When the first wind turbines were installed decades ago, many engineers assumed that the blades would be essentially maintenance free. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case.
Made mostly of glass fiber reinforced epoxy, wind turbine blades face the elements 24/7, year-round on land or sea. Rain, dust particles, saltwater and ice work to wear away the gelcoat of the blade’s leading edge, eventually causing holes and pockmarks. The erosion of the blade leading edge disrupts airflow over its surface. When the precise aerodynamics of the blade are degraded, turbulence increases and the power generation capability of the turbine decreases. These losses can add up quickly if not properly addressed.
Wind turbine operating costs add up quickly
Wind turbines cost about $1 million per megawatt (MW) of installed capacity and it takes time to return a profit. A typical wind turbine delivers a payback in 5 to 10 years — if it functions as intended. Turbines need to work at their maximum potential to achieve the desired profitability. Wind farm owners are also trying to extend the typical 20-year life expectancy of their fleet, which places an even great importance on blade care.
However, up to 5 percent, and in some cases more, of the average energy production (AEP) of a turbine can be lost due to poorly maintained blades. Unfortunately, some wind owners aren’t aware of the dramatic impact that blade damage can have on energy productivity and turbine longevity. Many see blade inspection as optional and something that should be minimized whenever possible.
New blade inspection technology can increase profitability and accelerate ROI
This perspective is short-sighted. The real opportunity for operators is to enhance the profitability of their wind power investment by using advanced blade inspection technologies.
These new technologies include drones equipped with high-resolution cameras that don’t require human pilots at the controls. Flying autonomously, drones can achieve the optimum point of view to quickly take thousands of high-quality blade images.
AI analytics tools applied to these images can then facilitate an ‘image triage’ that identifies and characterizes all possible damage, including the severity of leading edge blade erosion that can impact energy production. AI systems can analyze and identify blade flaws – a feat that would take a human worker many hours – in mere seconds.
Combining autonomous drone inspection with AI-based damage classification further reduces the time and resources required to generate reports. The resulting reports are also more comprehensive, accurate, and more useful for planning repairs.
Future maintenance requirements can be predicted ahead of time
AI has the added advantage of prediction. When wind turbine blade report data is accumulated over time, from autonomous drone inspection coupled with AI damage detection, the data is more reliable and repeatable. This enables AI-based analysis of historical blade maintenance data to provide predictions of future maintenance needs.
AI and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) analytics combined can be used to correlate blade condition with turbine performance to identify declining production levels and intercede with repairs at the opportune time. This is one of the more complex elements of advanced blade inspection but also one that can have the most significant bottom line impact.
Even more helpful technology is coming to the industry soon, including blade sensors that monitor vibrations for tell-tale signs of corrosion or other damage affecting blade performance. These low-cost sensors will be able to alert operators to early signs of corrosion and reduce the need for major blade repair or replacement down the road.
New blade inspection technologies can help wind farm owners realize the financial potential of their facilities by improving energy production. It’s time for wind farm owners to take full advantage of their capabilities.
mCloud are experts at maximizing productivity and profits at wind power facilities through advanced blade inspection. Contact us today to find how our AssetCare™️ team can help your wind farm achieve its full potential.