This article comes from Molex Polymicro Technologies and was written by Teo Tichindelean.
Wind power has become a widely used source of renewable energy and one of the fastest growing energy sectors in the U.S. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the U.S. wind industry now totals 51,630 MW of cumulative wind capacity with more than 40,000 turbines in operation (September 2012). The U.S. wind industry has added over 35% of all new generating capacity in the past five years, which exceeds the combined total for growth in nuclear and coal power generation, and makes growth in wind energy production second only to natural-gas production.
Today, wind power capacity in the U.S. today represents more than 20% of the world’s installed wind power. The burgeoning wind industry represents an important growth market for American manufacturing. Over 470 manufacturing facilities are now producing components for wind turbines. Similar to aerospace and military grade products, mechanical components for wind-power generation and monitoring systems must work properly and withstand harsh environmental conditions.
Challenges of connectivity
All sectors of the highly-competitive energy industry work within tight economic margins, where mitigating downtime and unplanned maintenance can translate directly into productivity and profitability. Wind farm owners and operators recognize the economic impact and benefits of specifying the right equipment and a robust network platform. Operating almost 24/7 year-round, many wind farms are located in remote or offshore locales, subject to powerful wind and often strong rain, snow, salt water spray, even lightening, all of which present unique engineering design challenges.
Wind turbine mechanical loads and equipment demands are ratcheted up in offshore installations, where extreme weather conditions, such as icing, lightening, and powerful winds usually exceed those of inland wind farms. In addition to natural electrical surges from lightening, motors, power cables, and other electrical components in wind turbines produce high levels of electromagnetic interference (EMI). Whether the turbine is mounted offshore or on an inland, there are few inexpensive fixes when it comes to equipment failure, so equipment accessibility and reliability are tantamount.
Modern wind turbines use multiple systems to monitor and control the position of their blades to best accommodate wind conditions such as speed and direction. Other sensors monitor the status and strength of the turbine parts. Sensors used for these and other purposes in wind power operations are especially prone to interference by electrical noise which can result in faulty sensor readings.
End-to-end fiber optic reliability
Developed and proven in high-speed and high-bandwidth data transmission and telecommunications applications, fiber optics overcomes the common issues to fulfill the need for speed in real-time monitoring, while providing a more stable conductor and better data security than copper components. Optical fibers are used in wind power system for control and communication in environmental monitoring systems used for turbine control and wind-farm networking.
High tensile strength optical fiber has become a preferred choice for wind turbines and farms mainly due to fiber’s high voltage and current-isolation resistance. Easy to install and maintain, robust fiber optics deliver far superior performance over traditional copper technologies.
Like all other transmissions, light loses power as it travels through optical fiber, and the longer the distance, the greater the loss. Silica-based optical fiber maximizes transmission by lowering this attenuation rate. Durable optical fibers are ideal for shorter range, wind-turbine-generator control and power conversion, in addition to lengthy data transmission runs commonly found on wind farms.
Delivering dimensional control and tight tolerances, durable fiber optics for wind applications can withstand extreme temperatures, chemical, and radiation exposure. Optical fiber provides good cleavability for end-to-end solutions. Unlike copper components, fiber provides near perfect immunity from EMI. Galvanized fiber can be used to protect electrical components from lightening and damage or interference from noise and vibration.
A typical new wind tower is 100-m tall and more. On wind farms, the data collected from multiple turbine monitoring systems can be transmitted over long distances through multimode optical fibers, such as PolyClad 200/230 silica core/hard polymer clad fibers. Delivering high tensile strength and a minimal bend radius for exceptional reliability, PolyClad optical fiber features an easy-to-strip jacket and is ‘crimp and cleave’ compatible to ensure easy installation and field re-termination. The fibers are encased in robust and lightweight cables that offer exceptional resistance and protection against harsh ambient weather conditions and operational environments.
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A step index, low–OH, synthetic fused silica core/hard polymer clad, ETFE jacket fiber, PolyClad 200/230 fiber is optimized for 650 nm and 850 nm transmission.
Molex Polymicro Technologies