Global industrial solutions provider SKF says it is positioning itself to be the preferred supplier for South Africa’s developing wind generation industry, a sector where it expects to see significant long-term growth.
The company is currently providing products and services for an upcoming wind energy project in the Western Cape.
It is supporting the project across a number of its internal provision platforms, providing the local customer, licensed by an overseas operator, with the local market knowledge and service support required for the assembly of the first of six wind turbines that will be erected as part of a pilot project.
SKF’s involvement includes the provision of condition monitoring services, mechanical field and maintenance services, lubrication services and bearings and units supply channels.
The company says it is lever- aging its global production capabilities in support of the development.
SKF believes that South Africa’s wind energy industry, currently in its infancy, presents significant potential for growth, and it hopes to leverage the expected success of its involvement in the pilot project to become further involved in the development of the local industry.
“The South African wind turbine project has enabled local SKF personnel to work closely with their global colleagues to present solution-driven offers to the client for assembly, lubrication and potential condition monitoring (asset management) of the wind turbine assembly.
“Should SKF be successful in the completion of this process, further development of the local wind generation market could result in increased activity for SKF in this sector,” explains SKF segments and key account manager for South Africa Giscard Lailvaux.
Lailvaux expects to see growth predominantly in local wind energy pilot projects, with limited wind turbine erection in the next two to three years. He believes that local original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will look to SKF for service and product provision, owing to its global research and development expertise in wind generation solutions.
In addition, the company’s European development and manufacturing facilities generate products specifically for wind turbine assembly, focusing primarily on energy efficiency.
“We see wind energy as the future and, as a result, our product offering, including our mechatronics portfolio, actuation systems, linear ball bearings and electromechanical control units, is designed for application in wind turbine assembly, as well as in a number of other industries. This is the technology of the future,” says SKF application engineering manager Darren Chetty.
One such technology is the company’s energy efficient bearing, developed for use in a number of industries, including wind energy. These bearings represent a low-friction performance class, which mandates a minimum of 30% friction moment reduction, compared with standard bearings, providing improved energy efficiency.
“Changes have been made to the internal geometry of the bearing, as well as a new low-friction seal, low-friction grease and a new cage, which all improve the energy efficiency of the product and complement its application in wind energy projects,” says Chetty.
SKF expects the increased presence of OEMs in the local wind energy industry might, in the short to medium term, limit local opportunities for SKF as a result of ‘power back to the grid’ commitments to the Department of Energy.
Nevertheless, the company sees positive medium- to long-term potential for its support services.
“In five to ten years, the potential for contractual development with wind farm operators will be fully dependent on aftermarket support, as the OEM warranties will no longer be applicable, and wind projects will require competent service suppliers,” says Lailvaux.
Further, the company believes that, in more than ten years, governmental development programmes, as well as the compliance of international OEMs with a fixed percentage of local content for their product, will have resulted in a strong local manufacturing presence with a number of mature and new power plants, paralleled by a surge of new electromechanical and solar power product markets for Southern Africa.