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Energy @ Speed of Digital

OPINION | Renewables and the wider power system can't fulfill their potential without embracing digitalisation, writes Balki Iyer

The role of digitalisation is ever increasing across the renewable energy industry and the evolving electricity industry landscape.

Between inexpensive hardware, cloud software and the low-entry barrier presented by the Internet of Things (IoT) players in recent years, digitalisation has made it possible for companies to identify efficiencies and explore avenues that they never thought possible even three years back.

It’s projected that the amount of digital data generated will grow from 33 ZB (yes, that’s a zettabyte — 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes) in 2018 to 175 ZB by 2025, with 49% of stored data in the cloud.

While the wind industry grew from kilowatt to megawatt in the past 10 years, the digital industry has leaped from kilobytes to petabytes (1,000,000,000,000,000 bytes) in the same time.

We have the luxury of being born digital and there’s never been a dearth of data flowing from turbines. Every single turbine generates 200+ tags every second. Yet if you consider the entire data spectrum that wind turbines and solar inverters generate today, and the potential to save on operational costs and increase revenue, the vast majority of operators take advantage of less than just 10% of that data on a day-to-day basis.

'The Wind Challenge proves digitalisation delivers'

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That’s a missed opportunity for the industry players to not take full advantage of this treasure trove flowing through their very expensive assets. Not to forget, MWh earned through efficiency is MW not having to be installed. For the developers and project owners who understand the difficulty of building projects, this should be a welcome invitation.

Meanwhile, wind turbine capacity worldwide reached an incredible milestone of 600GW in 2018, according to the World Wind Energy Association.

As the industry transitions from an era of tariff-aided growth to an era of efficiency-aided growth, from long-term government-based power-purchase agreements to shorter contract terms with merchants, the market for the right digital intelligence is paramount.

By leveraging the power of advanced data science, machine learning and hyperlocal weather forecasting, energy data analytics and short-term power forecasting are powerful tools to equip asset managers, owners, operators and power traders with actionable information critical to optimise fleet operations and extract incremental commercial value.

Software as a Service (Saas) products, scaleable across multiple domains in the electricity value chain for generation asset de-risking, system operations, power trading, and transmission and distribution coordination are the here and now, and future of the renewable industry. The commercial models of pay-as-you-go have made it quite affordable compared to millions of dollars of capex for such investments that companies needed to contemplate in the past.

"Our view of the turbine has gone from just the foot of the machine to the entire grid ecosystem."

Our view of the turbine has gone from just the foot of the machine to the entire grid ecosystem. We’re going from routine, time-based maintenance to a more intelligent operations set-up, where you have a holistic overview of your assets, components that are not working or are about to fail, what to do about it, and predicting power output by using precise power forecasting capabilities. Short-term forecasting is a vital demand to reduce wind generators’ dispatch uncertainty.

For all these smart decision-making elements to come together, progress cannot happen without adopting digital. It is the path forward to bring more renewables into the energy mix.

Balki Iyer is chief growth officer at Utopus Insights, a data-driven energy analytics Software as a Service (SaaS) company based in New York that develops digital solutions to accelerate the integration of renewable energy into the modern grid.

He is speaking at WindEurope 2019 in Bilbao today (April 3) at the Vestas seminar at 1.30pm in Meeting Room 8, Level 5.

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