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Tuesday, 15 November 2011 09:41

Business intelligence catches the wind


Infigen Energy runs wind farms across the world, and when it was developing the business case for a business intelligence solution it calculated that for every 1 per cent additional availability it could wring from its turbines it could squeeze out $1.5 million additional revenues from its then 79 wind farms spread across six countries. Not surprisingly the company rolled out that business intelligence solution to ensure its turbines are operational and facing the right way when the wind blows.

Jillian Carmody, the company's chief information officer, has been with the organisation since it was set up out of Babcock & Brown in 2009. Since that business case was first developed the number of wind farms owned by the business has been signficantly reduced, but the business intelligence system is still delivering benefits.

A greenfields operation, the company originally tried to get a handle on its data by feeding information into spreadsheets and manually slicing and dicing.

But as Ms Carmody noted; 'It was very hard to assure the data integrity.' Not only was information about the different turbines collected from multiple sources, showing how they were performing and when they were scheduled for maintenance and so forth, all the company's income was in different currencies and had to be manipulated before being input to the spreadsheets.

And although there was industrial control data generated in the turbines' SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems, it could not easily be manually loaded into the spreadsheets.

Given the high revenue stakes it was important that a more comprehensive, accurate and real time information source was developed. Working with services provider Oakton, Infigen has now implemented Microsoft SQL 2008 as the underlying platform for its business intelligence.

Working with the business Ms Carmody and Oakton developed a set of requirements, definitions and calculations of the loss factors associated with how efficiently power from the turbines was getting to the grid. This informed the underpinning calculations that needed to be performed on the raw data associated with each turbine.

The company also had to negotiate with the wind turbine manufacturers to get access to their SCADA data. Ms Carmody acknowledged that many were reluctant to provide that access initially, although SCADA data is now being fed via satellite links or 3G connections into Infigen's application.

Ms Carmody explained how this intelligence is then applied; 'Wind farms, when they are first constructed, are under a warranty period for say five years.' The trick is to make sure that turbines are not offline and being maintained during periods when they could be generating electricity.

'Because of maintenance they might not be available when there is a high wind,' she explained. But thanks to meteorological records and analysis the company claims it can predict with some degree of accuracy when there will be high winds, and when its turbines can produce electricity.

'Also in summer we know it is a high power period after 3pm when people get home from school and work - you don't want your turbines not generating then,' she said.

Although Ms Carmody acknowledged that Infigen needed to do more measurement about the economic benefit of the business intelligence system, which cost a tad under $1 million, she said it had already covered its costs in terms of improved access to intelligence to manage the wind farms.

The system can be used to provide regular and ad hoc reports for Infigen management, and each morning when executives check their computers they can see a chart showing the actual generation from a turbine or wind farm compared to its budget.



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