Written by David Letterman, head of business development, North America for Nokia Digital Automation.
There is great interest in the launch of 5G networks across many industries, including wind power. One of the reasons for the focus on 5G technology is that it will be used to connect thousands of industrial IoT (IIoT) sensors and devices. These sensors have special communication characteristics that 5G has been specifically designed to handle. What many don’t know, however, is that many “5G” applications can actually be handled by today’s 4G/ LTE networks. This opens up some intriguing applications of IIoT sensors and analytics in the wind power industry not only in the future, but already, today.
Wind turbines can fail very expensively. It isn’t unusual for the total repair bill for a single failed gearbox to be in excess of $200,000. Half of that price is the crane roll alone, then there is the labor to remove blades, lower, fix and re-raise the rotor. Finally, there is the lost energy, which may account for a quarter of the bill in lost revenue.
There is a lot of incentive, in other words, to better understand the causes and timing of turbine issues, such as planetary bearing failures, and reduce the likelihood of failure before they occur. For instance, to what extent are they being exposed to overloading or underloading, yaw, wind gusts, braking and grid faults? What designs perform better under what conditions? Can you predict failures and attend to them before they occur?
The industry is building models for trying to understand the complex interactions that come to bear on turbines, but what is really needed is lots of data. This is where IIoT sensors step in. Sensors exist across a wide spectrum of operating conditions such as temperature, vibration, humidity and current. Once this operational data is collected, it can be fed into analytic engines that use machine learning to develop more and more accurate models of turbine performance and failure.
These analytics can also create and adjust your asset maintenance programs in real time by integrating into your existing IT infrastructure. They take inputs about your crew, turbine operations, failure time predictions, energy demand and generation forecasts, parts availability, maintenance records and requirements, weather, traffic, and more to find the optimal schedule for each asset, worker, and wind farm.
How then to collect all of this information from the various sensors? Most wind farms typically have optical fiber networks that are used by the control networks such as SCADA systems. But putting optical interfaces into sensors would make them far too expensive both to manufacture and, also, to install. 5G-ready private wireless networks, based on current 4G/LTE technology, provide a far less expensive approach.
A private, unmetered wireless network can provide umbrella coverage within 3.5 miles of each wireless radio or access point. That means pervasive coverage, even in remote areas, is not costly. The asset and environmental data are relayed by IoT gateways, which do preliminary data processing before passing it onto the edge cloud where deeper analytics are performed and machine learning occurs. Processing the data at the edge of the network, close to the wind farm, solves connectivity costs for reaching distant data centers, keeps data secure on the wind farm operator’s network and makes it possible to enable low latency, time-sensitive applications such as automated early shutdown of turbines to avoid cascading damage.
Moving from calendar-based to a predictive maintenance approach based on the real-time condition of the asset is a big step forward for most wind farm operators. It will especially help them to lower the levelized cost of energy (LCoE), which will be key to meeting ambitious targets for growing wind power in the future.
Nokia has collaborated with companies to demonstrate an end-to-end solution for collecting, relaying and processing sensor data for wind farms. Based today on 4G/LTE, and on 5G as it becomes available in the future, the Nokia solution delivers an unmetered, “all-you-can-eat,” highly reliable private wireless broadband network. The solution includes applications for improved operational efficiencies, worker safety, drone inspection, site security and personnel communications, including push-to-talk and push-to-video using 4G/LTE devices. The Nokia Digital Automatic Cloud (NDAC) provides a flexible, hybrid business model for network services and edge computing for everything from small remote sites to large, international projects and networks. The plug and play network can be easily expanded. Operations do not require special telecommunications skills. Get more information about the Nokia Wind Farm solution and how it can help you to leverage IIoT, 4G/LTE and 5G technologies for your operations.