By David Christophe, Director of Utility Solutions Marketing, Nokia
As wind power projects continue to increase their turbine size and move further offshore, the importance of industrial-grade private wireless connectivity only increases. A constant, reliable network enables workers to operate safely and in new ways during construction and operation as they remotely monitor, inspect and optimize wind turbine performance in real time. Additionally, this connectivity allows for the movement of large amounts of data for digital workflows, implementation of IoT based predictive maintenance and improved voice and video communications. Ultimately, pervasive and seamless broadband connectivity go a long way to improving the overall functionality and productivity of the entire wind farm.
What is private wireless, and how can it help?
Long Term Evolution (LTE) is a 4G technology that has long been used for public mobile networks. The growing availability of wireless spectrum for private networks such as LTE (4.9G) and 5G is revolutionizing communications. An industrial-grade version, which is a self-contained, secure, independent and resilient solution, enables wind farm operators to take advantage of this spectrum, in support of two universal use cases.
The first is to provide critical voice communications for workers alongside broadband data and video capabilities, which have traditionally presented challenges at offshore sites. A private wireless network allows workers to stay connected with co-workers, support vessels, helicopters and suppliers. Maintaining clear voice communications between all these different disciplines and organizations is essential for both safety, enhancing productivity to reduce the time to deploy and maintenance costs.
In addition, broadband provides connectivity to support personal protection equipment (PPE), digital workflows with an ability to share large-sized work plans and drawings and use of video for on-site remote support. Not only does this offer greater flexibility for data and voice applications, but it can cover the entire wind farm, transit route and operations at port, rather than being limited by geography. Further, it allows a much higher level of control over security and delivers coverage where public networks have a weak or non-existent signal.
The second use case is about ensuring the uptime and longevity of capital-intensive assets through incremental remote monitoring beyond current SCADA capabilities, and enhancing site physical security. It is essential to monitor wind turbines in order to prevent damage and schedule preventive maintenance. The repair costs associated with a turbine failure are exceptionally high. Estimated costs just to deploy the required crane to an onshore site are in excess of $150,000 (and more for offshore). Compounding this is the lost value of energy that could have been produced during downtime.
As a result, IoT sensor technology for data such as vibration, temperature and humidity, along with cameras for video surveillance, which utilize private wireless networks, play an increasingly important role in enhancing the monitoring of turbines and sites, which would otherwise only be possible through an in-person visual inspection. Critically, the ability to remotely monitor equipment and schedule maintenance saves money and improves overall safety.
Expanding the possibilities
A large number of sensors are required for effective monitoring on wind farms, and each collects data that must be transferred to central computing resources at the wind farm or onshore data center. This requires a pervasive communications network, and though many wind farms have an existing fiber network for SCADA, private wireless is better suited to the task. This is because it possesses the bandwidth and flexibility to not only handle large amounts of data, but it can more rapidly and cost effectively extend connectivity to future sensor additions offering new innovative capabilities.
In particular, private wireless allows for a comprehensive IoT solution that can connect onshore and offshore teams with sensor data from the wind turbines. Each base station provides secure, high bandwidth connectivity, which can reliably interact with turbines, workers and vessels many miles away. This ensures that the entire wind farm area can be covered by one network for all applications with just a few base stations. Plus, it provides a communications platform for exploring various automation, drone monitoring and predictive maintenance use cases in the future.
Enabling data analysis and action
Once data has been collected, operators can apply powerful analytics to yield insights to increase productivity and optimize asset lifecycles. Using machine learning, wind farm analytics can adjust asset maintenance programs in real time. Additionally, these analytics provide failure time predictions by drawing on additional sources that include maintenance records, weather and traffic. From this, an optimized repair schedule can be created and implemented. This has the net effect of saving time and money due to reduced downtime and operational costs.
In addition, video from cameras serving as sensors for machine learning, enable video analytics to enhance situational awareness. This improves the safety and security of workers and offshore structures.
Technological advancements in digitalization and automation are changing the way that the industry operates. Wind farms are moving further offshore and to more remote land-based operations to meet increased demand. It is therefore more critical to have a pervasive network in place which securely supports increased and advanced communications. This ultimately has the resulting effect of improving safety and optimizing asset performance. Ubiquitous, reliable private wireless can help to ensure the safety of workers, improve productivity and support future capabilities as new use cases inevitably arise.
David Christophe is director of utility solutions marketing at Nokia. Dave’s major areas of focus are WAN and broadband communications applications during the past 15 years. He served as the Broadband Forum and MPLS Forum marketing working group vice chair focusing on industry education through tutorials for 10 years.