulting loss of production may last for days or weeks, depending on the number of cranes needed and the distance to the site.
With all this in mind, the industry has potential for huge savings on mobilisation, installation and maintenance. If with smarter solutions we managed to eliminate the need to use mobile cranes, it would have a major impact on both the economic and environmental cost of energy, ultimately reducing the bill for the end-consumer while sustaining our natural resources.
The advance of craneless systems is unmistakable, and the examples are numerous:
More craneless innovations exist,* and it is going to be an exciting trend to watch in 2018 and in years to come. The future is very promising, as more solutions address key challenges faced by operators industry-wide. All technologies highlighted here represent more environmentally responsible solutions to common problems. After all, everyone wants to reduce emissions, while encouraging the installation of renewables in hard-to-access areas and further reducing the cost of energy.
*see for example the article about the KoalaLifter