IoT and Data Power the Next Generation of Clean Energy

Wind power is one of the fastest growing energy sources, thanks to its near-zero carbon emissions. Not only is it cleaner than fossil fuel alternatives, it is also cheaper and more sustainable.

Over the last decade wind turbines literally have sprung up everywhere from coast to countryside. In Europe alone, installed capacity has increased from around 13 gigawatts in 2000 to more than 180 gigawatts in 2018.

There are challenges to wind power, of course; modern wind turbines are huge and can impact a view. Wind farms are often remote, which means that maintenance involves frequent and difficult trips by service staff—who may have to climb the structures to undertake repairs.

Repairs and maintenance therefore require experienced staff to keep pace with booming installations and regulatory requirements. There has been a gap in the development of operations and maintenance skills in the EU, with a current shortage of 7,000 qualified personnel required by the European wind energy sector each year. This figure could increase to 15,000 by 2030.

Sensors Can Work Where People Can’t

Now that wind power is no longer seen as an optional alternative but instead as a vital component in fulfilling the demand for energy, new methods of support are in high demand to keep up with the amazing growth through robust digital technology.

When you combine the skills shortage with the possibility of dangerous working conditions for maintenance personnel, you can see that there is a need for a new solution. Operators need to find a way to maintain the critical infrastructure at wind farms, while also reducing travel to their facilities. But how can they ensure the continuity and safety of operations from afar?

There are ways to do this using IoT, integration, and business transformation technology. Applied properly, they can help to ensure business continuity in the most trying of times.

The ability to monitor wind turbines remotely becomes more important when maintaining appropriate turbine availability levels. Condition monitoring overcomes the issue of accessibility while enabling wind farms to extend turbine maintenance intervals, manage resources more effectively, and avoid costly downtime.

A consistent, end-to-end architecture based on an IoT platform allows real-time analytics to manage autonomous operations, such as switching on rotor blade heaters when ice starts to form and the automatic handling of alarms and exceptions.

This is a real-life project, covering an impressive 7,000 existing turbines, and 1,000 new turbines, which is being rolled out over the upcoming 5 years.

The benefits are in various areas. The first is the commissioning process—time to value—is decreased by the standardization of monitoring and control. More importantly, there is a full and carefully implemented investment program in new component and maintenance technologies, giving the operators control over planned maintenance and helping to eliminate unplanned maintenance levels.

On top of that, in these difficult times, this program is paying off in an unexpected way: As some of the turbines are in restricted areas and travel for the maintenance engineers is not possible, being able to monitor and control the turbines remotely is a precious bonus.

Powering the next generation of renewable energy with IoT positively impacts running costs, while ensuring that wind power will continue to be both a viable economic solution for energy production for the future and a benefit to the environment.


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