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More advanced O&M approaches needed for post-subsidy hydro portfolios says Dulas

Following the end of the feed in tariff for UK hydro projects this month, water utilities and owners of multiple hydro assets need to increase their focus on operations and maintenance (O&M) planning in the management of their schemes says renewable energy consultancy Dulas.
More advanced O&M approaches needed for post-subsidy hydro portfolios says Dulas

In the absence of subsidy support, adopting advanced planned O&M practices as seen in the wind and solar sectors will ensure long-term cost efficiencies and optimise the performance of the schemes. That is, at least according to leading renewable energy consultancy, Dulas.

As renewable energy subsidies fall away for new projects, Dulas is encouraging water utilities and land owners with hydro project portfolios to re-consider their approach to O&M as margins tighten across the industry.  Too often, according to Dulas, owners of multiple assets look to repair their hydro schemes on a reactive basis, only making significant repairs or upgrades once the functioning of the asset is compromised.

However, based on its experience of working with water utilities across the UK, Dulas believes that there is a clear opportunity for firms to take a more proactive scheduled programme of planned maintenance that follows the example set by other renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar.

The nature of the wind and solar sectors is that operators usually hold a portfolio of multiple assets, and, as with hydro today, historically reactive maintenance was carried out as-and-when components failed. However, the potential for revenue loss and high repair costs has driven advances in preventative and predictive maintenance, with asset owners now choosing to adopt these O&M strategies across their portfolio.

The most commonplace of these O&M strategies is preventative maintenance, which involves carrying out regular servicing and repairs across the asset portfolio in order to minimise the possibility of unforeseen component failures. Compared to reactive maintenance, preventive maintenance helps increase the lifespan of an asset and can cut costs associated with downtime, overtime and emergency spares procurement. Increasing the level of scheduled maintenance can also help to streamline O&M workflows, for example by allowing crews to carry out multiple repairs or replacements during a single site visit.

Regular maintenance schedules also allow engineers to become familiarised with each scheme, which often creates opportunities for them to advise on potential optimisation strategies that will help the asset owner to achieve the best possible returns from the whole portfolio.

As seen with wind and solar, utilities and owners of multiple assets who invest in enhancing maintenance programmes for their portfolio of hydro assets – whether they are new installations or 70-year old legacy schemes - will be able to secure better availability, optimise their portfolio, and therefore see a better return on their investments.

“While subsidy support for hydro projects facilitated a boom in construction amongst some water utilities, now that subsidies have fallen away, there is much more commercial pressure to manage their schemes effectively and efficiently” said Crispin Angood, Senior Engineer, Dulas. “However, too often owners of multiple hydro assets leave maintenance under a ‘fix it when it’s broken’ response, which means that it’s significantly more expensive to repair and often involves complete downtime on the asset itself. Planned maintenance is the mainstay of on- and offshore wind and utility scale solar, both sectors that expanded quickly through tariff support, but have rationalised their costs as subsidies have fallen away.”

Dulas has been developing and managing hydro schemes for the past twenty years, working on over 35MW across all operational hydro schemes, of which 25 MW has been Operations & Maintenance work.

“Having pioneered O&M approaches with historic assets for utility and private owners, which previously had no maintenance regime, we feel that there is a clear opportunity to take some of the lessons from the wider Dulas business in renewables into the hydro sector” Angood added.

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