Intelligent Wind Farms: The Road to Reduced Costs

by Caroline Oelkers
Aug 16, 2016 12:30 PM ET
Servicing wind power installations, whether they are land-based or offshore, can be challenging. VirtuWind, an EU-funded research project, is developing software designed to reduce the need for on-site installation, commissioning, and maintenance.

Pictures of the Future: Sustainable Power Generation

Cutting-edge communications technology will make wind farms more profitable and the transition to a renewable energy economy more economical. That’s why Siemens is taking part in an EU-funded research project called VirtuWind. The project is designed to cut procurement costs for a wind farm’s control network by 25 percent and operating costs by 10 percent annually.

Control networks are needed to configure and monitor a wind farm’s interconnected technical components. In the VirtuWind project, experts from Siemens’ global research unit Corporate Technology are adapting state-of-the-art telecommunications technologies for use in industrial facilities. The project consortium is headed by Siemens. The European Union is providing the three-year project with a grant of €4.8 million.

Secure and efficient operation of wind farms requires participants to have remote access to various components such as sensors, actuators, and networking devices (e.g. routers). To make this possible, a wind farm’s local control network connects individual wind turbines to the respective control center. The local control center, in turn, connects the local network to company networks or to the Internet so that participants can access the farm’s devices and data. Such a setup can benefit wind farm owners such as E.ON, wind farm operators such as Siemens, transmission grid operators such as Tennet, and suppliers of sensors, actuators, and network routers. However, wind farms require control network structures that are complex and costly to install, operate, and maintain. For example, such networks frequently need to install security updates. Doing so can interfere with operations and require wind turbines to be shut down.

Accelerated Processes Thanks to Advanced Telecommunications and Software
To ensure the network is reliable and secure, VirtuWind uses cutting-edge telecommunications technologies. Experts are adapting open source software-defined networking (SDN) and network-function virtualization (NFV) modules to the requirements of wind farms. Intelligent software plays a crucial role here for the installation, maintenance, ongoing operation and security of the wind turbines. Programmable NFV modues make processes faster and simpler, and reduce the amount of hardware needed.

However, experts have to take very stringent requirements into account when they adapt the software modules. If several service providers want to access a wind turbine’s sensors at the same time, for example, they have to be identified as authorized parties, obtain guaranteed bandwidths throughout all network sectors, and the signal must be connected through within a guaranteed time span. If one transmission path breaks down, the system must be able to instantly switch over to an alternate path.

Reducing the Need for On-site Work
VirtuWind experts also analyze  anomalous events in wind farms and use this knowledge to expand the open source modules. This enables intelligent software to make changes to the network configuration without requiring hardware to be replaced or work to be conducted on site. The result is an infrastructure that enables grid operators and service providers to use the same network resources.

Specialists at Siemens Corporate Technology want to use the project’s findings to optimize control networks in other sectors as well.

VirtuWind is one of 19 projects within the EU’s 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership, which is helping to develop the fifth generation communications standard. The project will run until 2018. In addition to Siemens, the consortium includes NEC, Intel, Deutsche Telekom, Intracom SA Telecom Solutions, Worldsensing, the Technical University of Munich (TUM), the Foundation for Research and Technolgy Hellas, and King‘s College London.