This year I will hit the dubious landmark of 25 years in the wind industry. Right from the very start I have been involved in creating software systems that managed and analysed data. My first job back in 1993 was automating batches of Fortran code as part of the lifetime fatigue analysis of new turbine models. My second job was managing large data files obtained from instrumented turbines. These were hi-resolution strain gauge readings obtained during various turbine events such as emergency stops. These data were used to validate the outputs of my first job. Creating software that reliably predicted outcomes was challenging and time consuming. Collecting, managing and using large datasets was painful – we always seemed to be one step ahead of whatever processor, storage or communication devices were available at the time. But our efforts back then inevitably allowed progress to happen. Technology caught up and we moved on to the next challenge. My lifelong obsession with data and systems had begun.
Today, the challenges around data are surprisingly familiar. We are better than ever before at designing software systems that do a wonderful job for us. Turbines gather more data on themselves than ever before. Controllers are smarter, condition monitoring is standard technology, there are any number of “portfolio” solutions that aim to make your life as a multi-farm, or indeed multi-technology, asset owner easier and smarter. We have given this process a name now – we call it digitalisation – but the challenge is as it has always been: Out of the many challenges and opportunities you have on your turbine, site, portfolio or company, which one offers the best strategic and/or financial gain?
At BVGA, we believe that answering that question is the crucial step. There are solutions for everything, but you are unlikely to pick the right one if you have not taken the time to fully formulate the problem in the first place. Our challenges were relatively simple 25 years ago. Today they are many and varied and it is easy to get lost in the fog of missed opportunity – should you invest in big data solutions, or predictive failure tools, or better forecasting, or integrate your parts and work order systems, and so on. The fog may be thick, but the right path can be found by taking a step back to look at the bigger picture, and applying some standard tools and business strategy analysis.
Those automated Fortran code snippets, with their extensive validation from real data, were ultimately wrapped up and released to the industry as a turbine design and analysis tool set. That tackled a specific problem of the time – speeding up the design process of new turbine ideas and blade models. Your big problem today is tomorrow’s big opportunity – how well have you defined it?