We’ve been writing for years about how the smart energy ecosystem of the future is transforming the work of the utility industry and created our Smart Energy Reference Architecture to directly address the issues that arise from one of those transformative ecosystem derivatives: wind power. A situation in Europe provides a great illustration of this transformation and how we’re working with our partners to rise to the new ecosystem challenges.

Take the case of Germany, where one of the first large industrial nations now intends to decommission all its nuclear power plants within the next ten years and will need a vast new supply of energy to replace them. Germany, as well as many other industrialized countries along Europe’s coastlines, are turning to offshore wind farms to meet Europe’s energy requirements.

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Yes, windmills look simple in design, but don’t let their appearance fool you. These offshore wind farms are located up to 100 kilometers away from coasts, and achieve anchoring depths of 40-50 meters: their construction and operation create complex risks and challenges that are masked by their simple designs.

For example, heavy storms and rough seas frequently prevent construction and maintenance work for days or even weeks. There’s also the issues of huge rotor blades; strong, unstable winds; high atmospheric salinity levels; and, in particular, powerful North Sea tidal currents. The combinations result in continuous mechanical stresses, dynamic and unpredictable loads, and considerable corrosion risks. These variable and dangerous environmental conditions pose significant burdens to wind turbines and transformer stations.

These challenges are easily observable, but what’s interesting is that they are new territory in terms of the operators having a knowledge base available to them for their successful, cost-efficient management. In the early days of steam engine powered trains, people were fearful that when the train reached speeds faster than a horse could race the passengers would have trouble breathing.

It’s the same thing here, in a slightly different way. We don’t know what we don’t know. To date, neither manufacturers nor operators have had the opportunity to gather the information that comes with long experience. Therefore, not only is the construction of offshore wind farms in the North Sea sometimes nerve-wracking, but so also is the subsequent planned and unplanned support services necessary over their anticipated 20 year life cycle.

Enabling the efficient and low-risk Operation of Offshore Wind Farms

Our partner BTC has already faced the early stage wind farm challenges and developed a grid control and management solution based on its experience with the first German offshore wind farm “alpha ventus,” a system that has been up and running successfully for more than two years now.

The BTC Wind Farm Center™ is designed to minimize imageoperational risks. Its integrated SCADA system controls all wind turbines and the wind farm grid. In addition, BTC Wind Farm Center™ facilitates remote fault detection and removal, often preventing expensive human in situ maintenance.

But in addition to the basic operational functioning, BTC Wind Farm Center™ also has proven effective in planning maintenance and repair tasks, along with the related workforce scheduling that’s tuned into local weather forecasts. Repairs must be made at times that ensure the health and safety of employees. By using this coordinated approach, the BTC Wind Farm Center™ significantly reduces operating costs. Moreover, its web-based collaboration platform facilitates coordination and cooperation between the varied and numerous personnel involved, giving them access to all relevant information and documents according to their needs and access levels.

Where’s Microsoft?

In our travels around the globe, the Microsoft Worldwide Utilities team often hears the question “Where’s Microsoft?” We smile because it’s such a common question, but it’s always a reminder that we continually need to remind the industry that we’re behind many of the solutions that our partners create to seamlessly solve customer problems.

To address the challenges of wind farm design, installation and maintenance in its Wind Farm Center solution, BTC relied heavily on Microsoft products and technologies:

· The WFC SCADA system is a Windows 2008 Server based, fault-tolerant, high-availability real-time solution for wind farm and power grid control.

· The WFC O&M Taskboard and the WFC Management Dashboard are Microsoft Silverlight applications hosted in the Microsoft Azure cloud. They are deployed within Microsoft SharePoint Online (Office 365 Suite) leveraging SQL Azuimagere and Bing Maps (incl. status information)

The Microsoft SERA Architecture has provided the framework for BTS to achieve the flexible integration and faster deployment of all sub-components of BTC Wind Farm Center™.

Our SERA document discussed this type of smart energy ecosystem need in its section on “Performance Oriented Infrastructure” discussing how users and software components would have to have access to platforms and services where they are located, and the services can be deployed on-premise or in the cloud. With regard to the highly variable nature of wind and weather conditions, this performance oriented infrastructure required components that can be efficiently deployed, managed and monitored.

With all things considered, it’s one more way that SERA is engaging the industry, solving the problems of the new energy ecosystem that evolves with each and every day.—Jon C. Arnold

Note: The copyright to images lies with BTC. Microsoft is granted the right to use them within the blog/newsletter.