Wind power has reached the stage where squeezing out every cent of cost matters as much as providing the relevant functionality for power system support
I hope it’s clear by now to everyone that wind power is an essential part of our generation portfolio as we move towards a greener world. In recent decades, we have watched wind technology evolve from simple backyard generators into actual power plants, some with the power capacity of a gigawatt, or more. Turbine technology has grown from simple blades and rotors using robust induction generators to sophisticated power generating machines featuring advanced blade designs and actuators, supported by highly developed power electronics and control intelligence systems that can turn an array of turbines into a versatile, cohesive power production facility.
Continuous updates of grid code requirements have mostly driven these technology advances, which means grid operators are defining the functionality of wind power plants. As the penetration of wind power and other renewables in our power systems increases, the plants generating this power must be able to provide relevant system support so that reliable supplies of quality power can reach end users. For renewable plants this list of essential requirements includes both active and reactive power support, power regulation capacity, provision of ancillary services such as inertia and frequency support, and black start capabilities or power forecasting. Some of these points are applicable today, while others will be relevant in future versions of grid codes. But they are all about safely and reliably integrating renewable power into our power systems – and ensuring we keep the lights on with grid-quality supplies of green energy.
Apart from the challenges of complying with grid codes, which mainly concern wind turbine manufacturers anyway, wind plant owners and operators must also find ways to reduce the cost of wind energy so that it is an effective generation strategy in today’s energy scenario, especially as we move away from preferential tariffs to an open market for all.
Operations and maintenance is one area where owners and operators can effectively combat the costs in their wind power plants, and some of the solutions and tools under the magnifying glass include predictive scheduling of maintenance activities, maintenance on low wind days, and the use of qualified local third-party personnel to help minimize costs and improve annual energy production. The wish list of desired functionality includes applications that can crunch large amounts of data and detect the cause of failures or even predict failures, as well as systems to control and optimize algorithms and reduce the load on assets, while at the same time maintaining maximum power production potential. It is all about optimizing wind power production, to pull as much value as possible from the technology.
All of this tells me that as wind power technology moves steadily forward, it is becoming a stable, mature power generation industry, with its own best practices and standard methodologies that are acknowledged and understood by everybody.