New global renewable energy deployments are set to increase by more than 440 GW by the end of 2023, the largest increase to date. To put that into perspective, a power plant with a capacity of 1 GW could power approximately 876,000 households. So, this increase is expected to provide the renewable energy equivalent of a plant powering roughly 385 million homes.
The renewable energy sector will also celebrate another milestone this year, reaching 1 TW of installed wind energy capacity worldwide. It took more than 40 years to reach this milestone, but experts predict the industry will hit 2 TW by 2030. With new areas like New York City transforming fossil-fuel plants into wind energy hubs, the future is promising for this renewable energy source.
However, with more infrastructure comes the need for more trained workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total employment of wind turbine service technicians is expected to increase by 44% between now and 2031, the second-fastest-growing occupation behind nurse practitioners. To continue increasing infrastructure at scale, the wind power industry must equip the current workforce to handle growing demand, onboard and integrate new technicians, and create workflows that maximize productivity and lower costs.
Technicians: Essential to Maintaining Current and Future Infrastructure
Wind turbine technicians assist in many tasks, such as installing new turbines, inspecting towers, performing routine maintenance, testing electrical components, and replacing worn or malfunctioning hardware. Of these roles, maintenance often takes up a significant amount of their time. On average, each turbine must be inspected two to three times a year. Each maintenance check results in about 12–18 hours of downtime. This process accounts for almost 30% of the total wind turbine cost.
What makes the maintenance process so time-consuming and costly? First, turbines are large and take up a lot of space. To inspect a turbine manually, a technician often uses a crane to rise to over 400 feet and examine 360-foot-long blades. Not to mention, they need to first travel to remote or offshore locations since wind farms need more space than a typical city or residential area can accommodate. In addition to the sheer size of the structure, wind turbines use a complex web of parts and systems to function properly—such as gearboxes, sensors, electrical and control systems, and generators. So, maintenance is more than just looking at the turbine to see if anything is broken. It’s testing complex technical and electrical systems, and reviewing data to ensure everything is running at peak performance.
To complete this maintenance process, technicians depend on several resources—including turbine specifications, special software and analysis tools, sensors, and historical data. In the past, technicians had to review this information manually or wait to see the full picture back at the office, where they could use a laptop to review data. Thanks to continued innovation in the IoT (Internet of Things), computer hardware, software tools, and data analytics, technicians can continuously monitor a wind turbine’s condition to detect potential issues before they arise, maximizing the technician’s work time and minimizing downtime due to maintenance or outages.
Technology: Essential to Streamlining Workflows and Enhancing Technician Performance
With these new technological maintenance options comes the need for enhanced mobile computing. While typical consumer devices may be less expensive to deploy at first, they will succumb to the remote environment and harsh conditions of a typical wind farm—such as dirt, dust, heat, and changing weather conditions. However, rugged laptops and 2-in-1s are designed for these environmental conditions. They offer a longer battery life, reliable connectivity, and low failure rates so technicians can get the job done quickly and accurately.
For example, with a rugged 2-in-1, a technician can confidently take the device up on a platform or with them through the field in areas where equipment will often get banged around during daily projects. Technicians can use these devices while wearing safety gear—like goggles and gloves—and swap out ports and expansions to customize the device based on the job at hand. These devices even offer hot-swappable batteries to extend the life of the device, ensuring technicians can complete their maintenance without stopping to charge their laptops. These features streamline a technician’s workday and save information technology (IT) teams valuable time and money as they keep onsite workers equipped with the latest solutions.
To increase customer satisfaction, reduce call backs, and expedite service, technicians need reliable connectivity from their mobile office (think their vehicle or in the field) to increase productivity and reduce downtime. They need to review maintenance requests and technical specifications or communicate with coworkers onsite to make the most of their time.
Rugged devices offer multiple connectivity options, including 4G and 5G. With these options, a technician can know that whether they are up on a crane servicing a blade or on the ground communicating with a team member at another site, they will stay connected.
Technicians also need device connectivity to make the most of the data-intensive monitoring solutions in play today. A sensor inside a turbine monitoring electrical systems or a drone surveying a wind farm won’t be of much help if the technician can’t review and assess the data in real time. But always-on connectivity via rugged devices helps technicians make data-informed decisions for streamlined maintenance.
Talent + Technology = A Growing Renewable Energy Infrastructure
To reach the reality of a fully renewable energy infrastructure, the industry needs more technicians. However, more people in the field won’t be enough. They need the right tools, too. As energy providers grow their teams, deploying customizable, long-lasting mobile devices is important. These devices keep onsite teams connected and help bring the renewable energy industry into the next phase of technological advancement—one that enables predictive maintenance with sensors, and the IoT and data-backed decisions for maximum uptime and optimized resource deployment.
Rugged mobile solutions are the centerpiece of this system. They connect technicians with infrastructure and energy providers with service operators. These devices marry performance, power, and connectivity to take technicians inside the infrastructure to see beyond the human eye and catch issues before they happen. This combination of talent and technology will change how we create, distribute, and consume the energy we depend on every day.
—Chad T. Hall is Executive Business Development Manager of Enterprise Mobility Solutions, Panasonic Connect of North America.