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'Hackathons are a great way to get rid of old processes’

FACE TO FACE | Hackathons are proving a hothouse for innovative thinking in the wind industry. Darius Snieckus spoke to António Vidigal, president of EDPR Innovation, sponsor of the second Hack the Wind event at this year's Global Wind Summit

Last year’s inaugural Hack the Wind hackathon had the general ambition of finding “fresh ideas to strengthen competitiveness and resilience” in the wind industry. This year the focus has been narrowed to hatching blockchain applications for hybrid systems, and optimising predictive maintenance and O&M. What was the thinking behind singling out these areas for special attention?

Last year’s Hack the Wind was a great success. Hackathons are important for utilities, as we believe that they can create the right environment for the development of concepts that wouldn’t have normally been considered, and so will help to create 'out of the box' concepts with the potential of disrupting our industry.

This year we are proposing to bet on predictive maintenance and O&M of wind turbines. The renewables industry is being challenged to reduce even more the cost of energy. O&M is definitely one area that can be improved, and that has an important impact on the cost of energy.

Predictive maintenance is one of the possible solutions that can be implemented using artificial intelligence and machine learning. Such technologies are becoming dominant and better understood, with costs decreasing and ease of use increasing. Our challenge intends to capture the evolution of those technologies and test them in the renewable energy sector to improve asset management.

Beyond the obvious link between digitalisation and hackathons, how will Hack the Wind 2018 reflect other key themes at the Global Wind Summit, such as electrification, auctions, corporate PPAs and new markets?

Hackathons are a great way to accelerate digital transformation. They help corporations in getting rid of old processes and ways of working, by showing that large organisations can also innovate at start-up speed. And that has never been more critical than now: if we want to fight global warming, increasing electrification is mandatory, and for its success we will have to be able to develop new business models, betting on market innovation.

Second 'Hack the Wind' innovation challenge set for Hamburg

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Corporate power purchase agreements are an example of why corporations need to think outside the box. This is a challenge as we will have to learn to develop, very fast, tailor made solutions.

That is why we have a lot to learn with Hackathons, by getting inspiration from start-ups which often bet on the 'agile' methodology. They know that, rather than waiting until they have developed a perfect product, they can move faster by launching early a “minimum viable product” and then progressively improving it.

How did the format of 2017's event inform thinking on this year’s, and what can it tell the wider wind industry about its approach to developing disruptive technologies?

EDP considered last year’s event such a success that it was decided to keep a predictive maintenance challenge permanently open, and in that way reinforce its bet on [an] open data approach. This year's event will see the launch of the EPR Open Data platform, an online resource that gathers datasets from different EDP assets, such as solar and wind farms, and makes them available through a simple click to all the parties interested in the energy sector.

This platform will remain permanently open after the event, and everyone is welcome to use the datasets to develop and test new algorithms. EDP intends to make this an interactive platform, providing feedback to the reuses of the data. EDP also plans to add new challenges to the platform, addressing real and emergent problems of the energy sector.

EDPR was the lead mentor company for last year’s Hack the Wind. Did the event have any immediate influence on the company’s approach to innovation and R&D?

Last year’s Hack the Wind reinforced our opinion that open innovation is the way to go, and that we have a lot to benefit by working in close cooperation with start-ups, universities, R&D institutes and the community in general. For that purpose, we are building an ecosystem around EDP which will leverage innovation, enabling us to move much faster.

Last year, teams built their concepts using Envision’s EnOS open source IoT [internet of things] platform. Will this be used again, and what lessons were taken from using an open platform for fast-track technology development, not least considering issues related to IP?

Working with Envision was inspiring. This year the datasets will be available on our open data platform and our expectation is that the competitors will use open source software to develop their algorithms. Tools like Python, Jupyter, Pandas, Anaconda and R come to mind as candidates for algorithm development, but the participants will be free to use whatever they want.

EDP intends to promote a collaborative approach where the participants will benefit from our expertise, while we learn from the participants’ choices. The opportunities of collaboration are immense.

Digitalisation is one of four ‘day-themes’ at the Global Wind Summit this year. Given the nearly all-encompassing nature of digitalisation, is the wind industry moving quickly enough to make fundamental changes to the way it operates – from blockchain and other digital ledger technologies through iterative engineering processes to predictive maintenance etc. – to gain the efficiencies and forward-looking improvements that digitalisation offers?

"As far as digitalisation is concerned we can never move fast enough."

As far as digitalisation is concerned we can never move fast enough. Artificial Intelligence is going to completely disrupt the way we plan, build and operate our wind farms, and that will happen much sooner than we anticipated. GAFAs [Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple] as well as others like Microsoft and IBM, have been setting the pace by investing huge amounts of resources in this field and in open-sourcing cutting edge software.

At the same time, barriers to the entry on these technologies are decreasing, as MOOC [so-called massive online courses] are becoming widely available, making it easier to learn how to use AI. We believe that utilities can obtain a competitive advantage if they are able to move faster in the learning curve of these fields.

  • Hack the Wind will be held across the first two days of the WindEurope Conference 2018, part of the Global Wind Summit taking place from 25-28 September at the Hamburg Messe und Congress. Judging for the €20,000 ($23,410) top prize will be by an expert judging panel that includes Recharge Editor-in-Chief Darius Snieckus.

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