Vaisala has signed a three-year contract with Pattern Energy to supply access to historical and real-time lightning data for 10 wind farms in North America. The data will be used by Pattern Energy to optimize blade inspection and repair programs and combat one of the most common causes of turbine downtime in the wind energy industry.
According to Vaisala, lightning damage to blades is one of the most common threats to the operational performance of a wind farm. Lightning damage accounts for nearly a quarter of reported insurance claims in the U.S. wind sector, and turbine blades have the highest failure rates of any single component.
Though minor blade damage can affect the long-term performance of a wind farm and drive up operations and maintenance (O&M) costs, analyzing the root cause of a total loss can take weeks, adversely impacting income. A full blade replacement could set project stakeholders back $100,000 or more, depending on the extent of the damage.
For the duration of the three-year contract, Pattern Energy will have access to the Fault Analysis Lightning Location System (FALLS). This system allows utilities and project operators to overlay the locations of project infrastructure with correlating lightning activity on an interactive map.
FALLS makes use of real-time data from Vaisala’s North American Lightning Detection Network, allowing Pattern Energy to pinpoint the location of recent and historic lightning strikes at its sites in order to determine exactly which turbines have been affected and the extent of the damage.
“While there is no way to eliminate the risk of lightning, FALLS has helped us look back and quickly assess turbine damage, enabling us to determine whether lightning truly caused damage and exactly when that damage occurred,” says Ben Rice, operations engineering manager of Pattern Energy.
FALLS will enable Pattern Energy to spot blade damage early, mitigating the risk of further and more severe damage in the long term, and will reduce inspection and repair costs, thus keeping project downtime to a minimum. By utilizing Vaisala’s historic data to develop a retrospective awareness of exactly which past faults have been caused by lightning, Pattern Energy can, in the near term, prepare detailed insurance and warranty-based claims.
Ultimately, this information will also enable Pattern Energy to start modeling and anticipating future damage, with applications for optimizing existing O&M efforts and potentially site design, as well.