Wind power operators are creating new ways of working to manage their portfolios more efficiently. But as wind scales up, digitalisation must be delivered strategically, otherwise, a fragmented and ineffective approach to digital tools could hold the industry back, says Evgenia Golysheva at ONYX Insight, a provider of predictive data analytics and engineering consultancy
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of FORESIGHT Climate & Energy
Digitalisation of wind assets can help increase the transparency between stakeholders
The wind power sector is more complex than ever. The trend towards consolidation means project owners and operators increasingly oversee large, global multi-brand wind, solar and storage portfolios, rendering many operations and maintenance (O&M) strategies obsolete.
This trend is set to gather pace in the coming years, as momentum for the energy transition drives investor interest in green energy. Financiers understand that wind is a good long-term bet but operators will need to justify this trust.
Amid this changing landscape, digitalisation has continued to take hold.
There are three main stumbling blocks for the growing wind sector as it looks to achieve full digital integration: siloed data, complex portfolios and a need for truly holistic digital tools.
Digitalisation naturally produces large quantities of data. This can take the form of technical data on asset health or operational data on how teams are functioning. Data is siloed when it is held separately within an organisation and used for different purposes.
A data silo, at best, means missing out on additional profit as key opportunities to improve processes and operations are not uncovered. At worst, it means an inefficient organisation where critical information is not shared with the right people, leading to suboptimal decisions on an operational and strategic level.
The key to a non-siloed approach is considering a wind farm as a single, cohesive power plant, rather than seeking to optimise the output of individual turbines. To enable this, asset management platforms must provide the right analysis to the right user type within an organisation, drawing from multiple data sources.
Ultimately, it means delivering instant access to key information to entire teams, from field services to CEOs, to create clear lines of communication throughout an organisation.
In 2030, total installed renewables capacity will be 902 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity, 1114 GW of wind power and 87 GW of storage—up from 339 GW of solar, 449 GW of wind and 5 GW storage in 2020. The new reality faced by the leading owners and operators in the future will be diverse, with assets of different brands and different technologies and different ages.
Tomorrow’s digital tools will need to be very different from today’s. Using single tools to manage one aspect of operation will lead to ineffective decision-making across global portfolios. The next generation of digital platforms must integrate seamlessly with legacy hardware, large personnel counts and existing IT systems.
Crucially, with over 60% of operators set to manage mixed portfolios of wind and solar assets by 2025, software platforms will need to accommodate hybrid portfolios and hybrid assets, without compromising on asset-specific functionality. This means deep sector knowledge for each asset type, building in engineering and operational expertise.
HOLISTIC DIGITAL TOOLS
Many wind markets, including the UK, have thrived without significant government support for years. As key markets such as China look to follow the shift to a merchant environment, more projects will be exposed directly to pricing mechanisms.
The operators who succeed will be those who remain responsive to energy price changes and prioritise profitability over maximising energy production. Flexibility is key. Turbines can be uprated or derated as necessary to boost the value of the energy sold, measuring success by different metrics that reflect revenue per unit of spend.
At present, digital tools tend to have a granular focus, tracking operational data without linking to profit-driving key performance indicators. In contrast, the software platforms needed to drive wind’s growth in the future will support asset managers and field teams to make decisions based on portfolio-wide profitability, using data on asset performance, sales and pricing.
Digitalisation is one of the most powerful trends shaping the wind sector. If it is approached smartly, it could change the way owners and operators view and manage their assets. Approached without a strategic vision, it will mean a proliferation of increasingly obsolete “magic bullet” solutions that fail to connect the dots and keep pace with a complex and changing wind sector.
Businesses need to change their mentality when it comes to digitalisation, driving change from within organisations by creating internal champions, capable of connecting available technologies to the commercial benefits with a strategic vision.
The advanced, integrated digital platforms that the industry needs to scale efficiently and minimise growing pains will be created.•
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