Wind power and the role of digital and pioneering technologies

Wind power needs to become a trusted energy resource, capable to produce power when and where it is needed.

Adrian Timbus, Technology and Solutions Managers for Smart Grids and Renewables at ABB.

The wind market is challenged today by two key aspects: on one hand it needs to become even more competitive, while on the other hand it needs to provide more functionality to allow a seamless integration in the rest of the energy system. The first challenge is driven by the growth of wind power and the expansion of it into new markets, where the cost of wind power has to further decline to reach a competitive level with existing generation technologies. The second challenge is fueled by the high penetration ratio of wind and renewable power in some power systems in Europe. Here, the generating units are more and more requested to provide additional services that help system operators to manage the grids with high share of wind power.

Digitalization is one of the key technologies that cuts across any industry – and therefore also the wind industry – enabling it to deal with the abovementioned challenges.

With regard to the competitiveness part, digitalization helps reducing costs all along the value chain, from project development and design to operations and maintenance (O&M) of the assets:

  • New data sets such as market setup, energy prices, grid congestion and load patters provide additional insights, granularity and confidence in the business case of a project, leading to cheaper loans and insurances for the developers – and therefore to more affordable wind power. ABB Ability™ Renewable Insights is one of the solutions providing such services.
  • Another large savings potential is in the O&M part of the value chain. Automating the maintenance tasks by integrating the operational data, with the maintenance tasks and with the workforce dispatching and information system, not only improves efficiencies in executing jobs but also ensures that the right activities are being done at the right time. For that, a key role plays the analytics of data, and the development of so-called asset performance models. These models use modern artificial intelligence (AI) routines to derive the health state of the assets, prescribing to the maintenance programs what actions are necessary to ensure a proper functionality of the assets. With ABB Ability™ Ellipse, ABB took a leading step in automating O&M activities, while ABB Ability™ Power Transformer, ABB Ability™ TXpert and ABB Ability™ Digital Drive Train, ABB Ability™ EDCS offer performance models for specific components in the wind industry.

When it comes to the provision of system support services – the second challenge for the wind industry – the wind turbines are offering a broad functionality already today. They operate almost autonomously – knowing when to connect to the grid, how much power they should produce based on the available wind conditions and how to respond in case of grid disturbances, either voltage or frequency related. All this functionality is embedded in a well-orchestrated automation and control system that is structured across various devices, from power converters, to wind turbine controllers and to substation automation systems.

Looking forward, wind power needs to become a trusted energy resource, capable to produce power when and where it is needed. This means a lot of flexibility in the way we are harnessing the power from wind and at the same time a greater visibility of how the wind power profile is evolving over time.

Again, digital technologies are handy in such situations. For example, forecasting of power production can be greatly improved by combining multiple sets of data, from real-time SCADA data about production and status of turbine, to planned maintenance data and of course the current and forecasted weather conditions. Using AI to correlate all these datasets, more accurate forecasts are obtained, firming more the expected wind power production profile.

The biggest hurdle for wind energy is to reduce its volatility. Much can be done with the automation and control system, however – in order not to spill wind power – energy storage solutions can be used in conjunction with the wind turbines to create so-called hybrid plants, which have an increased degree of flexibility enabled by the capabilities of storing and releasing power from the energy storage system.

Hybridization of wind with storage needs the next level of automation and control system, capable to do power control and energy management on a multi-objective and multi-constraints basis. The recently released ABB Ability™ e-mesh optimizes the energy of such hybrid systems, enabling wind power to provide the required flexibility for being properly integrated in the energy systems.




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