Wind, water and sun – renewable energies are the key to a sustainable energy supply. The energy transition is based on innovation, and digitalisation is playing an increasingly important role in wind power plants. New digital tools, such as artificial intelligence and data analytics, provide the necessary performance analyses, increase response times in the event of problems and optimise the maintenance process. Thanks to digitalisation, even the very first wind turbines can continue to be operated profitably for years, thereby helping to achieve their customers’ sustainability targets.
By Florian von der Hagen and Sascha Jevremovic
By 2030, renewable energy systems are required to deliver an enormous increase in output: after all, a deficit around 50,000 Megawatt (MW) due to the withdrawal from nuclear energy and the phasing out of coal-based power generation will have to be compensated for. In order for the energy transition to succeed, the German government has high hopes of wind energy.
Wind power is already the most important renewable energy source, way ahead of solar power, biogas and the like. According to the Federal Statistical Office, more than a quarter of electricity generated in Germany in the first half of 2022 came from wind power. Despite major challenges, the sector is confident that a real increase in capacity of at least 5000 MW per year is possible, provided the necessary statutory regulations are in place.
The desired targets will not only be achieved by the construction of additional on- and offshore wind turbines, but also by repowering, i.e. replacing old turbines with new, more powerful ones. Where repowering is not possible from a planning perspective, Bundesverband WindEnergie recommends the continued operation of turbines without any additional funding. By late 2025, turbines with a total output of around 16,000 MW will no longer be entitled to subsidies under the Renewable Energy Act, according to the Bundesverband. Provided the marketing concept for these turbines is profitable, their continued operation would have the advantage that the locations of the wind turbines are already accepted by the population and resources are conserved by using existing infrastructure. If repowering is possible, however, these existing areas could continue to be used efficiently with a reduced number of turbines.
From smart to predictive maintenance
Regardless of which scenario wind turbine operators choose, on- and offshore maintenance will be extremely important in future in order to reliably generate wind power. Already today, mandatory periodical inspections are generally used to check essential components and assemblies in order to avoid extended downtime. It is already possible to optimise maintenance work thanks to highly transparent maintenance data. “Smart maintenance” consolidates the maintenance work of adjacent turbines and schedules this to ensure minimal loss of output. Over the next few years, the digitalisation of wind energy will help to further reduce costs, improve performance and make operations safer. Because smart maintenance is about to become predictive maintenance.
The independent Windpulse platform developed by Lufthansa Industry Solutions can help with this. Its portfolio (products and services) provides sustainable solutions for renewable energies for the on/offshore sector – focusing on operations & maintenance (O&M). As a data platform, Windpulse bundles expertise from engineering, production and IT.
The platform’s operational management solution makes this data electronically available to the control centre. Performance analyses for individual components and assemblies can be performed using a tablet or smartphone. All the evaluations are stored in the cloud, so that all team members can access the data at any time. Artificial intelligence and machine learning provide the team with recommendations for predictive maintenance based on real-time data. This means that components can be replaced before a visible defect occurs.
Windpulse bundles the required maintenance data sheets, reports and instructions in an inspection app. Service technicians can access the latest information about the respective order on their tablet or smartphone at any time. They can use their mobile device to document any work carried out on site. Using the app not only improves response times when problems occur, but also streamlines the maintenance process overall.
Summary: digitalisation extends the life cycle of wind turbines
In order to make the operation of wind turbines, and especially the continued operation of older turbines, profitable in the future, operators must optimise the costs for the maintenance, repair and replacement of major components. The use of digital technologies facilitates product and service innovations, such as the data-based monitoring of the condition of wind turbines, for example. This increases turbine availability and minimises downtime. Data platforms such as Windpulse also help to establish transformation concepts and develop digital expertise, as well as to change organisation structures based on new business models, which in turn improves profitability and secures jobs.
About the authors:
Dr Florian von der Hagen is Business Director MRO Sustainability Solutions and Sascha Jevremovic is Business Development Manager MRO Solutions at Lufthansa Industry Solutions