With digitalisation once again climbing the agenda due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the wind industry faces a crucial crossroads in its use of technology to ensure that the wind industry continues to move forward in the coming years.
To support the development of a best practice in this area, ONYX InSight hosted a webinar with A Word About Wind on Thursday 18th June, where our CEO, Bruce Hall, moderated a discussion around the benefits of a digitally driven, strategic approach to O&M in the wind industry.
The four-person panel of experts was selected to give a wide breadth of expertise in wind O&M. Julia Rhodes-Journeay, a Director at BlackRock, provided an investor perspective, while Alistair Warwick, Head of Technical Functions, BP Wind Energy was able to talk from the vantage point of an energy giant which has increasing made inroads into renewable energy.
Billy Stevenson, Managing Director, Deutsche Windtechnik, represented Europe’s largest independent service provider, and Brian McDaid, Head of O&M, RES brought an asset management viewpoint to the discussion.
Over 200 wind industry professionals working at O&M service providers, utilities, financial institutions, developers and manufacturers tuned in from around the world to hear insights from the panel.
We’ve drawn out three of the crucial messages from the debate below. If you missed the webinar, you can catch up here.
1. The wind industry needs further investment in digitalisation to drive down costs
During the event, the attending wind industry professionals and O&M experts were asked the question: ‘Has the current economic situation increased the pressure to run projects profitably?’ Just over 75% of the wind industry professionals who answered the question said that the pressure to maintain profitability had increased either a little or significantly.
A theme that emerged from the panelists’ discussion is that this profitability won’t materialise without initial investments, particularly in emerging technologies. Touching upon the development roadmap for O&M over the next five years, they reached a consensus around the importance of a continued rise in digitalisation, with exciting new technologies such as ‘digital twins’ set to increase the power of existing AI tools. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the uptake of digitalisation, the panelists warned of the need to ensure that continued investment in technology and digital strategies was designed to future proof projects.
2. Digitalisation is not yet being used to its full potential
When asked, ‘To what degree do you understand how advanced analytics and predictive maintenance can help with O&M?’, the most common answer was ‘I have some awareness of how it works and how it can help,’ opted for by almost 60% of respondents. This was followed by ‘I know exactly how it works and how it can help’, which garnered around 30% of answers. Only 10% of respondents didn’t know how the technology could help.
These results demonstrate the wind industry’s widespread understanding of the need for digitalisation to drive efficiencies in O&M. However, with 70% of those polled admitting they are not fully aware of the benefits predictive maintenance can bring, they also show that the industry is yet to take full advantage of the digitalisation tools and strategies available.
The panel drew an interesting comparison with the O&G industry. In wind energy, unplanned maintenance accounts for around 65% of OPEX costs – in O&G the number is 10%. There is clearly some way to go before wind energy has fully leveraged its data resources. The experts on the panel agreed that the biggest single cost in maintenance budgets was still labour, showing the importance of minimising up-tower time for technicians.
Our experience helping wind farm owners and operators to increase the efficiency of their assets and save money on O&M costs across their fleets has taught us that the latest digital tools are powerful when used correctly. But it has also confirmed that there is no substitute for a deep practical understanding of wind turbine machinery. In order to extract the most value from digitalisation, data analytics must be combined with real-world engineering expertise.
3. Data integration and Data access are still a problem
The previous polling questions established two things:
- The need to drive efficiencies in O&M to boost profitability
- That there is a solid base of understanding within the industry that digitalisation tools can help achieve this.
The final question sought to understand the blockers to investing in a digitalisation strategy – ‘What are the main obstacles to implement advanced analytics in your organisation?’, which elicited various responses.
Around a third said that data integration was the key blocker to advanced analytics, whereas almost half said that resourcing pressures were perceived to be the main obstacle. Only an eighth said that there were no obstacles and that they’d already implemented advanced analytics – demonstrating that the industry still has a way to go before the power of digitalisation is truly unlocked.
The panelists agreed that data access remains a challenge for the wind industry, continuing to hold the sector back. This issue has been raised by ONYX InSight through our previous whitepapers on the topic, which can be read here.
A point which the panelists came back to repeatedly was that the sheer amount of data produced by wind farms could sometimes be overwhelming. A good digitalisation partner can advise on what data is important, but much of the barrier here, according to the panel, is that data is not structured consistently. This points to a need for wider adoption of sensing technologies and platforms which can draw all data streams together in one place.
As we found in our new whitepaper, looking to ‘quick digitalisation fixes’ doesn’t yield the desired results in terms of increased efficiency and cost savings, which in turn leads to disillusionment with the technology itself as returns on investments do not materialise. It is this approach, which poses the biggest risk to the successful digitalisation of the global wind fleet.
The whitepaper deals with these issues, laying out a best practice framework for smart digitalisation strategies and supporting the wind industry as it looks to run projects as profitably as possible.
You can download the whitepaper and watch the webinar HERE.