O&M Big Data: Broadwind Energy prepares for healthy growth trajectory in 2015

James Bezner, President of Broadwind Services, recently took some time to discuss how data analytics is impacting the O&M market, and how wind farm operators can benefit from performance-driven big data.

James Bezner, President of Broadwind Services: "Some operators have an, 'if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it' mentality, while others simply do not have the ability to finance the investment despite recognition of long-term benefits. We...

By John R. Johnson

In early December, Broadwind Energy, Inc. announced $9m worth of new tower orders from a US wind turbine manufacturer. Broadwind will produce the towers at its US factory in Wisconsin, for delivery in 2015.

Broadwind President and CEO Peter Duprey says that the company has a solid backlog of tower orders, setting up a nice growth trajectory in 2015.

But the company’s “robust” maintenance and operations division is also playing a larger part in the company’s growth. James Bezner, President of Broadwind Services, explains the larger role that data analytics is playing in the company’s product and service offering and the larger wind power industry.

Q: Regarding Big data, how can operators work together to share data and develop a standard for performance specific to wind?

A: Collaboration on an approach to collection and catalogue of data that shows performance trends and potential improvements driven by more proactive approaches to performing inspections, maintenance and WTG modifications would certainly offer opportunity to advance the industry.

I've seen this demonstrated at a recent O&M forum where an owner/operator cataloged their blade inspection results, repairs, lightning strike occurrences and correlated their wind turbine assets’ output, availability and reliability. As a result, they were able to substantiate taking a proactive approach to wind turbine blade maintenance and how it garnered an improvement in wind generation productivity.

I advocate working through trade associations such as AWEA, UVIG, WEU, WPM, etc.; operators could collectively share how they collect performance data and best practices that advance the industry overall.

Q: How would having a standard in place benefit wind operators?

A: Standards always benefit end users. They provide a consistent approach of how to measure performance, efficiency, availability and reliability so that when comparisons are done, they are an “apples to apples” comparison.

The gas turbine power generation is a good benchmark; the industry has a strong user group that has used big data collaboration to set standards that have resulted in significant technological advancements over time.

Q: Where does your company currently stand with big data? What steps have you taken to harvest this data into usable information?

A: Broadwind Services works closely with our customers to collaborate on wind turbine service offerings that leverage performance, availability and cost data to validate how proactive maintenance can save money in the long run.

For example, the impact of blade condition on WTG power production is often overlooked. Through our BladeMAX™ approach to blade inspection and maintenance, we show customers different levels of blade degradation and the performance impact that is currently being debited from their turbine’s performance. We work with our customers to determine how much production is lost as a result of poor blade efficiency and to develop a proactive plan to ensure optimal power production. We’ve seen performance enhancements close to 10 percent, depending on the level of blade degradation.

Q: What are the biggest and most immediate "wins" that operators can reap from big data/data analytics?

A: Turbine output and efficiency gains from proactive blade and drivetrain maintenance are clear opportunities. Ultimately, operators could improve visibility and confidence level around maintenance forecasting.

Q: What are the biggest challenges to overcome when it comes to integrating data analytics into operations?

A: The investment to capture and analyse data at the WTG level can be significant. While data analytics offer both savings and power production improvement potential, monetizing these gains over a short time horizon can present challenges.

Some operators have an, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, while others simply do not have the ability to finance the investment despite recognition of long-term benefits. We have found that working collaboratively with our customers, together we are able to substantiate the investment in data-driven proactive blade and gearbox inspection and maintenance programmes.