Developing the right organizational strategy in the wind industry is challenging at all levels of the value chain. Technologies are changing faster and faster, legal and contractual frameworks change, portfolios grow bigger, workload increases constantly. Despite these challenging conditions, in order to continue scaling we must aim to evolve beyond a reactive firefighting approach, and establish processes such as predictive maintenance, fleet performance optimization and highly efficient use of resources.
There is an adage that says building technology start-ups that it’s like throwing yourself off a cliff and assembling an aeroplane on the way down. Of course, it might be safer to build the plane before leaving the cliffs edge, but the subtext of the story alludes to the notion that the free-fall is the catalyst for innovative quick thinking & fast action, in the face of the unknown.
In renewables, like any relatively new industry, the unknowns are in abundance. One way in which we navigate this is to implement management techniques to help us maintain order in a complicated environment. Typically, waterfall project management approaches are used, and teams are divided either by projects, by technology platforms or by areas of expertise.
This of course makes a lot of sense. You start with a defined overall target, make a detailed plan, go into a license process and after construction and commissioning, you start the operational phase. Every step is known in advance and in order to be successful, you should know what you need and when you need it. At each phase, persons with the right skills are assigned clear tasks and delivery dates, in order to finally deliver the master plan.
The software industry was organized like this for many years. At first, this approach was effective, but over time when things got more and more complex and the speed of technology innovations increased, this approach led to situations where a company finished a product, only to realize the market need had already evolved. Therefore, the agile method was adopted widely for software development and ideas like continuous integration were born. The answer to the successful delivery of complex solutions is now by solving problems iteratively and not by trying to solve everything at once.
But what does this all have to do with renewables? Subjects such as advanced data analytics, asset optimization and digitalization are relatively new topics to the renewable industry, and although very important they are still sometimes overshadowed by the main aim of the industry; growth. It is tempting to introduce new processes through workshops and waterfall-based project plans in order to achieve successful organizational transition. However, with limited resources, high levels of uncertainty and the need to make technical and organizational change, it’s almost impossible to get this right first time.
In the same way as the software industry has learned to deal with such constraints, perhaps we in the renewables industry can also learn some important lessons. Complex problems should be approached iteratively, by introducing agile teams and processes. Time-consuming technology developments can be avoided by choosing modular, standard solutions from the market. Setup and rollout of new tools should be fast and pain-free so that value can be added immediately.
Once a solution for fleet analytics and optimization is in place, the generated insights will have a positive effect on the overall Operations & Maintenance of wind turbine fleets. This must be approached in an evolutionary manner with continuous feedback and improvement at all levels of the value chain, to ensure that maximum value is gained. Through such an agile approach, the renewables industry may yet be able to achieve the levels technological and organizational evolution that our climate demands.