Big data is a key IT theme – and capturing, processing and analysing gigantic volumes of data is already a commonplace activity for innogy. Kirsten Theobald, our renewables expert, on the “Condition Monitoring System”, intelligent networking, digitalisation of wind farms and the goal of decarbonisation via more renewables.
When Dr.-Ing. Kirsten Theobald speaks, it pays to listen intently to what she is saying. Our expert for onshore wind farms, hydropower and biogas plants not only speaks speaks quickly and precisely on the subject of transformation of the energy industry, decarbonisation and renewables, but she also says every single sentence to a: “Anyone with any decency or brain matter between their ears will inevitably reach the conclusion that renewables are the only long-term option.”
Kirsten Theobald makes this point, which is undoubtedly a touchy one for some, while standing in the shade of the large cooling towers of the Neurath power plant. The region surrounding the Garzweiler open-cast mine – half an hour’s drive north-west of Cologne – has a symbolic quality to it, because conventional and renewable energy production are just a few kilometres away from each other. A total of four conventional lignite-fired belonging to RWE Generation – and the future in the form of wind turbines are all within the line of sight.
“Renewables are the only long-term option.”
The turbines at the Königshoven Heights wind farm are busy generating renewable energy on a blustery June day. But Kirsten Theobald also speaks so quickly about the gigantic wind turbines and their development over the last decade, that the impression is created that there is no time to lose before the next steps are taken to produce more renewables.
One of the current major projects for the Research & Development team at innogy is called “Condition Monitoring System”, or CMS for short. What is this? “The aim is to make wind power technology smarter and establish it on a more stable basis,” says Kirsten Theobald, whose job it is to deliver research projects and innovations at innogy that will reduce the cost of construction and operation of renewable plants.
The essential components of CMS are a host of sensors placed, for instance, on the drive shaft of the turbines, and also in the wind farms themselves. The pressure, temperature and vibration levels are all measured, in some cases several times per second. “We capture gigantic volumes of data or co-called big data. Our role is to organise the recorded data and then analyse it so we can act accordingly,” explains Kirsten.
Kirsten Theobald outlines two scenarios where the data is used. Firstly, on an everyday basis, they help wind farm managers do their job of controlling the turbines. “From our control room in Hanover, all onshore wind farms are permanently monitored. Are they running? Are there any outages? What is the current demand from the grid operator?“
“We capture gigantic volumes of data or co-called big data. Our role is to organise the recorded data and then analyse it so we can act accordingly”, explains Kirsten.
The second scenario is much more exciting for development engineers within the Research & Development team of innogy. In the long term, the data is designed to help answer the bigger questions about plant optimisation, enhanced efficiency and the right maintenance strategy. Theobald and the R&D team try to develop the right algorithms to extract the right answers from that mountain of data. “Do I have to replace a bearing, for instance, because the instruction manual tells me so? Or can I leave it in for now, because it is still completely intact?” This is how the engineer explains one of the classic maintenance questions.
“Sounds easy? The devil is always in the detail,” laughs Theobald. For there is no “one-size-fits-all“ solution here. Everything has to be individually developed, configured and operated for each particular use, and that requires plenty of specialised expertise. Interpreting the results also requires a high degree of technical programming skills.
Why do she and the Research & Development team enjoy doing overtime? Kirsten Theobald does have to pause briefly before answering that one – with, “Technical development is a honey pot. Wind turbines have blades that are as intelligent as their support surfaces and constantly have to adjust to different wind gusts! And, of course, it would be great if not only the wind turbines could share data with one another but.... ideally all renewable energy generators and storage devices, grids and consumers all over Europe.”