So successful was 2017’s Hack The Wind, a side event inaugurated at last year’s Global Wind Summit, in Amsterdam, a second edition of the hackathon never felt in doubt.

A 120-strong assemblage of designers, data scientists and developers convened upon Hamburg Messe on 25–27 September by invitation of organisers WindEurope and InnoEnergy.

Incentivised by a €20,000 prize, participants were again invited to come up with innovative and implementable solutions to some of the wind industry’s most pressing challenges, as elected by event partners. This time around, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy had teams working on blockchain applications for the optimisation of hybrid systems, while EDP Renewables proposed a challenge around maintenance, and operations and management optimisation.

In the end, Alpha-I and Power2U shared the spoils, but true to the old axiom, it was the taking part that counted most of all, with open innovation being the firm watchword.

“Hack the Wind is consolidating its status as one of the must-attend events in the agenda of anyone working within digital innovation in the wind industry,” says Emilien Simonot, InnoEnergy’s renewable technology officer.

“It’s about building the right environment where companies meet young professionals and start-ups, accelerating the discovery of solutions and being a starting point for new collaborative opportunities, which in everyday life are harder to reach.”

Pedro Valverde, manager at EDP Innovation, mirrors Simonot’s sentiment. Hackathons, he says, “are a dynamic approach to address the challenges that the energy industry is facing. Hack the Wind has begun to enter in to energy utilities’ framework by allowing them to learn from attendees’ out-of-the -box ideas”.

Some of the challenges Valverde alludes to are well documented, with the wind energy industry at a fork in the road, in terms of capacity. According to industry group WindEurope, 40–80GW of wind capacity is expected to reach the end of its operational life within the decade.

This means lifetime extension has become a sizeable priority for operators in the sector, with data identified as playing a key role in providing more value, whether that be in cost reduction, higher energy production or slicker business models.

What to do with the data

The challenge is by no means a shortage of data, which, to the contrary, is extensive – consider the array of sensors already deployed across the value chain covering design, sites, logistics and operations – but rather what to do with all the information at the industry’s disposal.

Blockchain technology may have developed rapidly and gained a lot of attention in the sense of cryptocurrencies, but it does have a lot of potential when it comes to energy systems.
– Antonio de la Torre

Hence the sector’s ongoing push for digital disruption, which underpinned the wider Global Wind Summit in Germany.

“This year’s summit highlighted particularly important themes around emergent markets and the roads unlocked by digitalisation and advanced analytics,” says Valverde. “In a time so competitive for renewable energy, improving the operation and management of wind assets through digital disruption can lead to the reduction of associated costs, which would significantly enhance the economics of wind energy projects.”

As mentioned, this year’s Hack The Wind had a binary focus on operations and management optimisation, and blockchain applications – in direct response to two of the biggest talking points in the energy sector, as Simonot explains.

“The two challenges set this year reflect two major innovation trends in the wind industry,” he says. “The first concerns wind energy cost competitiveness, by way of improving wind turbine fault prediction, and, consequently, lowering maintenance costs and operating expense under the EDPR challenge.

“Then there is exploring how wind farms can be put to work with other elements like storage load management to allow the development of new businesses set-up around wind energy development and new solutions for customers – so providing energy systems instead of wind farms. Those are two great examples of how we can put data to work to unlock new opportunities in the wind business and the value that hackathons bring to the process.”

While wind – as well as the likes of solar PV – has managed to attain a competitive levelised cost of electricity, the cost of energy remains under significant pressure to achieve lower values. According to EDP, the impact of operations and management on wind generation is as much as 15–25% of the operational cost of renewable energy, signalling that there is certainly room for improvement.

“In EDP, we are betting on digitalisation to reduce installation, and operations and management costs, as well as to improve our business models,” explains Valverde. “Our digital priorities include power-production optimisation, predictive maintenance, data-driven decisions, and digital-enabled and automated work.

“So, this year, we proposed a challenge focused on predictive maintenance to know in advance when the condition of wind assets will become critical and when there must be a maintenance intervention in order to avoid large correctives from happening. Our challenge intended to develop and test AI and machine learning in the renewable energy sector to improve asset management.”

Antonio de la Torre, chief technology officer at Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, also reserves warm words for this year’s hackathon, which he argues is not only about coming up with new technical solutions, but more sustainable business models.

“It really is a great way to connect brains and get a fresh perspective from outside the industry,” says de la Torre. “It’s a perfect environment from an open-innovation point of view, especially as our industry is still evolving into a digital business.”

More than just currency

Participants in Siemens Gamesa’s challenge at this year’s event were asked to train their eye on a microgrid docked in Hamburg harbour, featuring three wind turbines and an electric-thermal energy storage facility. Their objective was to develop a blockchain-based application to enable the multiparameter management of the microgrid.

“Our challenge this year was around how blockchain technology can help to manage and optimise a microgrid,” explains de la Torre. “We saw some interesting solutions that allowed us to run it as self-sufficiently as possible, which highlighted that blockchain technology is capable of doing the job. It was quite a breakthrough.”

As de la Torre freely admits, blockchain is, in the public perception, overwhelmingly associated with cryptocurrency. However, within renewable energy circles, the technology – which operates as a public ledger or record – has been under discussion for some time now as a means of creating a decentralised market.

“Blockchain technology may have developed rapidly and gained a lot of attention in the sense of cryptocurrencies, but it does have a lot of potential when it comes to energy systems. We are in the process of transitioning away from centralised systems to much more complex systems. We feel decentralised energy systems may be able to better manage consumer demand.”

Smart technology, AI and robotics also all have a part to play in advancing competitiveness and efficiency within the wind industry. According to Valverde, the present onus on data-driven digitalisation and automation of processes – commonly known as industry 4.0 – has already disrupted the operations around renewable assets.

“New technologies are emerging, and offering innovative products and services to address some limitations of the industry,” he says. “Big data and AI are enabling the integration of renewable energy into the grid, and allowing utilities to achieve their full potential. AI is now widely available and easy to integrate in asset management.

“It enables utilities to maximise and optimise energy production with lower costs. Smart wind industry will focus on wind farms, even in different geographic locations, allowing wind turbines to communicate and achieve greater efficiency.”

Similarly, advances in sensor technology now mean operators are able to avail themselves of more on-the-nose monitoring of turbines, meaning any abnormal production patterns can be nipped in the bud and rectified, optimising maintenance schedules in the process.

“Robotic solutions are also aiming to reduce operations and maintenance costs, and also the safety of the industry, especially in performing maintenance and inspection actions,” adds Valverde. “It will become popular to use route-automated drones to visually inspect and identify cracks in blades, or seeing self-climbing robots making cranes dispensable.

“Just like a number of other industries, the wind industry has been affected by these upcoming technologies,” adds de la Torre. “The aim is to amalgamate these technologies to truly create an industry 4.0, or industrial internet of things, rather than treat them separately. This is the basis of data analytics.

“There is a lot going on in the industry and its context,” agrees Simonot. “AI, augmented reality and industry 4.0 is a set of new technologies that is expected to provide important changes in most of the subsectors of the industry, from wind turbine design, operations, life extension, grid planning and management, linking with storage or the successful deployment of sector coupling.”

How best to use condition-monitoring Systems

However, one area that has prompted a fair degree of head-scratching for the industry is condition-monitoring systems (CMS). While today’s wealth of available technology promotes CMS implementation – in turn lending itself to more streamlined, efficient and comprehensive data flows – there are plenty of challenges.

“Betting on continuous processing and analysis of real-time data coming from wind assets may be a cost-effective and efficient strategy to decrease operations and maintenance costs,” says Valverde. “CMS enables the adoption of best operation practices, prioritises the problems requiring fixing and allows the detection of early-stage warnings of future failures.

“However, implementing CMS in wind farms can result in some technical challenges related not only to its integration with current dataacquisition systems, but also with the complexity of the data, which is highly variable and may not be streamed with a meaningful frequency. Likewise, CMS is usually susceptible to many false alarms because of undetermined thresholds and misjudgment by the assets’ operators, which can incur in redundant inspection costs.”

According to Valverde, CMS is still something of a work in progress, meaning companies still have a lot to do when it comes to selecting reliable technology that is able to monitor assets across multiple sites.

“There is an urgent need to optimise the existing CMS for wind farms by using more sophisticated data-analysis methodologies, but without increasing the associated costs,” he continues. “Using a ‘turbine zero’ approach might be a way to go. Instrumenting a limited number of wind turbines with the most complete set of sensors and monitoring systems might provide information to determine the health of the remaining wind turbines of the wind farm’s fleet.

“This technology is still being developed, but we believe that it will demonstrate effective results, while at the same time driving down the costs of monitoring.”

As for Hack The Wind, the event can surely be expected to make a welcome return for its third consecutive year in 2019.