As the race is on to reduce carbon emissions and slow down climate change, renewable energy is becoming ever-more important. Taiwan is one of the countries attempting to transform its energy sector. However, reliably delivering the volume of energy required is a considerable challenge. The country has limited domestic energy resources and relies on imports for the majority of its needs. When The Renewable Energy Act set a target for Taiwan to increase its use of renewable energy by 20 per cent, the country had to import the critical equipment it needed. The problem, however, was that maintenance and support became difficult once warranties expired. To solve the problem, The Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) has joined hands with the Microsoft IoT Innovation Center. The result is a smart prognosis monitoring cloud service, powered by Azure, that predicts the time and location of machinery faults and enables downtime to be vastly reduced.
What Challenges Was The Industrial Technology Research Institute Facing?
With rising carbon emissions and climate change resulting in an acceleration of extreme weather events and natural disasters, energy transformation is a must for every nation. However, for Taiwan, which imports the vast majority of its energy, trying to use and produce renewable energy in a sustainable and stable way is far from simple. Most wind power solutions were initially developed in Europe, and the integral machinery was developed by European and American companies. On the face of it, the answer seems obvious, to import the equipment. However, the problem comes when maintenance support and warranties expire.
Turbine maintenance is a complicated undertaking with over 8,000 components to account for. While the turbines have a monitoring system which can transmit voltage and current signals, and can be shut down or restart remotely, unfortunately, they are far from being intelligent systems. What this means is that maintenance is reactive rather than predictive, and that leads to outages and instability.
And the problems don’t stop there. When a turbine requires maintenance, the ability to achieve it is highly dependent on the weather conditions. Rotor locks can’t be reached if the wind speed is above 15 m/s, or if there is lightning or thunder. And, for offshore wind farms, rough seas can restrict maintenance. What’s more, large turbine components require lifting by cranes or the use of specialised construction vehicles. And, specialised equipment needs to be imported, with lead times of up to six months to account for.
The result of unstable power is revenue losses to industry and a public loss in confidence of renewable energy. If Taiwan’s onshore wind turbines shut down for a single day, it leads to loss of 100,000 New Taiwan (NT) dollars. If its offshore turbines shut down for the same length of time, we’re talking about closer to one million NT dollars.
ITRI needed to find a way to help Taiwan maintain its onshore and offshore turbines before problems escalated. Avoiding even short-term outages of power would be the only way to ensure the country could deliver stable renewable energy.
How Microsoft Helped Develop a Smart Prognosis Solution
The Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) works as a bridge for companies across the world, enabling them to leverage regional advantages, local innovation and to build value beyond geographical boundaries. The company collaborates with leading universities, research institutes and technology development associations. With ITRI having in-house technologies and multidisciplinary capabilities, partnering with Microsoft IoT Innovation Center to deliver a solution to Taiwan’s wind power maintenance struggles was an obvious choice.
The ideal solution to the problem was clearly prognosis which would enable ITRI to predict malfunctions and wear and to order necessary equipment in advance. By being able to have foresight of maintenance needs, any downtime could be minimised, thereby reducing revenue losses and ensuring a more stable supply.
The Smart Prognosis Monitoring System that ITRI developed takes advantage of operation technology and information technology. Sensors were installed on the gearbox to detect abnormal signals, and algorithms used to determine which components could be damaged. With sensors in place, personnel no longer have to conduct on-site inspections, and sensor data gives more accurate and effective results. By having a smart system, Taiwan’s wind turbines can be maintained, and certainly monitored, throughout all weather conditions. The result is an improved availability and maintenance of turbines and a platform that is helping Taiwan stand out in a global industry.
The Benefits of Azure
Azure has helped ITRI drastically reduce the need for on-site monitoring and maintenance. As the renewable energy system is now connected to the internet, additional software can be automatically downloaded and executed. Moreover, program updates are managed easily with subscriptions and releases on Azure. The whole process has reduced hundreds of operations by on-site personnel, with every turbine updated with one single remote operation.
Azure services have risen to the challenge, helping to implement operations and plan maintenance utilising many of its key features:
Reduced costs – the system was created without needing to be developed from scratch, effectively reducing software investment costs.
Advanced security – the fear of being hacked can be a big blocker to prognosis technology. As the programs run entirely on Azure, users can’t access the original code.
Simple interpretation – Microsoft Power BI reduces the need for specialised expertise to understand data, instead, indicators are shown on intuitive graphs.
Automation – programs are now easily accessible from mobile devices, a huge goal of the ITRI project.
With a western coast endowed with strong steady winds and a shallow average depth, offshore wind power is only set to grow in Taiwan. And with a growth in wind power, comes a growth in demand for monitoring and maintenance. By partnering with Microsoft and using Azure services, ITRI has created a platform that will enable Taiwan to remain competitive and hopefully unleash the potential of its domestic wind energy.
Could Azure Help Your Business?
With the help of Azure, ITRI has developed a smart prognosis monitoring system that simplifies on-site installation, update and real-time monitoring. It is a huge game-changer for Taiwan’s domestic wind energy industry, enabling them to finally compete on a global scale. If your business involves machinery requiring time-consuming maintenance and unwanted downtime, Microsoft may well have the answer. By automating processes, reducing the need for on-site personnel, and creating smart monitoring systems, you may well be able to reduce costs and gain the competitive advantage you need.