By Liz Burdock, President & CEO, Business Network for Offshore Wind
When we talk about the offshore wind industry cutting costs, we usually start with economies of scale, meaning bigger turbines of 10 megawatts (MW) or even 12MW, and bigger offshore wind farms of 50 turbines or more. Now we are finding that the use of big data and artificial intelligence is becoming just as important in saving money, along with these other significant benefits:
- Improving productivity of turbines, cables and substations
- Increasing safety with drone inspections above and below the surface
- Lowering risk to wildlife and other environmental impacts
Artificial intelligence is able to detect patterns and enhance data in a manner far more sophisticated than humans can, and IoT means that machines and components can communicate with each other in real time. As the US market gathers momentum, this is the time to understand how Big Data, IoT and AI can be incorporated into the growing US offshore wind sector.
The good news about AI, the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data is an area of strength for the US, so we have a chance to leap over the Europeans in this technology. It’s a good fit for offshore wind (OSW) because OSW is a data-rich environment, and wind turbines have been outfitted with video technology and sensors from the very beginning. If properly applied, AI could transform the way we plan, build, assemble and maintain offshore wind turbines.
Robotics and drones are probably the first example that comes to mind, especially the use of flying drones (or “unmanned aerial vehicles”) using high-resolution video cameras and infrared/thermal imaging cameras to capture real-time gigabytes of performance data. Artificial intelligence is then applied to analyze the data quickly and provide direction to the flying drone on the next steps in the inspection.
Less well-known is the development of autonomous crawling robots to use suction, magnetic and high-tech adhesive technologies to crawl vertically up a turbine tower or blade and use microwave and ultrasonic transmitters and receivers to penetrate the structure and reveal faults in the materials. And, we are using underwater drones to inspect the ocean floor to find the best sites for individual turbines.
Another example is the state of California testing the use of artificial intelligence to help prevent offshore wind farms from killing birds. The state is researching how to use computers to monitor video feeds of wind turbines and identify birds and their flight patterns around wind farms to help discern which ones are most at risk for collisions with turbine blades.
There are other studies on how turbines can use radar and other technology to detect birds and bats approaching them, and then use audio cues to deter them from coming too close. This technology could also be applied to use lights and audio warnings for low-flying aircraft and surface vessels to avoid collisions with turbines.
While these are intriguing applications, this is just scratching the surface (pun intended) of how AI and Big Data can be applied in site planning, manufacturing, supply chain, environmental analysis and so many other areas to enhance efficiency by 20 percent and make “10x” dramatic improvements in productivity and performance.
There is much more to learn, and, if you found this interesting, please consider attending the Business Network for Offshore Wind’s “Digital Optimization of the OSW Industry: Big Data, AI & BlockChain” event in Boston on September 12. You can learn more about the event here https://www.offshorewindus.org/bigdata.