The three expert steps to unlocking better wind farm performance

When it comes to technology for achieving better wind farm performance, a quote from the Norwegian political scientist Christian Lous Lange provides some sage guidance: “Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master”.

I am a firm believer in the positive role that technology has to play in increasing the value of operational wind farm assets. This belief is tempered however by a pragmatism that making the right technology choices requires a rigorous approach to ensure the best investment decisions are made.

There are three broad steps to ensure that a wind farm owner finds technology useful rather than enslaving:

Step 1: Understanding the technology landscape

As in many walks of life, the current range of technologies available to wind farm owners can be as over-whelming as it is impressive.

The availability and deployment of retrofitted turbine innovations has increased as owners look to increased efficiency and marginal gains to improve long-term asset value in increasingly competitive and subsidy-free markets.

A whole range of “information” innovations have added to the complexity of decision making, with portfolio aggregation software systems, condition monitoring, SCADA upgrades and lidar technology being joined by the current zeitgeist technologies of artificial intelligence and digital clones in offering ways to increase wind farm efficiency.

Identifying, analysing and selecting the best technology investment options for their wind farm portfolio can be a time-consuming task for busy owners and operators. By rigorously applying our technical experience and market knowledge, we help our clients to quickly understand the current and future technology landscape, seeing through the hype to focus on the functional and financial implications.

STEP 2: Quantifying the real benefits

It’s not enough to only know what technologies might be beneficial for your operations.

The benefits those enhancements would deliver in financial terms over their life also have to be measured and used as the key decision-making benchmark.

The net present value (NPV) calculations behind such evaluations delivers clear comparative data but must use industry insight as well as established accountancy methodologies to be of real use. This cannot be a ‘templated’ exercise as it must reflect the unique characteristics of each wind farm and the combinations of technologies as well as approaches that would work well for the given site.

A further layer of complexity can be added when a whole portfolio is being considered where the possible benefits of economies of scale need to be factored into the individual farm solution.

STEP 3 Implementing and validating solutions

Indentifying the best (that is, most beneficial) solution is only part of the story. Deploying any solution well and making sure it is delivering the expected results is also vital.

It is also crucial that any technology upgrade provides a route not just to more data, but to improved wisdom and decision making. Turning plans and solutions into a stronger bottom line requires expertise, pragmatism and experience.

Without a detailed and rigorous implementation and monitoring regime, there is a risk that a significant gap between plan and reality develops.

Neil Douglas is a consultant with BVP Associates.

5 Jun 2018

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