By Jamie Stapleton, global digital portfolio leader, Hitachi Energy

Digitalization has transformed the power sector over the past two decades. From lower monthly utility bills to reduced outages and faster response times, it has enabled greater transparency into operations and increased efficiency and reliability while decreasing costs. However, in order to meet sustainability goals, this trend must translate into the undeniably beneficial wind sector, from widespread wind farm construction to O&M, to reduce cost and financial risk while accelerating the energy transition.

Globally, momentum around offshore wind farms is mounting. President Biden’s $230 million investment into port and intermodal projects – including the first major offshore wind farm to supply power to New York – is clear evidence of this. However, that offshore wind farm boasts a total of just 12 turbines. In contrast, Europe has 5,000. The United States needs more wind energy to accelerate the energy transition.

In the wind power sector, digital applications will help transform the way that wind power is forecasted, monitored and managed. From wind power forecasting to wind farm monitoring and workforce management, understanding the role of digitalization in all aspects of wind farm management will be critical to furthering sustainability and development.

A global opportunity for wind

Consider this: In 2019, wind and hydro power each accounted for 35% of the total electricity generated from renewable sources in Europe. These are impressive statistics, but, to hit the EU’s goal of fully decarbonizing the power sector by 2045, wind energy must account for 50% of the EU’s electricity focus, according to the European Commission. In total, renewables will account for 80% of this mix. It’s no longer a question of when. To put these plans into action, rapid acceleration must take place.

The amount of wind electricity generated has grown significantly in the United States, with the total electricity generated annually increasing from approximately 6 billion kWh to 338 billion kWh in the last 20 years. This progress is impressive and has already decreased the cost of producing electricity from wind, but there’s a global opportunity to greatly accelerate this growth. In order to meet the ambitious goal of 30 GW of offshore wind energy along every coastline by 2030, changes must be made, and digitalization can help.

With an increased focus on the technologies that power wind farms, like real-time analysis and a move toward proactive analytics, we have the potential to further decrease costs and boost sustainability measures. It’s a true global challenge and opportunity to revitalize how we build our global wind economy.

The technologies that power digitalization

Major technologies are powering the digitalization of wind energy today, including centralized computer centers, 5G, descriptive/diagnostic analytics, proactive forecasting analytics and automation. Within the United States, the incorporation of these technologies will allow for improved wind power generation – from wind turbine manufacturing and construction to system integration and wind farm O&M.

  1. Real-time analysis of operational processes within a centralized computer center like the turbine-generated SCADA system enhances wind farm control by automatically detecting technical faults and building recommendations for corrective measures. This allows wind farm operators to avoid costs related to operational holds and damage. For example, when a gust of wind hits one end of a wind farm, real-time monitoring allows for the adjustment of turbines to maximize its effect before that gust hits the other end of the farm.
  2. Another technology enabling digital applications to reach their full potential in the wind sector is 5G. These 5G networks are introduced through IoT and IIoT connections between systems, powered by wireless broadband internet and data services that are delivered through either a wireless local area network or a wireless wide area network. These gateways can source data from wind turbine sensors and share that data with engineers and control centers in the field.
  3. Descriptive analytics offer another layer of insight as they search and summarize historical data to identify patterns and meaning and deliver data on past events. Coupled with diagnostic analytics, these systems allow for event-and-alarm trigger processes. Descriptive and diagnostic analytics share the what and the why of current and historical data, which can help track system failures – from the electrical failure of wind generator turbines to structural disasters.
  4. By shifting from reactive to proactive analytics, the wind sector will have the opportunity to forecast wind turbine outcome and performance results before they happen, by focusing on real-time data monitoring and event analysis. By adjusting conditions before that critical moment, experts and engineers can stop a crisis in its tracks, protecting the functionality of existing turbines and enabling the potential for expansion.
  5. Lastly, the importance of automation cannot be understated. Through robotic process automation, machines can be instructed to replicate human-directed tasks, improve manufacturing accuracy, reduce human error and accelerate repetitive industrial operations.

Together, these technologies prevent the possibility of error, enable better functionality and improve the overall outlook for the wind power industry.

The critical role of data

The final, major steppingstone in accelerating the energy transition within the wind industry will be the establishment of a wind data standard.

Incorporation would enable data sharing throughout the industry, from turbine manufacturers to wind farm operators and third parties, leading to greater cost reduction and innovation. The wind sector is not uniform. A standardized data process would allow for fully and partially digitized processes to communicate with one another and learn from each other. Working in tandem with a standard baseline for data modeling and wind operation classifications, the industry will be able to support system integration, performance monitoring, equipment certification and efficient data storage.

Grid integration and wind farm development are some of the most pressing challenges for wind sector experts, and these processes will require standardization to be successful.

So, how can we integrate the grid? First, it’s important to understand existing grid connection data standards. Data from the grid can be modeled within the common information models (CIMs), which align with those of transmission system operators (TSOs) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Currently, these standards can support the necessary data exchanges needed to ensure grid stability and efficient system operations. However, these cannot be widely applied. New and legacy wind farm systems need a commonly agreed upon data standard that includes parameters like behind-the-meter grid topology and power system variables to fully integrate systems nationally and globally.

As wind sector experts look to address wind farm development, the tagging and certification of different wind farm components and their applications will be critical to establishing the quality of critical operating components. This will aid in the development of wind farms by enabling the introduction of new materials – like new sensing devices and wireless technologies – in an organized way, massively increasing the potential data volume and efficiency of wind farms.

It will also be critical to ensure the value of data can be realized across the wind sector by defining a comprehensive data sharing policy that takes into account various stakeholder interests. This type of policy would address privacy and commercial IP, while enabling the sharing of valuable insights across the ecosystem, including the operation and maintenance of turbines and the performance of wind farms in different weather conditions.

Developing universal data standards and data sharing will be both time consuming and challenging. However, it’s a necessity, and one that the wind sector is in a position to make a reality.

What’s next for digitalization

Digitalization has the potential to benefit the wind power sector globally, and with heightened global renewable goals, we need to address these gaps in our operations now. Many of the new technologies available will require additional infrastructure, funding or focus to work to the peak of their ability, but short-term costs translate into long term wins. Digitalization will play a key role in the building and expansion of the wind sector and wind farm management, which will be critical in furthering sustainability efforts.

Jamie Stapleton is a passionate technology and innovation leader who specializes in digital transformation strategies to help customers navigate the sustainable energy transition. In his current role as Global Digital Portfolio Leader for Hitachi Energy, his focus is spearheading and evangelizing a new sustainable energy era, enabled by advanced technologies such as IoT, AI/ML, and Edge computing. Jamie is an Electronic Engineer by trade and holds an MBA from the University of Sussex.

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