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Student InSights: From Barbados to Best Practice in Turbine Maintenance

What have you been studying at the University of Nottingham?

I have just finished my Masters degree in Electrical Engineering for Sustainable and Renewable Energy. In fact, I am graduating in two weeks’ time!

My Masters degree was my main reason for coming to the UK; undertaking an internship formed the final part of my studies, which is why I applied for the ONYX InSight internship opportunity through its partnership with the University.

What motivated you to follow this career path?

I’ve known that I wanted to be an electrical engineer since I was 14 years old. I’m from Barbados and the power industry there is different from the UK. We have one power company, and, when I was younger and exploring my career prospects, I thought that working for that particular company was the pinnacle of an electrical engineering career, unaware at the time of all the opportunities there are to apply electrical engineering to larger and growing industries – such as renewable energy.

Have you always been interested in renewables?

Renewables have been in the media for ages: news about wind power and PV panels has been around for years now. When I started thinking about where to take my electrical engineering career, renewables just made sense because it’s such a growing industry.

My working experience prior to my internship at ONYX InSight wasn’t in renewables. After I graduated from my Bachelors degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering, I landed a job in manufacturing and gained a large amount of experience at a group of manufacturing companies. It’s a fast-moving industry and requires a lot of skill, but having revisited my career plans, I decided to undertake a Masters with a renewables focus.

There’s a growing interest in renewables in Barbados too, with a large number of PV panels being installed; it is an industry relatively close to home. We don’t have wind turbines on the scale that the UK and other more mature wind energy markets do, but we do still have a relatively good wind resource. While Barbados is still  developing its renewable energy capacity, it is a promising market.

While vastly different in a number of ways, Barbados faces similar issues as the UK when looking to develop renewable energy projects. There was an experimental turbine erected in Barbados a few years back which people weren’t supportive of because of the noise. However, the technology is evolving at a serious pace and there are now turbine gearboxes which produce significantly less noise.

Offshore turbines are an alternative, but of course there are larger costs associated with them. It’ll be very interesting to see how wind energy in Barbados grows and progresses. The more comfortable people are with these machines being installed, the more investments that the Caribbean will see in the coming years.

Because of my interest in this industry – not just in Barbados, but globally – I viewed the internship at ONYX InSight as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a step into the industry.

What made you apply for an internship with ONYX?

Some of my past work experience included working in the beverage industry at a brewery conducting equipment maintenance, both predictive and corrective. We weren’t using data analytics to do that at a high frequency, and we didn’t conduct predictions for electrical equipment, just mechanical. When learning about what ONYX InSight does, I found its work in wind turbine failure prediction very interesting.

I also thought the internship would be a good way to get a detailed look into what is going on in renewables more generally and the wind energy industry specifically.

There were other options which would have involved working with trackers for PV panels or technology related to microgrids, but it was clear that by working with ONYX I was going to receive a lot of information and insight into the industry trends overall as well as the technology itself.

What did you work on as an intern at ONYX?

I was helping ONYX expand its portfolio of monitoring electrical failures in turbines, which was an interesting change for me, as I had previously dealt predominantly with mechanical issues. I worked closely with Dr Xiaoqin Ma, the Head of Technology and Marketing at ONYX InSight.

We were primarily monitoring failures occurring in the generator of a wind turbine and exploring the SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) data, including wind speeds, the temperatures , the speed at which the rotor spins and other information. We then checked this data, which was generated by the turbine sensors and stored every 10 minutes. Different data analytic approaches including traditional statistics and advanced machine learning algorithms were tested, to see if changes in the data correlated to component failures and aiming to avoid the need to install additional equipment onto the turbine.

What was the most interesting thing you learned during your internship at ONYX InSight?

In my first week working for ONYX I was able to attend its annual symposium, which was a forum for the discussion of wind energy industry trends and advances in wind power technology. I’d not been exposed to something like that; you’d never find such an open platform at home in Barbados, the market is much too competitive. It was really interesting to hear the knowledge and valuable information being shared in the forum, including the work companies are doing and where the industry is going. Everything that was discussed at the symposium was brand new to me, so that would definitely be the highlight of my time working with ONYX.

Separately from the symposium, I found the fieldPRO and ecoCMS technology really interesting. ONYX uses these pieces of technology to collect data and pick up on vibration data, particularly signaling data sets which could indicate failure. It can determine how long components have until potential failure and details damage from all the data collected by sensors on the turbine itself. The level of data analytics was very detailed, so, by being involved, I was able to learn a lot.

Another thing that I learned was that there are so many innovative and technologically advanced companies involved in the wind energy industry – and with the operations and maintenance of wind turbines. Every year the technology is improving and collecting more and more data to enable the industry to understand turbines on a more detailed level.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when working with ONYX?

That would definitely be starting up the new program Python, where we were sifting through and processing a large amount of data. We were learning how to use the program from scratch. This was alongside writing my dissertation, which I had only three months to write.

How does your experience at ONYX complement what you’re doing now?

I’m currently enjoying my time off between finishing my studies and graduating; after that I am aiming to achieve some further qualifications which I would need to boost my career in data analytics. I’d like to certify as an Energy Manager and apply this to renewables, as the sector of the energy industry which is constantly growing. I don’t have the experience right now, so I aim to undertake the necessary training and pass the tests to enhance my knowledge, while gaining as much experience as possible over the next few years.

What are your long-term career goals and aspirations?

I definitely want to become skilled in data analytics and have a fuller understanding of the renewables industry. I believe by using data analytics in renewables I can help play a crucial part in the global energy industry. Before completing the Masters program at Nottingham University and my internship with ONYX InSight, I didn’t really realise the extent to which electrical engineering and data analytics are critical to wind energy or the career opportunities that are involved.

I see myself as a manager of a company which has a prominent position in renewables in the future. I’m looking forward to making further moves to get myself there.


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