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The security and resilience of a company’s IT infrastructure is often the overlooked component in digital transformation strategies across the energy sector, says David Greenwood

The wind industry is driving improvements to operational efficiency and decision-making with digital technologies.

However, concerns over data sharing and inability to access data have hindered progress. The suitability and robustness of a company’s IT infrastructure is essential not only for enabling secure data sharing, but for the wind industry as a whole to get the most out of new technologies and digital tools.

This in turn will also enable the wider UK energy industry to achieve Paris Agreement goals and net zero status.

Turbit Systems in Germany, for instance, uses machine learning to reduce the cost and complexity of wind energy operations. Crucially for the wind sector, weather data – including air pressure and temperature – can all be a part of the data model, which helps to predict turbine performance with extremely high levels of accuracy.

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Machine learning and predictive analytics software has been developed by many companies in a range of sectors to measure the performance of wind turbines and flag faults. Predictive analytics software enables windfarm operators to maximize productivity, leading to other benefits to operations such as the reduction in downtime and increased revenue.

A well-designed local or wide area network will have other benefits too, reducing costly, unplanned downtime and damage to assets, as data pointing to potential risk factors can be made visible across the entire organization.

Meanwhile, key commercial decision-makers (finance, health and safety) can be given improved visibility and insight into business operations and their contingent performance indicators. Furthermore, initiatives that enable the industry as a whole to benefit from data insight and shared good practice could greatly benefit the wind sector.

Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult’s anonymized database to improve collaboration is just one example. The result of the initiative was that both individual businesses and the industry as a whole took learnings from issues such as equipment failure.

Linking IT with business operations in wind energy

Successful data sharing and collaboration relies on a secure and reliable connection of control systems and sensors to business networks; this essentially means ensuring a connection from the boardroom to the operational floor and, potentially, with the growth of distributed workforces, employees’ homes.  

We refer to this as linking IT to operations technology, and one of the specific values of this approach to the energy sector is that it can help companies to optimize their data.  

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For example, hybrid digital infrastructure management (HDIM) allows for a global view of internal IT infrastructure, improves overall IT operations, and can include infrastructure management, data and cloud management.

This provides key decision makers across the business with insight into early warning signs concerning the health of assets such as wind turbines, and enables companies to avoid both equipment failure and unnecessary expense.

Additionally, correctly integrated IT and operations enhances the speed and reliability of data communication, whilst helping to avoid cybersecurity issues. We would also advise companies to operate on a fully cloud system, as cloud enables greater flexibility than any legacy IT system and allows for data to be both accessed and analyzed remotely instantaneously, which has become a necessity for digitalization strategies that include the rollout of ‘processer-light’ (e.g. tablet and mobile) devices to an increasingly dispersed workforce.  

IT shouldn’t be the weakest link

Historically, security concerns and a fear of competitor advantage has led to a lack of collaboration in the wind sector. However, a recent data sharing initiative amongst wind turbine owners, including Enel, ENGIE and Equinor, to openly exchange operational performance data securely, may point the way ahead, proving the value of collaboration to the industry as a whole.

When it comes to data analytics, Thierry Kalfon, managing director at Renewables Global Business Line at ENGIE, highlights the importance of quantity over quality, affirming that “sharing data between peers will benefit all of us”.

Accelerating digital transformation and improving the efficiency of IT infrastructure within the wind sector is not only important to assure the growth of the sector but will be crucial in assisting the UK’s effort to reduce industrial carbon emissions and tackle the impending climate emergency.

David Greenwood is Chief Executive of ISN Solutions, a IT managed service provider with experience in supporting offshore and remote energy operations.