Wind turbines are a critical component of the world’s transition to Net Zero. Here, we look at the sensor technologies ensuring their safe, efficient functioning.
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Introduction to Sensor Technology in Wind Turbines
Wind turbines are expected to have a useful lifetime of 25 years, and sensors play a critical role and making sure a turbine reaches the end of its expected life. By sensing wind speed, vibration, temperature, and more, these tiny devices keep wind turbines operating safely and efficiently.
Wind turbines must also be financially viable. Otherwise, their use would be seen as less practical compared to other forms of clean energy and even energy derived from fossil fuels. Sensors can provide performance data that wind farm operators can use to strive for peak electricity production.
Types of Sensors Used in Wind Turbines
The most essential sensor technology for wind turbines is used to detect wind, vibration, displacement, temperature, and physical strain. The following sensors help to establish baseline conditions and detect when conditions have significantly deviated from the baseline.
Wind Speed and Direction
The ability to detect wind speed and direction is essential to evaluating the performance of both a wind farm and individual turbines. Service life, dependability, functionality, and durability are the main concerns when assessing various wind sensors.
Most modern wind sensors are mechanical or ultrasonic. Mechanical anemometers use rotating cups and a wind vane to determine speed and direction. Ultrasonic sensors send pulses of ultrasonic sound from one side of the sensor unit to a receiver on the opposite side. Wind speed and direction are determined by measuring the received signal.
Many operators prefer ultrasonic wind sensors because they do not need to be recalibrated. This allows for them to be placed in areas where maintenance is challenging.
Vibration and Displacement Sensors
Detecting vibrations and any displacement is critical to monitoring the integrity and performance of a wind turbine. Accelerometers are often used to monitor vibration inside the bearings and rotating components. LiDAR sensors are typically used to monitor tower vibrations and track any displacement over time.
Temperature and Humidity Sensors
In some environments, the copper components used to carry turbine output can generate significant amounts of heat, causing damaging burns. Temperature sensors can monitor current-carrying components vulnerable to overheating and prevent damage from occurring through automated or manual remedies.
Load and Strain Sensors
Wind turbines are designed, built, and lubricated to prevent friction. One of the most critical areas for friction prevention is around the drive shaft, and this is mostly done by maintaining a critical distance between the shaft and its associated bearing.
Eddy current sensors are commonly used to monitor the “bearing gap.” If this gap shrinks, lubrication is reduced, potentially decreasing efficiency and damaging the turbine. Eddy current sensors detect the distance between an object and a reference point. They are built to withstand liquid, pressure and temperature, making them ideal to monitor the bearing gap in harsh conditions.
Data collection and analysis are critical to daily operations and long-term planning. Connecting sensors to a modern cloud-based infrastructure allows for both access to wind farm data and a high level of control. Modern analytics can combine the latest operational data with historical data to provide insights and issue automated performance alerts.
Future Trends and Innovations in Sensor Technology
The latest sensor-related technological innovations are poised to boost efficiency, lower costs, and increase sustainability. These advances are related to artificial intelligence, process automation, digital twins, and smart monitoring.
As with many other processes, AI is already significantly accelerating the processing of sensor data to deliver more insights, improving efficiency and lowering costs. The nature of AI means it will only provide more insights over time. Germany-based company Turbit Systems is one business already using AI to identify problems by spotting irregular patterns in sensor data.
Process automation uses sensor data, automated processing, and programmable logic controllers to automatically adjust pitch, power output, and more. Many startups are augmenting this process automation with cloud computing to make the technology more accessible.
Emerging trends in wind turbine sensor data go beyond process-related matters. Data collected from wind turbines is now being used to create digital twins of turbines and other wind farm components. Digital twins can be used to create simulations and help in decision-making processes. This technology is invaluable when it comes to wind farm planning, turbine design, forensic analysis, sustainability, and more. It is particularly valuable for researchers, manufacturers, and maintenance teams.
Emerging smart monitoring technology lets project supervisors track the efficiency and status of wind turbines in real-time to quickly provide warnings and key insights. Smart monitoring is designed to boost operational transparency to allow for superior decision-making. It can also help with minor adjustments that lower maintenance costs.
German startup Flucto provides a smart monitoring solution for offshore installations that combines a small computer, wireless connection, and cameras in a motion sensor box. The system uses sensor data and weather conditions to provide precise measurements and gauge asset performance.
A device from Australian startup Ping Services monitors the acoustic signature of a turbine's blades to recognize unusual changes and damage. The device is capable of identifying internal and external damage, as well as ice accumulation and lightning strike detection.
The use of sensor technology in wind turbines is only just beginning. Expect the technology to improve as sensors become smaller, more affordable, and more sophisticated. Recent advancements are allowing for sensors to be placed in more locations than previously possible, allowing for more nuanced control of wind power operations.
References and Further Reading
CR4. (Retrieved August 2023). The Crucial Role of Sensors in Wind Turbines. Electronics360. Available at: https://electronics360.globalspec.com/article/13834/the-crucial-role-of-sensors-in-wind-turbines
Flucto. (Retrieved September 2023). Flucto – digital wind technology. Available at: https://flucto.tech
Manz, B. (2023, February 10). Wind turbines: Tiny sensors play big role. Mouser Electronics. Available at: https://www.mouser.com/applications/tiny-Sensors-Role-in-Wind-Turbines/
Ping Services. (Retrieved September 2023). Ping Services – Home. Available at: https://ping.services
StartUs Insights. (2023, January 18). Top 10 wind energy trends in 2023. StartUs Insights. Available at: https://www.startus-insights.com/innovators-guide/wind-energy-trends/
Turbit. (Retrieved September 2023). Turbit | AI Monitoring for Wind Turbines. Available at: https://www.turbit.com