How will Buying a WindTurbine Change in the Future

Just a few years ago, my wife never thought she would buy shoes on the internet. She needed to try them on. Wow was I surprised how that's changed. A few years later we never expected to shop or buy cars on the internet, but we just did. Almost any product can be bought and sold now online.

What about wind turbines?

What we’ve learned about buying online is that we can shop and compare. We can compare prices. We can compare output. We can compare customer satisfaction. We can buy from different sources with different discounts. At minimum, we can gather significant amounts of data to make more informed buying decisions.

One of the most important pieces of data that's been missing from online shopping is product performance. We can get reliability data, but we don’t know how long a product will last based on the way that I use it. If you knew how long a product will last and divide that by the price, you could calculate cost per month and might have a completely new measurement by which you would “buy on life” instead of just buying on price.

How is it be possible to know how long a product will last? You need historical measurements. You need operating data. There are differences in the bill of materials for products, different sub-components, bearings, bearing suppliers. There’s a lot of information you would need. But what if you could?

You might consider buying a more expensive wind turbine if you knew it would last longer – without an LTSA. You might consider buying better bearings if you knew they would make the turbine last longer.

We interviewed both OEMs of wind turbines and the sub-component vendors, and also wind operators about this exact point. OEMs want to build more reliable, longer lasting products but they don’t believe operators want to spend the extra money. Operators tell us they will spend more if the products they buy last longer than they do today. There’s a disconnect.

Last year, we correlated our computational data against physical test data and we found a difference. Sentient received the Frost & Sullivan award for uncovering this difference. Specifically, we found differences between the field operating performance of a wind turbine and the physical test data collect from the bench. In some cases, it was a ~68% difference. Operators know this already; they know that the differences in their operating profiles are very different from test data and that this difference is often why their assets fail early. OEMs know this too but can’t get the operating data from the wind operators to improve their testing. We have a stand-off.

Sentient is a trusted third party, not aligned with any OEM. We’re called in by wind operators and utilities to compare new products before buying and to extend the life of wind turbines already in the ground. The operators give us operating data across their fleet to make sure we can give them accurate simulations regarding remaining useful life. And in some cases, under NDA we are sharing that data with preferred suppliers to the operator.

What does this mean for suppliers and OEMs? We can now provide performance simulations of your products and services based on the exact operating conditions of the wind operator. You can build and test products for specific use cases and wind regimes. You can reduce costs where products are overbuilt. And you can get long term forecasts for what needed, where and when. Think 5-year forecasts for main bearing replacements.  

The performance and lifing data is now available. We’re providing it to our customers for drivetrains today. Blades and structures are coming. You know the costs, and we know product performance independent from supplier datasheets. With that information you can compare wind turbines differently than you do today. In fact, you can become a very smart shopper of wind turbines, LTSAs, insurance plans, sub-components, and inventory or less inventory.

Can you buy a wind turbine on a Google search? We think so – right after those red pumps.

See an example of how this is applied by playing The Wind Challenge.