Half a billion euros, GL Garrad Hassan (GL GH) Business Development Manager John Macaskill said, are lost every year around the world by wind farm operators who, inundated with unassimilated data, do not reach achievable levels of availability and operating efficiency. 

Availability is the percentage of total time during which a turbine is actually available to operate. Operating efficiency is the percentage of energy produced of the total energy that could be produced by a turbine’s normal power curve.

“In our experience,” Macaskill said, “a properly monitored wind farm will always improve availability and will achieve 100 percent operating efficiency.” But proper monitoring requires the assimilation and interpretation of data.

“Owner-operators are drowning in data,” Macaskill said, because there is so much of it, often in disparate systems. Engineers and analysts may spend 80 percent of their time and/or money creating reports, leaving only 20 percent of their resources to optimize performance.

“You need to invert that,” Macaskill said, “because reporting is incredibly important and it has to happen, but it’s not, in itself, improving performance.” Reporting must be automated, Macaskill said, “so you can spend your time conducting forensic analysis,” because “advanced analysis still requires an expert human eye.”

“You need to know where you’re losing energy,” Macaskill said. And then, “you need to take action.”

WindHelm makes a comprehensive evaluation of a wind farm across some 500 turbine signals and generates reports covering various Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for owner-operators. It details the things that impact wind farm availability and operating efficiency, freeing owner-operators to take action.

WindHelm is an elaboration of the GH SCADA software product. It is being rolled out to the software’s existing customers and will subsequently be marketed in, Macaskill pointed out, an increasingly competitive marketplace of tech startups (like Ireland’s Automsoft), software houses and other data management experts (like IBM). “A lot of these companies have excellent pieces of software,” Macaskill admitted, “but you have to build it into something that makes sense of the wind data.” Wind data, Macaskill said, can be “dirty” and tricky to interpret.

WindHelm was designed “from the ground up” for wind. “The other big systems use their toolbox in all kinds of generation and their level of wind expertise doesn’t allow them to do what our system does.”

WindHelm came out of three types of expertise. First, GL GH is one of the wind industry’s foremost providers of independent SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) data solutions across 6,000-plus megawatts of wind power.

Second, GL GH’s team has analyzed over 30,000 megawatts of wind farms globally.

Finally, GL GH participated in the European Union’s RELIAWIND undertaking to acquire the data that would define and optimize turbine performance. The consortium created “a common taxonomy that is logical across all turbine types,” Macaskill explained. RELIAWIND became, he said, “a very valuable benchmarking profile” of wind farms, “enabling an owner-operator to build a reliability profile across a fleet of turbines, regardless of type.”

In early 2010, Macaskill and GL GH’s SCADA group saw an opportunity to use the company’s body of knowledge and experience to create a new, comprehensive tool.

“I’m technical,” Macaskill, an engineer, said, “but very market-oriented.” As wind industry consolidation progressed, Macaskill wanted to exploit the data challenges owner-operators faced as they built wind farm portfolios with different turbine brands. He and the GL GH engineers exploited their forensic analysis experience across those 30-plus gigawatts of wind projects.

Simple to deploy and operate, WindHelm is at the same time capable of providing the comprehensive services of a large-scale wind farm operations, maintenance and optimization control center across the range of turbine brands.

“I see the real market for this not in super-sized, multi-generation utilities,” Macaskill said. “The sweet spot for this is pure wind or pure renewable players.”

For an owner-operator with seven wind farms, each composed of 15 1.5-megawatt turbines operating at a 25 percent capacity factor, every one percent production increase represents 241,000 euros per year. A two percent increase is 483,000 euros per year. (Numbers and dollars are likely to be slightly larger for U.S. wind.)

WindHelm makes those enormous benefits available to wind farm owner-operators and is on call at any and all times.

“With the WindHelm system, a wind farm owner on holiday can log on via laptop or even via smart phone,” Macaskill said. No special software dongle is needed. “As long as there’s internet access, you have visibility of your wind farm or portfolio. The other thing is, the wind farm can communicate with you.”

Built into the system, Macaskill explained, is the capability of delivering to an owner-operator by email or text a report that, for instance, a turbine’s power curve or gearbox temperature has varied slightly, suggesting that without maintenance, a malfunction will likely develop.

WindHelm operates, Macaskill summarized, “on three levels. The first level,” he said, is “you need to minimize downtime.” The product, he said, can help an owner-operator achieve “budgeted availability” in the 97 percent to 98 percent range. “The second level is, ‘OK, they’re turning, now how efficient are they?’ You need to optimize the energy production.” Finally, he said, “You need to keep them healthy.”

"To be able to guide all that,” Macaskill said, “you need ‘intel.’” WindHelm, Macaskill said, provides simplicity and clarity and allows for the exercise of “more efficient decisions.” Even via cell phone.