Data management and decision making for Wind Farm Operations

It is increasingly accepted that wind farm data could hold the key to reducing O&M costs and improving turbine performance. More focus is now being placed on how data can be utilized to its full potential whilst using as little resources as possible.  Wind Farm Data Management more often tackle some of the biggest data issues facing the industry, including:

  • Prediction of failures in turbines using effective data management
  • Integration of SCADA with software solutions
  • Assessment of data that will be used to predict the lifetime of a turbine or specific components
  • Who owns the data and how to better collaborate

Wind farm owners are faced with many challenges to increase availability and production and reduce costs, all while performing safer than last year and with higher levels of quality. In addition, competing with the price of electricity from other sources of energy generation requires the highest standard of service for the lowest comparative cost. In other words, the owner’s service provider must deliver more production for a fixed price that equates to a lower cost of electricity, ultimately giving the owner a better Return On Investment.

Overcoming these challenges is easier said than done, especially if you’re not in 100 percent control of all steps involved in performance excellence. Wind farm owners rely on a supply chain every day to get spare parts, solve engineering problems, complete daily operations, execute planned maintenance and manage unplanned events. This supply chain is made up from companies that offer products and services throughout the wind farm’s lifecycle—from independent engineering firms to development contractors, the wind turbine Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), Independent Service Providers (ISPs), providers of spare parts and consumables, supplement labor contractors, inspection services vendors, etc. At selection of vendors, for the various services and products needed, the wind farm owner places a great deal of trust on the vendor to perform in the best interest of the wind farm owner.


Liberating Data and Driving Performance

For the thousands of wind turbines that are already operating, the wind turbine vendor selection has obviously already been made and the question at hand is how to manage that situation. Many wind farm owners have been doing their best to overcome operation manuals, drawings and master parts lists. Some have even made a conscious decision to invest in staffing and building up an in-house O&M organization with safety and quality programs of their own in order to not have to rely on their supply chain much.

The investment that it requires to take on such an endeavor is however not something that every wind farm owner can stomach, and even so, it is not without risks one expands beyond core business processes and know-how. The O&M services still remain part of the supply chain; it’s just that the risk is now all on the wind farm owner. Managing hundreds of qualified technicians, asset condition, maintenance programs, etc. is quite different in nature compared to financing and developing wind farms. Safety, quality and training needs to be continuously measured and improved in order to reach an availability factor of 98 percent and above. There’s no easy way around that and substantial investments has to be made on a continuous basis.

Wind farm owners need to find cost effective means to understand the condition of their assets and to ensure that they are operated and maintained in the best interests of the owner. Condition Based Monitoring (CBM) solutions can tell a lot about the condition of wind turbines. But as most CBM systems were originally developed for gas turbines, steam turbines, large diesels, etc., the price point of those systems don’t always fit the wind industry where unit output usually is in the 2MW range, compared to 1,000MW for steam turbines. A CBM system with many bells and whistles may not pay for itself when installed on a wind turbine—as the requirements for return on investment usually is shorter than five years. And yet, even if the very detailed reporting and analysis that is commonly delivered by the CBM systems of today, a decision is still likely to be made to dispatch a team of technicians to go out to the turbine and visually inspect the turbine, listen for abnormal sounds and borescope the gearbox. The cost of dispatching a small crew for a few hours is relatively small and the crew is usually already available on the wind farm site.


O&M Excellence

The areas mentioned in this article highlight the need for an integrated asset management solution that help wind farm owners liberate and capture a continuous flow of data from operational experience, performance indicators, turbine health indicators as well as field inspections. Careful attention has to be given to managing the overall cost of the solution and balancing the capabilities and cost of the various components that build it. With a cost effective asset management solution established, wind farm owners can focus their attention to closely managing the maintenance and repair activities, optimize the usage of spare parts and consumables, as well as implementing suitable wind turbine upgrades.

The successful wind O&M service providers of the future will distinguish themselves by being able to provide a complete O&M solution that combines discreet complimentary offerings. The wind industry is unique in the way that each unit produces single-digit MW power but also in that the number of units in the fleet completely outnumbers any other form of electricity production. In such an environment wind farm owners should demand that their operation and maintenance services providers have the capabilities to:

• Offer significant price reductions for spare parts and consumables
• Provide alternative parts that can extend the maintenance cycle
• Perform flawless repairs of gearbox, generator, blades, rotor, hub, etc.
• Upgrade drive trains and other critical components to extend the maintenance cycle
• Install blade vortex generators to improve yield
• Capture turbine tags and drive train data for instant and historical analysis in order to predict failures
• Supplement the analytics with comprehensive field inspections that identify wear and tear
• Store inspection data from large inspection campaigns and sporadic condition inspections on a continuous basis
• Support the field operation and maintenance teams with 24/7 remote monitoring and engineering resources
• Provide benchmarking of performance data with the rest of the fleet

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