Big Data in Offshore Wind

Can it reduce the cost of wind turbine operations and maintenance? The United Kingdom is leading in offshore wind. In 2014, four per cent of the UK electricity usage was generated by 22 wind farms. However, offshore wind is more expensive to generate than many alternative renewable sources and a target has been set of achieving a 30-40 per cent reduction in costs by 2023.

In an independent report by the University of East Anglia commissioned by James Fisher and Sons plc. the aim is to discover if costs of wind turbine operations and maintenance can be reduced by using big data.

The majority of this saving will be achieved through economies of scale and technical innovation in wind turbine manufacture and installation4. These savings alone are unlikely to be enough to make offshore wind competitive in the long term. The industry needs to look at all areas of operation to see where savings could be made. The focus of this report is potential savings in one aspect of operations and maintenance (O&M).

O&M makes up a significant part of the overall cost of running wind turbines. Offshore wind is a relatively new industry and O&M has been made more complicated by the fact that O&M responsibility has been split between turbine manufacturers, wind farm operators and the offshore transmission owners. This has resulted in procedures and systems that have evolved to provide short term solutions. This has inevitably led to areas of inefficiency, duplication of effort and lack of information. Through interviews with stakeholders and simulation of vessel journeys the University of East Anglia have aimed to demonstrate that better collection, management and presentation of data coupled with an integrated software solution could provide significant cost reductions in O&M.

Big data

The UK government has classified big data as one of the eight great technologies that will drive future growth. The report’s aim is to assess the possible impact of big data on operations and maintenance of offshore wind. The availability of cheap, reliable sensors and the general recognition of the value of data has led to an explosion in interest in the area of big data and a drive to recruit data scientists in all areas of research and industry. Big data is characterised by the maxim of collect everything, analyse later. The emergence of cloud computing has mitigated the costs associated with storing large data sets, but the utilisation of data to improve efficiency is a costly business and must be justified in terms of the value it can create. Big data then offers three huge benefits that can transform an industry:

• Visualisation of real time data.
• Development of decision support tools based on disparate data sources.
• Data mining to aid planning and find performance inefficiencies to improve real time operations.

Even with the data in place, there are several challenges facing converting data into valuable information, such as posing the right question, developing the right software using the right technique to answer the questions.

Analysing offshore wind data

Big data has a large role to play in areas such turbine design, monitoring and maintenance. However, considerable effort has already been made in these areas. The belief is that there are easier and cheaper gains to be made in marine management. The report demonstrates how an integrated software solution with improved data collection and management could make marine management more efficient. There are several types of data related to O&M that could have an impact on efficiency, for example:

  • Wind turbine monitoring
  • Supply chain management
  • Marine operations

Wind turbine monitoring is handled by systems such as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system. Although there may be scope for mining the data SCADA produces, the value of this information is well understood in the industry and beyond the scope of this project. In the report it is stated: “Supply chain management is a business specific activity, and it is unlikely we could add value in this area without access at a very high level. We focus on marine operations because it is an area that has received little attention to date. We believe it presents the best potential for immediate efficiency gains and offers the greatest potential for producing significant cost savings for minimal investment.” 

This article first appeared in the October 2016 edition of the Offshore WIND Magazine.