Envision’s plans for wind and smart cities


July 28, 2017

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How can wind help cities be ‘smarter’? Chinese turbine maker Envision wants to play a key role in answering this question.

This month, Envision announced that it has teamed up with firms including Microsoft and Accenture to create a global, interconnected “ecosystem” in renewables. That sounds intriguing – IT jargon truly is something to behold! – but what does it mean?

In short, these companies have formed the Energy Internet of Things and Smart City Alliance with the ambition of creating a global network where wind farms are linked to solar farms, utilities, energy buyers and software developers on a digital network. The idea is that this will help everyone to better track energy supply and demand to enable companies, including those in the wind sector, to run the grid more efficiently.

The partners said this would also help support investment in ‘smart grid’ technology, which will be needed as grid operators seek to integrate more wind and solar farms. And it could help with the deployment of smart IT systems to help cities solve urban problems, while giving intelligence that could improve how wind farms are operated.

All big goals. But how the partners plan to actually fix urban problems and the grid while improving the maintenance of wind farms is hazier.

The partnership is still at a very early stage and the project has not been properly defined yet, but it builds on the creation by Envision of its EnOS platform last year.

Envision launched this system to provide information and control on how, where and when energy is produced, stored and used, through real-time data tracking. We can see how that would be useful in helping cities to manage fluctuating power demand.

To this alliance, Microsoft is set to bring its Azure Cloud Platform to provide secure data storage, and Accenture has its Enterprise Service expertise to ensure that the different systems can be made to work together.

Envision chief executive Lei Zhang has said that EnOS is meant to enable “homes, neighbourhoods and cities to become self-sustained power plants”, and this alliance is intended to help Lei and Envision to achieve that goal. This would go much further than the smart meters and smart thermostats that utilities are using to gain data that helps them operate the grid more efficiently.

In practice, it should help utilities deal more effectively with mismatches between supply and demand, and help cities to support more renewables. It could be vital as the likes of New York seek to integrate offshore wind farms into its grid, for instance.

Another potential advantage is that data gathered from connected devices could be advantageous for owners of wind farms. We already know how analysing the data coming from wind turbines can be used to help optimise performance and target maintenance more effectively, but it could also give insights into consumer energy use and demand that helps companies in wind to better tailor their services.

Finally, the use of these of this intelligent technologies would help to modernise the grid and existing power infrastructure, without the cost of rebuilding power grids from scratch.

For Envision, the alliance builds on its existing work with ‘smart’ turbines. It has 7.5GW of its turbines in operation globally, and is one of the ten largest turbine makers by installed capacity. It is also building digital software and networking technologies to help developers lower the cost of building and operating projects.

Envision is not the only company to see the advantages of digitalisation of the sector. General Electric last year launched Predix, a software system for industrial equipment that delivers real-time insights, and others are making turbines ‘smarter’.

However, the move by Envision and others to integrate renewables more closely with the operations of cities is, in itself, smart. Cities are huge energy users, and are often blessed with leaders who have to get power from whichever source makes sense. They are problem-solvers who usually cannot afford to take the same strong ideological positions on energy sources as national politicians.

And if Envision can help better integrate wind energy in the places where demand for electricity is greatest, then the whole sector could benefit.

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