Alternative Energy

More than bluster: controlling wind power generation

19th May 2021
Alex Lynn

Humans have harnessed the power of the wind throughout history. From windmills and their use in food production to sailing ships that date back thousands of years, people have understood the resource that is the unseen force of the wind. And now the Earth faces the threat of climate change and the challenge to reduce global carbon emissions, once again we turn to the wind as a source of energy to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Here, Beth Ragdale, product manager at Beckhoff UK, has explained how PC-based automation can improve efficiency in wind power generation.

As the UK aims to achieve net zero by 2050, switching to greener sources of energy will be vital in hitting this target. As anyone who has ever been outside on a particularly blustery day knows, Britain is a blustery place. Wind farms are therefore essential to the UK’s plan to transition to renewable energies — so essential, in fact, that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set the goal of powering every UK home using offshore wind power by 2030.

Achieving such a goal requires wind farms across the UK to increase their capacity. It would be easy to think that increasing capacity would just be a matter of adding more wind turbines, but this would just lead to high project and operating costs. It’s therefore necessary to consider how to reduce costs or optimise energy generation with effective management strategies.

One approach to optimising energy generation is to improve the quality of wind turbine control systems. If a turbine is able to quickly respond to change wind speeds by adjusting the pitch and yaw of the turbine blades, it can efficiently generate higher volumes of power. This is achievable with fast data communication protocols, such as EtherCAT, and PC-based control systems utilising Beckhoff’s TwinCAT software.

PC-based control software allows for flexibility in control system design and a high level of scalability in terms of performance, making turbines more efficient and profitable. It also allows for smooth integration, meaning users can configure a controller that exactly matches their systems’ requirements. PC-based systems allow data to be collected from sensors and then sent to the cloud, where it can be used to inform decisions about maintenance and support comprehensive reporting of wind power production figures to grid operators.

Condition monitoring is essential to increase operational functionality in wind farms. It is vital that engineers have the information they need about the condition of blades and other parts of the turbine. Maintenance is obviously key to ensuring that a wind farm is performing at an optimal standard, but manually inspecting the status of turbines — particularly in offshore wind farms — is no simple task. It’s therefore necessary to make sure that the right information makes it to the right people to ensure that turbines are in good condition and fully operational.

The information that engineers need — blade condition, the speed the turbines are turning, the power that’s being generated and the pitch and yaw — would be most effective when compiled into one place. This data is easy to collect, but it needs to be sent efficiently to operators. With Beckhoff’s innovative approach to turbine management, all this information goes to the cloud, where it can be accessed by those who need it to make the best decisions.

The TwinCAT 3 Wind Framework uses the concepts of Industry 4.0 and applies them to the wind energy sector. This software framework incorporates all basic functions from management through to machine state, event management and database connection to simulations. In bringing all these things together, the TwinCAT 3 Wind Framework enables operators to program wind turbines for themselves in a more efficient process.

As we find new ways to harness the wind’s power in the 21st century, efficient management will be essential to drive the clean energy transition. Putting the right data in the hands of the right people is key to making sure that wind farms are running at their optimal capacity, and in proper working order. Moving from fossil fuels to renewable power will only be viable and cost-effective if the systems that underpin the shift can fully support the growth of the sector.

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