Economic uncertainty and constrained capital have significantly increased scrutiny of potential wind projects. That makes accurate and timely site assessments more important for reducing financial risk. Even after projects are online, operators continue to look for ways to reduce O&M costs, while incorporating new technology to help them monitor farm conditions and alert them to problems before they become critical.
“The financial risk of project under-performance has been magnified,” says Pascal Storck, CEO of 3Tier. He explains that with a growing installed capacity, an accurate forecast of power production becomes increasingly important for efficient integration and reliable grid operation. As Storck puts it, “The stakes are higher than ever.”
Brad Horn with WindLogics is also seeing a continued focus on operational under-performance. “We see this from two perspectives: root cause analysis and the emergence of new solutions to limit risk,” he says. “For example, we’re seeing improved turbine availability and O&M among our customers.”
Both companies believe that better wind science is key to improving production expectations and minimizing risk. Horn says solid science and process frameworks can help control costs by benefiting project screening, turbine purchase support, and wind-farm design. Accurate wind analysis and design engineering let wind developers obtain more favorable financial terms and less risk once the project reaches commercial operation. “Site assessments can help close the gap between pro forma NCFs (net capacity factors) and observed production profiles,” he says. A pro forma NCF is a pre-construction estimate of a wind plant’s net capacity factor compared to its nameplate capacity. The more certain the estimate, the more favorable the financing deal because investors know what they expect for returns on the project. “The result is simple and straightforward: higher confidence leads to higher investments.”
Storck says 3Tier also uses wind science to help manage financial risk. He explains that timeliness is important, reducing costs in the earliest stages of project development. “It enables project developers and financiers to find promising locations and quickly assess their long-term production before investing in more costly on-site observational campaigns and comprehensive resource assessments.” In particular, the company offers a 90-m wind resource dataset, which it says significantly reduces spatial and temporal uncertainty. Such U.S. data allows instant access to information and more sophisticated analysis, allowing turbine layouts in days rather than months. In addition, Second Wind—manufacturer of wind measurement systems—also offers a 60-m tower packaged with a data logger, sensors, hardware, and software to give developers an affordable way to configure measurement systems.
But even after wind farms are up and running, the fight to drive down costs continues. Operators are constantly trying to limit maintenance time to save money. Klaus Hirzel, president of Lufft, says keeping an eye on weather conditions is one way to do so. He says his company uses an ultrasonic pulse in their weather stations to measure wind speed and direction, as well as precipitation, temperature, humidity, and air pressure. These sensors are also heated to prevent ice build-up and have no moving parts, therefore requiring no maintenance. “No maintenance means less labor required on-site,” he says. “Accurate measurements mean greater turbine efficiency, up-time, and more power production.”
With the iPad and smartphone, the world is finding quicker, more efficient ways to communicate—the wind industry along with it. Hirzel says Lufft has increased transmission flexibility with Modbus, SDI-12, UMB, ASCII, and NMEA protocols, as well as analog signal capabilities that let sensors connect with almost any PLC or data logger. As the saying goes, “There’s an app for that!” And the wind industry has plenty of them. For one, Telvent DTN—distributor of WindLogics forecasts—uses WeatherSentry, smartphone, and roaming apps to alert technicians of lighting. Telvent says such warnings can have large financial impacts with improved scheduling and dispatch. It also enables use of more wind power, reduces spinning reserves, and avoids imbalance penalties. Likewise, Second Wind’s sonic wind profiler takes speed and direction measurements up to 200 m, and provides information through a web portal that uploads wind data every 10 min via satellite. Operators can view wind data on the Web without making a trip to the site.
Even with financial constraints, tools are available for developers to choose profitable sites and keep them cost-effective and efficient through their operational life.
Filed Under: Projects