How can investors get smart on artificial intelligence?

Artificial intelligence can help wind investors smarten up their O&M strategies and boost project returns. But do they know enough to harness its power?


June 18, 2020

Artificial intelligence can help wind investors smarten up their O&M strategies and boost project returns. But do they know enough to harness its power?

That’s a question we’re asking after reading a white paper on digitalisation that Onyx InSight has published today. It said AI can help operators and investors, by collecting data on turbines they can use to address costly problems early.

But it also raised questions about whether firms are doing enough to make the most of these insights. The company said there are three common problems it sees in how companies use AI, which could undermine their O&M efforts:

  • Collecting data with no clear strategy
  • Failing to recognise the value of multiple data streams
  • Relying heavily on data but with no engineering expertise

This is important for investors because it suggests that many aren’t making the most of the information they collect. It’s a waste of money to collect data and not now how to use it.

This is an issue for the industry at large as well.

Developers and manufacturers are increasingly looking to AI systems to help them reduce costs, and improve the competitiveness in the energy mix.

However, if wind farm operators can’t then make the most of the data they collect, this could breed discontent with the whole discipline of digitalisation. That could harm the potential for further cost reductions in wind.

This was one of the talking points in our Watt Seat webinar. At 3pm BST today, we hosted a session called ‘The Power Pivot: How can smarter O&M strategies drive renewable profits in a green recovery?’ View the recording here.

We were joined by Julia Rhodes-Journeay, director in Blackrock’s renewables group; Alistair Warwick, head of technical functions at BP Wind Energy; Billy Stevenson, managing director at Deutsche Windtechnick; and Brian McDaid, head of O&M at RES Group. Bruce Hall, chief executive of our partner Onyx InSight, was moderator.

These industry experts discussed topics including the impact of Covid-19 on O&M; the important role of improved O&M in helping the wind industry to keep growing in the early 2020s; and the obstacles to making that happen.

Digital skills deficit

We all know predicting the future is a mug’s game. We certainly didn’t have a global pandemic in our start-of-year predictions!

But we can say with certainty that turbines in 2025 with have more sensors and produce more data than they do now. This should be good for investors and operators, which will have even more opportunities to collect data on project performance, and use this to help maximise their returns.

Getting a strong grasp of digitalisation will help to negotiate these changes.

For example, we’ve seen in the Covid-19 crisis the benefits that monitoring technology can bring. Operators have been forced to deal with disrupted supply chains, and to adapt their maintenance schedules accordingly – and all while taking into account social distancing.

Those that know what’s going on inside their turbines are able to ensure that they can focus their technician visits on the most profitable work.

This helps to minimise asset downtime and maximise profitability. But Onyx InSight warns that a rush to embrace digitalisation could damage the sector. If operators and investors raced to put in place suboptimal digital strategies then this could mean they don’t see big enough returns from those investments, and go cold on digitalisation. This could then reduce further investments in data, and hinder the ability of the wind industry to keep driving down costs.

Bruce Hall, CEO at Onyx InSight, says operators must ensure they have the skilled staff that can understand data, and use that to develop profitable O&M plans. Firms that collect loads of data but don’t know how to use it will find it does more harm than good: “This renders the data – and therefore service – useless,” says Hall.

Investors known the mantra to understand what they’re investing in. When it comes to investing in the right AI systems, this is as true as ever.

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