Advances in wind-turbine design and operation over the past few years have improved several bottom lines making wind energy more efficient and affordable than ever. Although much of this can be attributed to what’s visible — the innovative components and hardware that go into these machines — much credit should go to what’s behind the scenes − the engineering software that guided the design.
Software simulations and analytics are helping manufacturers and operators maximize wind developments, and now researchers are benefiting, too.
For example, until recently much focus was on how to improve the performance of individual wind turbines through comparative analytics, and programs that assessed turbines under different loading and weather conditions. But researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) decided to look at the bigger picture and the performance of a wind farm as a whole.
The research was referred to as “The butterfly effect at wind-farm scales,” which refers to the concept that small causes can have large effects or that small occurrences (say in one wind turbine) can impact a larger scale (for an entire wind farm). Upon accumulating and analyzing the data, the NREL team found that “optimizing yaw control and the relative positioning of individual turbines improved the power performance of downstream wind turbines by mitigating the interference that wind turbines in an array have on each other.”
This is important insight for developers who are deciding on the optimal placement of turbines in a farm. The researchers were able to make this conclusion, thanks to the design and development of “Simulator fOr Wind Farm Applications” (or SOWFA), a coupled open-source software platform and framework. SOWFA let users investigate the effects of weather patterns, turbulence, and complex terrain on the performance of turbines and wind farms.
According to NREL, such software also lets engineers and scientists understand the causes of wind-farm underperformance, increase a farm’s power output, and decrease the effects of structural loads to minimize wear on turbine components. Additionally, SOWFA lets turbine manufacturers study designs before they are manufactured and lets developers assess the performance of turbines on a proposed site before construction, reducing the risks of development.
The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Wind Energies Technologies Office has stated that generation costs by wind power have dropped considerably from over 55 cents (current dollars) per kilowatt-hour (kWh) back in the 80s to an average of 2.35 cents in the U.S. The DOE’s wind site contends that: “To ensure future industry growth, the technology must continue to evolve, building on earlier successes to further improve reliability, increase capacity factors, and reduce costs.”
In addition to improvements in manufacturing and O&M, it seems that advances in software are paving the way to further industry growth. Here are a few other examples of how focused engineering software is pushing the wind industry forward.
As the primary simulation tool in the design of about half of the utility-scale wind turbines manufactured worldwide, DNV GL’s Bladed wind-turbine modeling software has recently undergone a transformation to improve its outputs and user experience.
The design of a turbine is fundamental to its function and productivity. Failure to correctly model loads, structural integrity, or even the environment— and perform accurate testing — can jeopardize the long-term safety and reliability of a turbine. Accurate modeling of a wind turbine is essential.
“Wind-turbine modeling in the design phase is incredibly important,” said Patrick Rainey, Bladed Product Manager, DNV GL – Energy. “If a design isn’t accurately tested and a failure mode not detected, then the final operational design could encounter serious problems and cost a manufacturer in terms of reputation, lost revenue, and the time to find a solution.”
Thanks to Bladed’s new 3D animation graphical environment, designers can now view simulated turbine behavior from any angle by “panning” around a three-dimensional model. The new Multipart Blade non-linear structural model reduces uncertainty in blade vibration predictions, and the Result Animation gives users insight into turbine performance via a simulated scenario.
“This new functionality is an important expansion of Bladed’s capability and helps manufacturers remove risk and uncertainty, and then speed up design modeling and cut costs,” added Rainey. An on-demand computing platform also means that turbine designers can click one button in Bladed and their calculations are sent to the Cloud for processing. This saves significant IT upgrade costs and cuts turbine design times.
The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and its Business Renewables Center (BRC) have launched a new software platform that helps buyers and developers of renewable projects better understand which locations are more likely to be economically attractive across deregulated electricity markets in the U.S.
The platform was built using publicly available data from market operators, a levelized cost of energy calculation, and a proprietary algorithm to model hypothetical project revenue. BRC’s market analysis platform produces an estimated “value” calculation for about 4,300 nodes, or grid-connection points — across all seven U.S. independent system operators covering 39 states.
“In 65% of the U.S., it’s possible to source wind and solar directly but, much like real estate, these renewable energy deals hinge on location, location, location,” said Hervé Touati, Managing Director at RMI. “At the Business Renewables Center, we are working to educate business leaders with insights on economic value that help buyers and developers build better projects in ideal locations.”
This software tool, currently available to members of the BRC, aims to help buyers and developers of renewable projects build a more complete picture of wholesale electricity market economics, based on real price histories for individual grid-connection locations.
“Though our software platform, BRC is working to streamline corporate procurement by bringing a new level of transparency to the industry,” said Touati.
Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are developing software to track birds and bats near offshore wind projects. The platform, called ThermalTracker, automatically notes and categorizes birds and bats found in thermal-imaging video.
“Birds and bats fly over offshore waters, but they’re difficult to track in such remote locations,” said PNNL engineer Shari Matzner, who leads the project.
The software can help determine if there are many birds or bats near a proposed offshore project, and if they could be affected by development. If that’s the case, developers can consider adjusting the location of a the project or even modifying an existing project’s operations.
“ThermalTracker can help developers and regulators make informed decisions about siting and operating offshore wind projects,” said Matzner. “We need scientific tools like this to better understand how offshore wind turbines can coexist with birds and bats.”
Imagine that during a routine wind-turbine inspection, a wind tech hears an odd noise coming from the gearbox. He is unsure of the cause and could use a second opinion to diagnose the problem. If the technician is equipped with live video-collaboration software that connects his footage and audio to a remote expert, he or she may save time, costs, and an additional trip or two up-tower.
By using a collaboration platform, such as Librestream’s Onsight, the tech simply launches the Onsight app on his smartphone, connects using cellular or wireless networks, and video calls his expert at headquarters. Unlike video chat or conference calling, Onsight was built to meet rigorous security requirements and operate in low bandwidth environments.
“Through use of an easy-to-access app, the wind technician and equipment expert can work together on finding and fixing that gearbox problem,” explained Charlie Neagoy, VP Business Development with Librestream Technologies Inc. “The two can pass notes virtually (via text), and telestrate or draw on the video screen.” A telestrator is a device that lets its operator draw a freehand sketch over a moving or still video image.
Neagoy said the software can also integrate within existing workflow processes and build a saved knowledge base that leverages expertise as part of the Internet of things. “So when a similar problem occurs in the future, the answer is available and only a click away.”