As the global economy continues to stagger from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the energy sector is by no means immune to the fiscal wreckage.
According to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), weekly demand had plummeted by a quarter this past spring during the worst of the COVID quarantine. Estimates place energy demand contraction at more than 5 percent for 2020.
The good news? Renewables output continued to grow. Why? The operation of a renewables plant brings down marginal costs. The IRENA report notes overall power output in the European market for renewables surpassed 40 percent. Despite the economic windfall, the renewable energy sector faces thorny challenges in the days ahead — especially as it relates to reduced staffing, precarious supply chains, and safety protocols in the wind power sector.
But how can we mitigate and overcome these challenges? Three words: digital software solutions — from renewable energy software to clean energy software and green energy software.
The Financial Times notes the wind-power industry faces COVID-related troubles such as plant shutdowns in China that can fuel a dire disruption to the wind power supply chain — especially because Chinese output represents half that supply chain.
Other COVID restrictions and slowdowns threaten up to billion worth of wind power equipment this year alone. Major players, such as Vestas and Siemens Gamesa, are seeing as much as 30 gigawatts of new capacity placed at risk across the U.S., China, and Europe, the Financial Times adds.
With workforce reductions mandated by pandemic lockdown measures, many wind farm Operations and Maintenance (O&M) divisions require innovative measures to ensure stable operation while also keeping workers safe.
Beatrice, Scotland’s largest offshore wind farm, normally staffs around 50 people. The new normal of COVID-19, however, means the 588MW O&M wind farm currently runs with “only essential control room employees, two members of staff at a time,” according to ReNEWS.biz.
Beyond reduce staffing, renewable energy analyst Wood Mackenzie has discovered at least two specific COVID-facing O&M strategies to mitigate potential red flags: First, wind farm operators are limiting O&M to the most critical areas. Plant operators deploy more independent contractors to supplement onsite staff. In addition, companies tend to only focus on technicians with specific critical skills — especially corrective maintenance. That means wind farm operators will have to prioritize staff allocations like ops and turbine blade repair. Assets owners will also likely delay repairs requiring personal interactions that would violate social distancing best practices for as long as COVID is a threat.
Fortunately, experts like WoodMac highlight a dynamic solution to pandemic-fueled obstacles: digitalization. Asset owners can benefit from innovative digital technology such as analytics for failure forecasting as well as remote monitoring and operational planning platforms.
Smart data collection platforms, among the diversity of solutions available, form an obvious core center to address O&M challenges.
Wind farm leaders can leverage powerful smart data platforms to access the entirety of data collection in one interface, painting an accurate, vivid picture of O&M stability and health using multiple data streams.
Without actionable insights, data analysis is about as helpful to a wind farm as a series of weak breezes. Analytical insights should be as transparent as possible to all relevant staff. For example, site managers must have easy access to operational data sets just as upper management requires seamless, accessible cost reports.
To truly optimize O&M costs and efficiencies of wind farms, a platform must also provide laser-focused integration to alleviate “informational bottlenecks.” Such roadblocks shuttle insightful data into silos, often preventing vital data from connecting with the right staff — from managers to technicians.
Even the most qualified public-health experts can’t predict how the COVID crisis will evolve — especially with promises of a vaccine still in the development stage. Although the renewable sector has avoided the lion’s share of operational downturns, continued safety and staffing obstacles will continue to ramp up costs and bleed efficiencies from even the most-well-managed O&M wind farms.
Digital solutions are poised to tackle the evolving pandemic pandemonium by empowering owners and operators to address the ongoing hurdles with agile, actionable digital platforms.
A recent report by Windpower Engineering & Development summarizes the problem-solving potential of digitalization via smart data platforms: “A good digitalization strategy allows owner-operators to access all their performance data, gain insights into the operating conditions of their fleet and share this with engineers anywhere. A digitalization partner should provide actionable advice that helps them activate the best O&M strategy to keep their turbines producing energy until restrictions on the movement of people and goods are eased.”
In short, the problem is complex, but the answer is simple. It’s all about data.