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Nokia on Digital Best Practices in Wind Power

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Private wireless and the connected wind farm – and a critical best practice on the road to 5G.

By David Letterman

The renewable energy sector is watching the arrival of 5G with great interest. In the meantime, the industry is looking at 4.9G/LTE private wireless as a stepping stone, and the role it is playing in the next iteration of renewable energy management is positioning the technology as a necessary best practice in energy’s digital transformation. Wind farms, for example, have a wide range of use cases for connecting their widely dispersed assets.

Designed to support vehicular and personal mobility applications as well as internet of things (IoT) devices and sensors, private wireless also supports the time-sensitive networking required for automated systems. As a result, it overcomes the performance and security limitations of legacy IT wireless systems, such as Wi-Fi, and meets the rigorous requirements of legacy control network technologies such as SCADA.

In this way, it is saving the significant operational costs of supporting the old siloed networks by replacing them with a single multi-purpose private wireless network – one wireless converged network for highly secure use cases, deep coverage maps and high-capacity mobility.

Once deployed , a private wireless network is available as the standardized connectivity for a variety of industry challenges and the use of emerging technologies, including:
• Predictive maintenance;
• Inspection by drones;
• Remote expert technical support using augmented reality;
• Improved worker safety and efficiency using connected personal protection equipment (PPE);
• Video analytics for spotting anomalies, including approaching flocks of birds and single raptors;
• Simpler installation and operation of sensors to increase efficiency of operation;
• Modernized SCADA systems for higher frequency detection and control;
• Private radio push-to-talk and push-to-video services; and
• Near zero-latency for directing renewable energy anywhere in the grid.

In anticipation of the evolution to 5G, governments around the world have recognized the need to find dedicated spectrum for private industrial use and have begun to release this spectrum to support private industrial wireless networks. As this occurs, early adopters are getting ahead of the 5G curve by installing 4.9G/LTE networks that can use this dedicated spectrum to meet their business- and mission-critical performance criteria today.

While some 5G features, such as ultra-low latencies, are a few years away, many features, including support for low-powered IoT sensors, have already been incorporated into the latest standards for 4.9G/LTE.

Previously 4.9G/LTE was only available by sharing the services provided by mobile network operators (MNOs) who had not designed their networks for business- or mission-critical use cases. As a result, for many utilities, other wireless technologies were better suited.

One of the reasons private wireless is being considered an energy industry best practice in 2019 and beyond is the role it is playing in enabling predictive maintenance. For example, the failure of a wind turbine is expensive — often in the range of a quarter million dollars lost for the repair of a single failed pitch assembly. Currently, many of today’s wind turbine issues can only be detected via visual inspection – 100 meters up-tower in remote locations, where connectivity is poor or non-existent. With the right data, preventive maintenance of pitch systems can result in significant cost savings.

However, effective preventive measures require data access and reliable network connectivity. Because wind farms are typically located in remote areas, the operations and maintenance fieldwork are far more challenging if mobile devices cannot be used to their full extent. With the use of live video feed and mobile applications, maintenance and operational efficiency can be significantly improved.

Being able to predict the conditions that lead to failure — whether through overloading or underloading, wind gusts, yawing and braking — requires data and lots of it. As a result, the industry is beginning to use analytics and machine learning to better understand the dynamics that lead to turbine failure, and it is IoT sensors and the data they communicate that will be essential in this effort.

Conditions-based, predictive maintenance applications also use this kind of data and modeling to enable better scheduling of maintenance resources. They can generate alarms and red flag turbines for inspection, maintenance and early replacement of parts. Their data can be fed into models that manage risk and help in capital cost allocations.

The first step to enabling preventive maintenance of valuable assets such as the pitch system is bringing network connectivity to the far reaches of the wind farm. Fiber likely exists at most major wind farms, deployed for point to point control networks (i.e., SCADA systems). As a result, not addressing broad coverage of the farm for modernization. A comprehensive and affordable solution is needed to provide an umbrella of unmetered, private wireless connectivity.

With an “all-you-can-eat” high-quality private wireless broadband network, applications for improved operational efficiencies, worker safety, drone inspection, site security and personnel communications are becoming possible – even at remote wind farms, where each LTE base station can provide secure, high bandwidth coverage to reliably connect turbines miles away.

Support for sensor networks is just one use case out of many leading wind farms to consider private 4.9G/LTE as an emerging best practice. In the renewable energy space even beyond wind farms, private wireless is also being used for distributed energy resources management systems (DERMS) and to support other IoT and automation projects. So across the board, renewable energy providers are re-examining the framework for servicing their physical assets and viewing their connectivity in the field.

As the 5G journey continues to unroll, energy providers can anticipate private wireless becoming essential to the next iteration of wind farm and renewable energy transformation at large.

David Letterman is head of business development, North America, for Nokia Digital Automation. He works with ports, utilities, oil and gas, mines and factories to provide industrial private LTE networks dimensioned for – and integrated with – their specific application requirements. 

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