At this time of year it is always tempting to look back at what has been in the current year and look forward to what will be in the next. As we are also at the turn of the decade, I thought it would be worthwhile extending the process to the full 10 years. And rather than bore you with my own personal hopes and dreams, I thought I’d drop some thoughts about my other favourite subject – asset management of wind farms and the technology that enables it.
The key theme running throughout the last decade has been data. Recording of data, storage of data, access to data, ownership of data, analysis of data.
The big success has been the proliferation of sophisticated data management systems. These used to be referred to as “2nd level” or “Portfolio” supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems and for a while were an uneasy balance between traditional SCADA functionality and advanced data analytics. These two basic functions are now seen as quite separate by most in the industry, and this separation has enabled the best of both worlds to be achieved. The SCADA side has been allowed to develop excellent portfolio -scale user interfaces and advanced farm-level control algorithms, while the data side has been opened up to experts from outside the wind industry, leveraging the best analytical solutions from elsewhere – such as oil and gas and automotive, but also (and perhaps most exciting of all) the software engineering and data science industries.
Data storage has not been a technical barrier for the last 20 years or more, but what we have seen in the last 10 years is a level of sophistication and integration (you could say “democratisation”) that was perhaps missing before. There is still a whiff of it being a specialist IT area – and for the more demanding scenarios this is still the case – but easy and accessible (and flexible!) storage solutions are becoming more mainstream. Partly due to the technology (especially cloud-based solutions) and partly due to a more educated user-base.
Access and ownership continue to face challenges. In this last decade we have seen asset owners face contractual barriers to making full use of their own data. Push further and there are bigger barriers on data from condition monitoring system (CMS). Push further still and there is the question of having access to the turbine controller interface itself. I have seen turbine supply contracts specify delivery with no SCADA system, allowing the owner to determine the primary SCADA system of their choice. But the cost saving was marginal and there were then arguments about provision of the controller protocols.
Then of course there is the controller itself. On older turbines (say 15 years plus) it is not uncommon now to talk about controller retrofits. We have just been involved in another project where approval for his has just been granted. Such turbine models are old enough that the manufacturer doesn’t care too much about you do with them, but there is still a very significant challenge to writing your own controller code. What 3rd party controller options exist often originate from teams who had intimate knowledge of the original controllers. And then there is effort to re-certify. Having the original design documents and calculations would help enormously but they are seldom available. But what of NEW turbines? I know of discussions to deliver turbines not just without a SCADA system but also without the original controller software. At the time of writing these were yet to be concluded.
How the outcome of these discussion points impacts the next ten years of asset management technology will be covered in my next blog.