Why connected asset management is needed for operators to make the most from renewables boom

Andy Peart
16 January, 23

According to the Digest of UK Energy Statistics Annual data for UK, 2020 released in July 2021, generation from renewable sources in 2020 was higher than fossil fuels for the first time in the published time series. Renewable sources generated 134.6 terawatt hours (TWh) in 2020, a 12.6 per cent increase compared to 2019 and higher than the 117.8 TWh from fossil fuel. The high renewable generation was driven by increased wind generation, up by 18 per cent compared to 2019 to 75.4 TWh.

The ongoing growth in renewables, wind generation and of course wind turbines  will lead operators to increasingly need high-quality asset management to improve the efficiency of their assets and to ensure they make the best possible maintenance and investment decisions relating to them. The ultimate objective will be to maximise energy production, minimise downtime and reduce operating and maintenance costs. Get all this right and renewable energy asset owners and operators will be well positioned to make the most out of the current boom.

To manage the process and deliver on these objectives, operators will need the help of specialist providers who can provide expert consultancy and professional services but also offer the technology required to address the asset management challenges that will inevitably arise.

A solution through the lifecycle

Connected asset management technology can play a key role here throughout the entire lifecycle of a wind turbine, or hydro-electric recycling unit, for example.  It does this by seamlessly connecting people, systems and asset types; and integrating through powerful APIs. This may involve everything from getting work permits to allocating resource and creating installation tasks within the system.

Once the system is up and running, the focus shifts to maintenance. A connected asset management solution can schedule a proactive maintenance plan and ensure it is completed. It can also record how long this process takes to help the asset owner or operator understand what resourcing is appropriate  Where there are issues, the system can disseminate the requisite tasks quickly to engineers as part of an ongoing management process.

We would typically describe this process as operational asset management (OAM). In this context, it is focussed on helping operators and managers of renewables assets to take care their day-to-day operations and enables them to capture and track issues with their infrastructure and equipment, manage inspections and repairs, and monitor overall asset performance.

Related to OAM is strategic asset management (SAM), which takes in long-term planning: looking more holistically at the network and finding the right place to spend budget to optimise performance. OAM and SAM are often linked by data aggregation. In other words, customers can get Improved modelling outcomes in their SAM by using operational data e.g. maintenance spend etc from their OAM. But the key to really driving operational and financial benefits is to ensure the information flow  is not just one way. So, for example, provisional works programmes created in a SAM can be accessed in an OAM for review and refinement. This two-way tactical handshake helps ensure works programme refinement and delivery are achieved seamlessly.

Importance of componentisation

To support this connected asset management approach, asset owners of wind turbines, for example,  must ensure they maintain an asset register and manage it as a componentised level across each asset class. Doing this helps extend overall asset life.

The failure of one component (the rotor and hub, say, in a wind turbine) should not mean the end of life for the asset as a whole.  In every case, managing the asset down to a componentised level enables the authority to extend the asset life, and that in turn drives operational efficiency and sustainability.

Key role of the contractor

Another important consideration is to think about all the organisations that play a role in implementing, managing and maintaining renewables infrastructure. OAM and SAM typically sit with the asset owners, predominantly renewable energy companies.  

Of course, there are many other key functions that sit with maintenance contractors such as works management and financial management. These functions include planning, scheduling and delivering work and managing the financial aspect of being a contractor. Often, these areas have been siloed in different applications from different suppliers. Bridging the gap between asset owners and their contractors requires a two-way exchange of data from these applications to provide a shared data capability that delivers combined reporting and ultimately one version of the truth.

To achieve this, the way forward is the application of open application programming interfaces (APIs). With such an approach, any data a client or contractor enters into the system is automatically made available via the API for passing on to other systems. These can also be allied with microservices: pieces of code that can be created to enable interaction, e.g. to enable specific data exchanges to occur between APIs, or to poll another source of data on a regular basis, or receive data when a particular change occurs in the data elsewhere. The result of all this, is an end-to-end solution that makes asset management clear, simple and cost-efficient for both asset owners and maintenance contractors.

Positive prospects

Looking to the future, the prospects for renewable energy infrastructure appear good. According to the International Energy Agency, renewable energy installations broke new records in 2021. And despite rising raw material costs, installations are expected to rise by 8% in 2022. Yet, to sustain this positive trend, asset owners across renewables sectors will need to implement high-quality asset management that enables them to optimise production, minimise downtime and reduce costs. They will need connected asset management technology that supports both OAM and SAM but that also brings contractors into the picture to deliver works management and financial management. Get all  of this right and they will be placed to achieve success for themselves and keep today’s renewables energy boom on track.  

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