Wind Power Operating, Maintenance Costs Plunge

If this keeps up, the wind power industry might not need the embattled production tax credit for very much longer. Which, come to think of it, is the stated point of the subsidy – to provide support for the industry while it evolves to a lower cost structure and ultimately becomes self-sufficient.

The new evidence that this hoped-for storyline is unfolding comes from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which reports that operation and maintenance costs for the wind energy sector worldwide fell 38 percent from 2008 to 20011, or about 11 percent per year.

wind power operation and mainenance costs

Siemens service engineers working on wind turbine at Sweden’s Lillgrund offshore wind farm (image via Siemens)

“Wind power has done much to improve its competitiveness against gas-fired and coal-fired generation in recent years, via lower-cost, more technically advanced turbines, and more sophisticated siting and management of wind farms,” BNEF’s Michael Liebreich said in a statement. “This new O&M Price Index shows that servicing wind farms at the operating stage is also becoming much more cost-efficient.”

These cost figures aren’t based on some kind of theoretical estimate – BNEF used actual contractual data submitted to it by 38 wind power companies around the world. “The data have covered 104 confidential and undisclosed O&M contracts, totaling 5.3GW of contracted capacity, in more than 24 markets,” BNEF said. “In all cases the service providers are the turbine manufacturers, with a main focus in Europe and the Americas.”

Bloomberg listed six main points from its O&M research (quoting here):

  • Average prices for full-service O&M contracts fell to EUR 19,200 per MW per year in 2012 – a 38% decrease since 2008. The decline in O&M prices was driven by increased competition, as turbine manufacturers vie for service contracts, as well as by improved service performance of the underlying turbines.
  • Average contract duration has risen from 4.5 years in 2008 to 6.9 years in 2012, as manufacturers attempt to lock in longer-term agreements.
  • Average availability guarantees in the contract sample reached 96.9%, with any upside beyond that generally shared between the developer and service provider. Guarantees on actual energy production are also becoming more commonplace.
  • Markets in Eastern Europe and the UK had the highest pricing for full-service offerings. This may be due to higher labour costs and/or a limited local supply chain. The US displayed the most competitive pricing of all markets.
  • Pricing between manufacturers has been fairly similar in 2008-12, with the exception of one manufacturer, German company Enercon. Its prices for full-service contracts were nearly 20% lower than the market average throughout the whole period.
  • Index participants expect O&M pricing be fairly stable at least until 2015. They regard Enercon, Siemens and Vestas as the best service providers in the industry in terms of promptness and quality of service for scheduled and unscheduled works.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.


  • Reply November 4, 2012


    O&M costs has not been as big a problem as commonly claimed. Wind LCOE is mostly driven by capex. And capex is more effectively addressed by reducing the cost of onshore turbines and improving their efficiency.

    • Reply November 6, 2012

      Pete Danko

      I don’t disagree in general terms, but note that NREL said in a recent presentation: “Assumed improvements in O&M costs, financing rates, and availability lead to substantial additional estimated LCOE reductions from 2002-2003 to 2012-2013 in comparison to core analysis that only varies capital cost and capacity factor.”

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