Tailwinds for Wind Controller
This article is based on an article written by Raimo Pirttikoski and published by newspaper Kaleva on 14th of September 2019.
Wind Controller monitors and inspects wind parks and expects growth to continue, as there are many new wind parks being built and planned at the moment.
Wind Controller Oy, which manages wind turbines and trains the people who work in them, seems to have tailwinds. The turnover of a small Oulu company increased by more than 13 per cent to EUR 2.5 million last year.
– This year we are aiming for growth of 15-20 %. We are in good speed to get there, but there is still months left, says Kari Koivikko, the Managing Director of Wind Controller.
Wind Controller was founded in 2012, and now they employ 26 people, some of whom are part-time employees.
– It seems that by next year at the latest, more people will be needed in the specialist services. For example, we do a lot of wind turbine inspections, and much of our working time is spent traveling, Koivikko says.
Future for the industry looks bright
There are hundreds of megawatts worth of new wind parks under construction at the moment in Finland.
Many more have already been authorized and many investments are secured. The future prospects for the industry look good, Koivikko says.
Even the ending of the Feed-in tariff system has not stopped growth. New competitive tendering emphasizes the cost efficiency.
– Thanks to technological development, the newest wind parks do not need any subsidies, they can be built market-based. This will certainly boost the growth of the industry, Koivikko estimates.
Koivikko himself has been working in the field for almost 13 years.
– In that time, wind turbines have developed a lot, and the industry as a whole has grown tremendously.
For example, Koivikko and Jari Valle, founder of Wind Controller, started their journey with wind power with the Oulu-based Winwind, which went bankrupt in 2013. Winwind built wind turbines and took care of their operation and maintenance.
– We have about a dozen former Winwinders in the house. We got a lot of valuable wind power know-how from there, and we got really deep into the technology. Practically all of our employees are at least engineers, Koivikko says.
8760 hours of monitoring
Wind Controller currently controls over 100 assets in Finland, Estonia, Sweden, Czech Republic and France. In addition to wind parks and substations, there are also some solar plants.
The production capacity of the facilities controlled from the company’s office in Rusko, Oulu, is more than 400 megawatts. The control room operates in five shifts, 24 hours a day, 8760 hours a year.
– We see in real time what’s happening in the assets. For example, we are able to shut down power plants and make parameter changes. We also have a separate system for storing and analyzing data, Koivikko says.
If a malfunction or anomaly is found in the power plant, the control center engineer can alert the local technician to fix the problem.
– Some sites and more demanding faults are handled from start to finish. We have about a dozen experts in Oulu who are able to go on-site to investigate the situation more closely, says Koivikko.
Wind Controller also inspects on the spot
Every year, Wind Controller and its subcontractors carry out hundreds of inspections in their customers’ wind parks.
– For example, we inspect all safety-related equipment, like service lifts and ladder attachment points, Koivikko says.
– Wind turbine blades are inspected with drones. This year we have inspected the blades of nearly 200 power plants in Finland and Sweden.
The company also provides working at height and safety training for people who work with wind turbines, certified by the Global Wind Organization.
– About 80-90 percent of the employees in the industry are given some training. More than a thousand training sessions have already been arranged, Koivikko says.
– These trainings are perhaps the most visible part of our business. However, they account for less than 10% of the company’s turnover.
Working at heights
Kari Koivikko still vividly remembers his first visit to the top of a wind turbine in Vihreäsaari, Oulu back in 2006.
– It was exciting and it was a little scary to go so high. Now, I’m already used to it, even I no longer have time to even rarely visit the towers of the wind turbines, Koivikko says.
Wind Controller provides safety training to people of the industry and also for its own employees.
– Almost all of us undergo at least some of these courses. The trainings must also be renewed at least every two years, Koivikko says.
– I always enjoy the feeling of working high on one of these trainings. At the same time, I keep up with what is happening in the industry and the development of wind turbines.
Most of the courses in the GWO trainings are given in Oulu, where the facilities and expertise are provided by climbing center Oulun Kiipeilykeskus.
The training package typically includes working at heights, first aid, fire awareness, and manual handling.
– In Finland and Sweden, for example, such training is required of all those working in wind turbines, Koivikko says.
– At least in the Nordic countries, the safety culture of the wind power industry is already of a high standard, and a lot of work has been done with it. There are very few accidents.
Therefore, all the risks, as well as the means of rescuing should be known when maintaining, repairing or inspecting wind turbines up to 175 meters high.
The only way to get up is to work in pairs, and in case of an emergency the injured or ill co-worker must be brought down from the turbine quickly and safely. Wind parks are usually far from everything, so outside help can be miles away.
– Telephones may not work, and the ladders and ropes of fire departments don’t reach such heights. You can only rely on yourself and your partner, says Ville Seitamo, an entrepreneur and head trainer at the Oulu Climbing Center.
– Proper practice and use of a wide variety of safety equipment must be properly trained to ensure that everything runs quickly and safely, also in a case of a real emergency.