There have been significant improvements of late to equipment used to produce energy from wind. Towers are taller. Rotor diameters and blades are longer. Gearboxes, generators and bearings are more reliable. Onboard sensors are more effective at measuring and recording data. Power output sizes and ratings have increased.
These and other equipment improvements have increased the energy capture of turbines and made their operation more efficient. That, in turn, provides incentive for developing more wind farms. It makes financing these large projects more attractive.
Equipment improvements, however, do not paint the entire picture of how the wind industry continues to successfully compete in the highly competitive energy market. Technological advancements are impacting the industry as well. They, too, are making the development and operation of wind farms more efficient and profitable.
Wind companies can establish a centralized Web database of organizational and project information. Software featuring the Web platform’s dashboard-focused interface gives users quick and easy access to the centralized repository of information. Platform users can retrieve, edit, approve and complete assignments from any Web-enabled computer or mobile device. With standardized processes and workflow controls, companies have reported an average increase of 35 percent in efficiencies and a significant reduction in errors and duplication.
A good first step toward establishing this database is a data migration. Information is one of an organization’s most valuable assets. Yet, too many organizations maintain information in outdated formats that are time-consuming to retrieve and inefficient to update and utilize. Even spreadsheets, a commonly used tool, are inefficient due to amount of time needed to update them.
Data migration involves the transfer of information from a source database, correcting errors, reformatting and loading the files into a central repository of information. Many organizations that conduct a data migration take the next step of upgrading their software to utilize the benefits of the central repository. A data migration eliminates the need to store information in outdated formats. Record-keeping is centralized in a consistent format, increasing efficiencies in developing and operating wind farms.
Wind patterns, topography, existing infrastructure, government regulations, population density, land use, proximity to utility lines and site preparation costs are just some of the myriad of issues that factor into determining a suitable location for a wind farm. When the wind energy company adds GIS capability to its centralized database, it gains effective technological tools to navigate through these issues.
Some companies still rely on paper, pencil and calculator or a semi-manual computer-assisted design to site wind farms and turbines. Either process is trial-and-error, time-consuming and inefficient. Neither is likely to produce the best siting options.
Determining the best locations for one or more meteorological (met) tower and, eventually, individual wind turbines is essential to maximizing return on investment. Again, technological advancements provide a solution to streamline the siting process and arrive at the best possible siting decisions.
Multi-objective adaptive heuristic algorithms can take the guesswork out of wind farm siting. Algorithms are computer instructions that automatically search project criteria and siting issues in an efficient manner to provide wind farm planners with a set of near optimal solutions. With GIS data, applied to information from government agencies and other third-party providers, the best possible location for one or more met tower can be determined. Once the wind farm location is decided, algorithms can search the solution space quickly for the near optimal locations for each wind turbine.
Field mobility is critical to a successful wind farm project throughout development, construction, ongoing maintenance and operation. With the establishment of a centralized Web database, field agents can retrieve and upload information through their mobile devices. Some systems even provide detached or offline capability when Internet service is unreliable. The field agent continues to access the database, and syncs the new and updated information once connectivity is restored.
The centralized database, standardized processes and mobile technology improve and streamline maintenance and inspections of met towers and wind turbines. Project administrators, managing the workflows of company crews, can schedule inspections and automatic notifications can be issued to work crews by mobile devices. Each crew conducts the inspection, retrieves data on the turbine on mobile devices, uploads results of the inspection and performs any necessary work to properly maintain the turbine. The crew can update the database with the record of the inspection, reporting what work was performed and who did it. It ensures no duplication of effort.
Wind companies also must manage landowner property information. This task is essential from the outset of the project with the need to obtain right of way, lease and royalty agreements. But the responsibility does not end when the turbines are constructed. The company also must ensure that royalty payments are issued to landowners accurately and on schedule.
As the accompanying diagram shows, there are many variables associated with meeting financial obligations to landowners for a wind farm. Lease and royalty payments go out to multiple property owners on an irregular schedule. Landowners can be individuals, married couples, corporations or trusts. Landowners change address. Married couples might divorce. Corporations may be bought out or close. Payment amounts may be divided into percentages for multiple owners of one property. Some payments are adjusted by simple interest, others compounded annually.
The centralized database and Web platform interface can automate all the royalty calculations and schedules of payments necessary for the wind farm. What previously took days for wind company personnel to complete can now be done in minutes.
The benefits of a centralized database and platform for managing data extend beyond the scope of one software product. Most companies utilize several technology products to conduct business operations. Providers of centralized software products are building in the capability to connect and utilize information from other systems. That further extends the reach of a single platform to control business operations.
Each organization has its own set of processes that create inefficiencies and hurt the profitability of wind energy projects. In a world of intense competition from a variety of energy industries, wind energy companies must operate as efficiently as possible. Advancements in equipment accomplish that. So do advances in database and operating systems.
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