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February 07, 2018
How data and digital are game changers for onshore wind O&M
By: Cristian Corbetti

The renewable generation industry continues to show signs of strong growth. Global investment in renewables hit $333.5 billion in 2017 with wind accounting for the greatest share. And wind is expected to remain the single largest technology - particularly in Europe. Generation capacity has more than doubled over the past decade, and the IEA predicts that global renewables capacity will increase by 2040, nearly tripling to more than 6,000 GW, with wind accounting for 31 percent of that increase.

Renewables generation is clearly an industry with a strong growth story and is attracting investment. But it also faces increasing complexity. To achieve its full potential, the industry needs to find ways to improve across three key dimensions: production maximization, resources optimization and tighter integration between energy management and O&M for faster, more timely decision making.

And the solution lies in moving toward a digital approach that will bring together new tools, data and analytics with advanced monitoring and collaboration technologies to achieve across the board improvements in all three key dimensions. By developing and operating a “digital hub” that integrates these components, Accenture’s estimates suggest that operators could, depending on digital maturity, achieve gains of between €4 million and €13 million per GW per year.

So, what would those improvements look like in practice? By creating an open environment in which many different players can access data and insights and collaborate, a digital hub can support new operating models and integrated ways of working. And that potential is truly transformational.

For example, operators currently have to contend with an array of SCADA systems from different OEMs. This creates cost and complexity that will increase as extra assets are installed. Being able to monitor all those assets—regardless of manufacturer—as a portfolio via a digital hub would enable significant cost and performance advantages. Similarly, being able to monitor and integrate data from across an entire portfolio would shift maintenance from its largely reactive posture to a far more predictive approach, integrated with workforce planning and management systems. Unmanned and remote installations could take advantage of sensor data via the Internet of Things (IoT) and even harness drones to inspect and monitor assets to identify maintenance issues proactively.

More accurate, timely production forecasting is made possible by the ability to pull and analyze data from multiple sources, ranging from plant performance to demand, and from weather to economic information. More accurate forecasts open the possibility of better decision making, new commercial propositions and increased revenue.

However, taking advantage of the myriad advantages promised by developing and implementing a digital hub requires two key changes. The first is to become a data-centric organization. While that sounds simple, it in fact represents a significant shift in behavior, operational culture, ways of working and digital processes. The second development required is a multi-speed IT architecture that encompasses the latest digital technologies—from IoT to big data—in order to unlock value from core operational technology and quickly build new apps and services for internal and external stakeholders.

Some industry players are already moving up the digital maturity curve and seeing clear rewards from doing so. Others have yet to set out on their digital journey, but they need to start soon. As the demand for renewables continues to grow and complexities increase, taking advantage of new technologies and new operating models with a digital hub become essential to secure sustainable growth. The wind of change is blowing. Its direction and speed is digital.

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