Vaisala, a global leader in environmental and industrial measurement, has signed a 3-year contract with leading independent power company, Pattern Energy Group Inc. (Pattern Energy), to supply access to historical and real-time lightning data for ten 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.
Lightning damage accounts for nearly a quarter of reported insurance claims in the U.S. wind sector, while turbine blades have the highest failure rate of any single component. Accordingly, lightning damage to blades is one of the most common threats to the operational performance of a wind farm.
Moreover, for wind farm operators, the potential financial impact of a lightning strike to a turbine blade is twofold, combining costly property damage with downtime and business interruption during inspection, repairs, and replacement. While minor blade damage may ultimately affect the long-term performance of a wind farm and drive up operations and maintenance costs, in the eventuality of a total loss, root cause analysis can take a number of weeks, directly impacting project revenues. A full blade replacement could set project stakeholders back $100,000 or more, depending on the extent of the damage.
However, to date, the wind energy market has been slow to follow the example of other sectors in assessing the full effects of lightning damage on its assets by incorporating lightning data into its maintenance inspection programs.
Pattern Energy, which operates an expanding portfolio of wind energy projects in the lightning-prone central U.S. and Canada between Texas and Ontario, has recognized the potential impact of lightning on its sites and taken proactive steps to minimize the associated operational and financial risk as it works to re-engineer its data systems.
For the duration of the 3-year contract signed with Vaisala, Pattern Energy will benefit from access to the Fault Analysis Lightning Location System (FALLS), a unique tool that allows utilities and project operators to overlay the locations of project infrastructure with correlating lightning activity on an interactive map.
The system, which makes use of real-time data from Vaisala's unmatched North American Lightning Detection Network (NALDN), will allow 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.
In doing so, Pattern Energy will not only be able to spot blade damage early, mitigating the risk of further and more severe damage in the long-term, but also reduce inspection and repair costs, while keeping project downtime to a minimum. Furthermore, by using 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 both existing O&M efforts and potentially even site design.
Vaisala FALLS is used by 80% of the top revenue-generating utilities in the United States. It is also incorporated into the operations of electric utilities in 15 countries worldwide. The NALDN lightning network in the United States and Canada is complemented by Vaisala's GLD360 Global Lightning Dataset, a service that provides real-time lightning data for accurate and early detection of severe weather worldwide.