By Amy Komatsuzaki, VP of remote operations, IHI Power Services Corp.
Wind power generation represents a growing segment of wind power globally and in the United States. From 2000 to 2021, the amount of wind power generated in the United States grew from 5.59 terawatt hours to 379.77 terawatt hours. The renewed emphasis on green energy and the elimination of the dependence on fossil fuels promises to increase the rate of growth even further.
There are currently more than 70,000 wind turbines in the United States spread out across over 1,500 projects. Some of these projects are small in scope and may consist of a handful of turbines. In other cases, the construction of large wind farms are supplying electricity to thousands of consumers. While the type of wind power projects in the United States may differ significantly, they all share some common characteristics.
Each of these projects and turbines needs to be managed effectively to ensure their safety, economic viability and consistent power generation. Wind power installations require preventative maintenance to keep equipment running efficiently. They may also need emergency repairs to address unexpected damage that can affect their ability to produce power.
In many instances, the management and maintenance of a wind power facility can be optimized by working with a remote operations partner.
Typical challenges faced by wind sites
Wind power has become one of the leading alternatives to burning fossil fuels to generate electricity, but several challenges are typically faced by companies producing electricity with wind power.
- Wind power is intermittent – There is no guarantee that a specific wind turbine will have the necessary wind to power it at any given time. The inconsistent and unpredictable nature of the wind makes it necessary for batteries or other forms of energy storage to be implemented to ensure power continues to be delivered even when the turbines are not spinning.
- Wind energy is remote – Turbines and generation sites are often located in remote areas to take advantage of prevailing winds. They may be a significant distance from the locations to which they deliver electricity. This necessitates the construction, management and maintenance of transmission lines to get power from generation sites to the population they support.
- Wind turbines are susceptible to mechanical failure – The harsh demands on essential turbine components like gearboxes make them prone to potential mechanical failures. This affects the ability of the generating company to meet its expected output and can necessitate expensive and time-consuming repairs that need to be performed promptly.
- Turbine components wear out at different rates – Turbulent wind conditions can result in irregular loading input and wear on turbine components. It can be difficult to predict the lifetime of key components to ensure consistent power delivery and avoid unexpected outages.
The benefits of working with a remote operations partner
For a variety of reasons, wind power companies may need outside assistance to operate their production facilities efficiently. A remote operations partner can help augment a wind power generating company’s staff and provide the knowledge, technical expertise and manpower necessary to maintain the project.
Typically, a remote partner works from a remote operations center from which they can monitor and manage multiple wind power facilities. Remote operation centers (ROCs) promote environmental safety and are essential in moving toward a future more dependent on wind power. The remote and distributed nature of wind generating facilities can lead to operational inefficiencies or be logistically impossible to operate with traditional on-site management techniques.
Multiple advantages can be achieved by wind power companies working with a remote operations partner.
- Addressing staffing shortages – An ROC can handle plant operations and free-up onsite staff to concentrate on maintenance to ensure availability and consistent power generation. This is especially important in some areas of the country where there is difficulty recruiting a suitable workforce.
- Minimizing operational risk – The expertise of the technical staff of an ROC can help keep the facility running safely and in compliance with all regulatory standards. It’s important to work with an ROC that has worked in the specific type of power generation that is being managed. Personnel should have knowledge and experience with wind power and battery-based energy storage systems to ensure safety and efficiency.
- Increasing efficiency and productivity – Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems are used extensively throughout the power generation industry to monitor and control plants and equipment. In a distributed implementation of a wind power installation, this can result in multiple SCADA platforms that need to be managed simultaneously. An ROC can consolidate these SCADAs into a centralized human-machine interface (HMI) for more efficient monitoring and increased productivity.
- Providing a mobile technical team – Technical experts can be centrally dispatched from a remote operations center in response to issues that impact remote wind power generating installations and equipment. This is a cost-effective alternative to attempting to maintain full onsite support for distributed and remote facilities.
These benefits lead to a more efficient and cost-effective method of remotely operating wind power projects.
Factors contributing to a successful remote operations center
Businesses in the wind power industry need to ensure they have the appropriate infrastructure and technology base in place to support the requirements of the remote operations center. Some of the most important prerequisites that should be driven by a formal execution plan include:
- Implementing reliable and redundant communication systems that promote the timely exchange of knowledge regarding plant and equipment status;
- Improving Internet and network connectivity;
- Enhancing cybersecurity to ensure safe operation and data security;
- Ensuring access to SCADA data points so they can be consolidated.
How to select the right remote operations partner
Wind power generating companies need to exercise caution when selecting a remote operations partner. With the proper infrastructure and technology in place, the following are some of the key questions that should be considered when selecting the right partner.
What is the provider’s level of experience?
The chosen provider should have proven operational experience in wind power generation. The partner responsible for operating and managing wind power facilities must be dedicated to the plant’s success and familiar with all necessary operational requirements. Companies being considered as the remote operation center provider for a wind power generating facility need to be knowledgeable about North American Electric Reliability Corporation and NERC compliance.
Multiple questions need to be asked regarding the technology used by the remote operation’s center provider, including:
- How are native SCADA systems integrated into the remote operations center?
- What level of automation is used?
- How are alerts handled to reduce false alarms?
- Will remote “eyes on site” capabilities be available for off-hour monitoring?
- What kind of weather reporting capability is provided to assist with operational planning?
What operation and maintenance services are offered?
Operation and maintenance should be flexible and reflect site-specific requirements. Comprehensive O&M services should include:
- Complete services with 24×7 O&M outsourcing, programs to promote worker health and safety and management of major maintenance activities;
- Customized training programs and operations procedures;
- Creating preventative maintenance plans, procedures and schedules;
- Project management to assist in implementing the remote operations center and subsequent activities;
- Instrument calibration and upgrades;
- Staffing to address skills gaps and shortages;
- Financial reporting and administration.
Does the provider offer service levels tiers?
Many remote operations center providers offer tiered service levels to address the needs of specific wind power installations and projects. Some companies may only need a small subset of the provider’s offerings and be reluctant to pay for any additional services. Look for a provider that can tailor its plans to the unique requirements of your wind power company. The provider should offer a scalable remote operations center solution that can handle business growth as wind power continues to gain popularity.
Red flags to look for
The following red flags should be taken seriously when searching for a remote operations partner.
- Inexperience with the wind power sector;
- Inflexible scope of work that does not offer the required services;
- No formalized plans for addressing site-specific requirements;
- An unscalable control room that cannot address plant growth;
- Ineffective alarm filtering that results in excessive warnings and false alerts.
If any of these issues are apparent, the search for a remote operations partner should continue and this particular candidate should be eliminated from consideration.
As wind power continues to expand and more remote installations are incorporated into the grid, the need to work with a qualified remote operations partner will also increase. The ability to effectively operate and manage wind power equipment remotely is critical to its long-term success as an alternative source of electricity so it’s important to find the right partner that addresses your unique needs.
Look for a flexible provider with experience in the wind power field that will work with you to optimize your company’s generating capacity while maintaining compliance and minimizing costs. With the right remote operations partner, there’s no limit to how far your wind power facility can grow.
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