May 05, 2020

4 Trusted Ways To Make Wind Asset Management Efficient

by Aaron Peters

Wind asset management is breaking ground globally. With plummeting costs and turbine design innovations, wind energy has become a front-line contender for the world’s power needs.

There’s definitely a ‘wow’ factor to wind. Today, Denmark has excelled in wind farm setups, producing 50% of its power from turbines. With Canada labeling it as the ‘most cost-competitive source of new electricity generation’, one wonders, what’s the next big thing in wind? Surely, it’s come down to how well we’re optimizing our wind asset management.

Efficiency is one of the most discussed topics in the asset management space. And yet, I can’t help feeling that there’s still a grey cloud hovering over it. So many of us are either confused about wind asset management efficiency or consider it too complicated.

Let’s clear up these misconceptions. I want to discuss 4 tangible actions to achieve efficiency in the wind industry.

1. Analyze Wind Turbine Set Up

The starting point of every discussion on optimization is the physical asset itself. Here, it’s the wind turbine. Every assumption and measure will hold true when the turbine has been constructed and positioned for maximum exposure to wind.

While it may sound obvious, new wind asset developers often fall in the trap of saving money on wind measurement technology. They assume that the turbine will perform the one task it’s made for, i.e. turn its blades as wind blows. Well, it definitely will – but is this rotation translating into maximum power? Or is there plenty of untapped potential for more?

Another element, commonly known as wake effects, has a significant bearing on the amount of energy generated by a turbine. Simply put, wake effects is the impact on a wind farm’s energy production because of changes in wind speed. This latter change is caused by the presence of turbines at neighboring farms.

According to a study published in Nature Energy, wind farms built in the downwind direction incur a 5% loss in electricity generation at the hands of close-by upwind turbines. Given that almost 90% of US wind farms are located within a 25-mile radius, this loss adds up to millions of dollars.

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How can these losses be minimized? With better resource planning and optimal wind asset management. It’s safe to say that there will always be some limitations inherent in wind direction measurement. Nonetheless, leveraging latest technological advancements can really move the needle on efficiency in the long run.

For instance, lidar is a light detection technology that measures the speed and direction of wind. Using it to identify windy locations is a great way to zero in on the best spots for turbines.

2. Recognize Cost Reduction Potentials

A second important consideration is cost management. It can have a considerable influence on the long-term profitability of onshore and offshore wind asset management.

A cost prediction by the International Renewable Energy Agency has really stuck with me. Their research asserts that if managed efficiently, between 2011 and 2040, lower costs can make wind turbines approximately 28% cheaper. Now that’s a promising figure, which I hope piques your interest.

Savvy asset managers dedicate significant focus to all aspects of their wind farms.  They look at expense categories like component costs, grid connection costs, construction costs, and “soft” costs. The aim being, making the most cost effective decisions.

Let’s start with manufacturing costs and look at a couple of key turbine components.  The obvious trend in turbine components is ‘bigger is better’. Well, because a taller tower or larger blades produce more power, right?

However, I’d argue that’s not always true. Why? Because bigger is often much more expensive.  An experienced asset manager will select the right tower and blades – trading off cost with generation.

He then takes into account factors like technological advancement, material costs, design features, software capabilities, etc. I’ll explain this further with some examples, but remember, this entire process is about optimization. 

So, let’s say a developer wants to invest in a farm. He chooses a very remote location so that gusty winds can be harvested for maximum power. However, if long, dedicated tap lines are needed to make this farm functional, connection costs will likely kill the efficiency of the project. 

Similarly, a constructor might be attracted to a high-performing wind turbine. However, if it requires a foundation that incurs massive construction costs – maybe it’s just not worth it?

With these examples, what I really want to home in is that smart asset managers should scour their project for potential cost savings. They recognize full well that costs can impede efficiency as much as poor revenue or bad project siting can.

3. Optimize with Smart Wind Asset Management Software

The third key to efficiency for any renewable energy asset is a comprehensive view of the entire project. Inefficient platforms, or worse – excel sheets (don’t even get me started on those), don’t fulfill this criteria.

Such systems don’t integrate functions and processes, hence, limiting a wind farm asset manager’s ability to pinpoint areas for improvement. Truly optimizing a project means using software that streamlines wind asset management services.

You can monitor trends, assess performance, automate billing and generate reports – all in one platform. Moreover, it also helps streamline communication with landowners, which is crucial to avoid misunderstandings over land lease payments.

Smart software will up the availability of your turbines and extend their lives. It will also play an important role in preventing equipment failure- regardless of the size of your wind asset portfolio.

These are just a few gains that result in optimized performance and the prospect to scale your wind farm in the long run.

4. Leverage Performance & Maintenance Data

Finally, at the end of the day, it’s all about data and how you use it. It’s a powerful tool that many take for granted.

The International Renewable Energy Agency notes that between 1997 and 2018, wind expanded from 7.5 GW to 564 GW globally. That’s a whopping 75x growth. If we’re continuing this path, imagine the volume of data pouring into wind asset management software everyday.

An asset manager should consolidate performance and maintenance data to further improve and optimize wind farms. Such information can take the form of weather adjusted KPIs, truck rolls and maintenance schedules or turbine idling time. When fed into an intelligent wind management software platform, this raw data highlights insightful, portfolio-wide trends.

My biggest learning in renewable asset management is that every morsel of information presents an opportunity. In other words, it’s a chance to invest in better, more robust research. Research that will improve decision making on locations, construction materials, land leases, and all those areas of wind asset management that have potential for improvement.

How Efficient Is Your Wind Asset Management?

Fully unlocking wind potential with efficient asset management is monumental for the success of the global energy transformation. Not only is wind energy cost effective, it is one of the most environmentally sustainable sources of power. Thus, feeding into the global climate change movement.

However, there should be more to the mix than simply lower prices. Spending time and resources to analyze the inefficiencies in your wind asset management processes is a worthwhile investment. As an industry, it will help close the gap between electricity demand and asset management digitalization.

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