Digitalization is most effective when it’s material science based

Sentient_colorThe theme of Wind Energy Hamburg is “digitalization” – the act of moving your business to a digitalized model. Other industries, like aerospace and defense, have found success in reducing their operations costs by digitalizing their fleets to make smarter business decisions, such as more integrated supply chain automation.  

The concept of being able to build your wind farm from the ground up virtually, instead of trial and error in the field enables wind developers and operators to computationally test their assets under representative operating and loading conditions, and then make business decisions based on the data.

Many have invested in big data to look for trends and historical data to make strategic business decisions, but big data is both costly and not absolute in its findings. Data scientists spend hours analyzing spreadsheets to identify potential failures and estimate the energy produced at the wind farm based on history. While useful, the data often gives off false positives and negatives, meaning unnecessary borescope trips or missed early failures resulting in more-costly secondary repairs.

Small data from material science, however, delivers more accurate insight into failure rates as it evaluates the materials used and how each individual component interacts within the complex drivetrain system. Failure rates based on these configurations are identified over 30 years, providing more accurate details into the projected life of each asset in the fleet. By digitalizing the fleet, the operator is able to know not only when and where damage is occurring and take actions to prolong major repair events, but the site managers can take actions to maintain assets that have no damage and, potentially, prevent damage from ever occurring. 

Operators using this material science-based approach are able to build multi-year forecasts and budgets based on the life predictions at the component, gearbox, drive train and asset level. Right from the development phase, the developer can simulate different wind turbine OEM offerings and choose which would fit best with their Power Purchase Agreement and produce the optimal capacity for the site. Operators with established assets can purchase replacement components and services based on life prediction, and not just price or because the wind turbine OEM dictated which supplier to source from.

By knowing more accurately when up-tower and down-tower component replacements are needed, the operator can reduce their inventory carrying costs and establish better relationships with their bearing and gear suppliers. The supply chain automation that comes from forecasting which parts will be needed, where and when, also eliminates the need to have 100 extra gearboxes in storage for emergency purposes. The operator can plan for maintenance and take actions to schedule downtime when it’s most cost effective for them – during low wind times and during optimal weather conditions. 

Digitalization using material science can also be crucial to insurance and warranty negotiations by having the data needed to identify who pays. Bearings, for instance, have a long crack initiation period, but propagate to failure quickly. CBM systems and SCADA notify the site manager to a fault after damage is already visible, making it too late to prevent failure. The way the asset has been maintained becomes a point of contention. However, with material science, the simulator can identify when the crack initiated in the subsurface and provide the data needed as to when initiation began. It proves what caused the wear, whether it was the materials used, a serial defect, or maybe it was because of operator error. The data tells the story and identifies who is responsible for the cost of the repair.

Digitalization will revolutionize the wind industry. It will make renewable energy sustainable without government incentives and tax breaks, and it will reduce the cost of energy by as much as $10/MWh or more.

For more information on Sentient Science, visit us at Booth 431 in Hall B at the Wind Energy Hamburg show.

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