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A new measurement developed by Sandia National Laboratories should help the wind energy industry benchmark its performance, understand vulnerabilities and enhance productivity.

Until now, wind farm owners and operators had no way to compare their output with the output of similar operations. To benchmark the reliability of the U.S. wind turbine fleet and identify major causes of failures and downtime, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) directed Sandia in 2010 to build the Continuous Reliability Enhancement for Wind (CREW) database.

This is the first effort to compile a comprehensive, operator-independent data set that accurately reflects the performance of the U.S. wind turbine fleet, according to Sandia Labs.

Every year, Sandia Labs surveys the database and publishes the results to help benchmark the industry. This year, the more than 800 wind turbines studied are either producing electricity or are available to produce electricity 97% of the time, up from 94.8% in 2011, Sandia Labs says.

"With better understanding of how major turbine systems are performing, wind operators can focus on improving those areas that will drive increased reliability and efficiency," notes Sandia researcher and CREW team lead Alistair Ogilvie.

"Our assignment from the DOE is to objectively characterize the national fleet," adds Valerie Peters, CREW lead reliability analyst. "We're looking across technologies, locations and companies to create benchmarking statistics for the entire U.S. wind turbine fleet."

Sandia's team is working to determine which wind turbine components are the most vulnerable and to help the industry address those concerns to prevent downtime.

Four wind farm owner/operators are participating in the development phase of the CREW project: EDF Renewable Energy (formerly enXco Service Corp.), ShellWind Energy, Wind Capital Group and Xcel Energy.

The CREW team taps into turbines' existing supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) industrial control systems, and Sandia researchers are able to collect high-resolution data from key operating parameters, such as wind speed, ambient temperatures, blade angles, component temperatures and torques.

Every few seconds, a wind turbine's SCADA system captures a complete picture of how the turbine and its components are performing, compared to a defined operating environment.

Each plant is providing SCADA data to Sandia through a software tool developed by Strategic Power Systems (SPS), which originally developed the automated data collection software to collect high-volume data from steam and gas turbines. SPS reengineered its Operational Reliability Analysis Program tool to ORAPWind, which collects data from wind turbines and creates detailed event logs for all non-operating time, in addition to daily summaries of operating time.

Sandia's CREW database contains data for more than 800 turbines, which have generated two terabytes of raw data. The gathered data is used for various analyses, including public benchmark reporting and DOE reports. The DOE uses its reports to guide research and development investments by identifying critical issues and strategies to improve wind technologies.

"We're excited about the results so far and look forward to the next few years as we make an important contribution to our industry to improve reliability through a component-level focus," Ogilvie says. "It's an important project that will help encourage increased use of a low-carbon power source, and it could not have succeeded without the outstanding support and leadership of the wind industry and the DOE. Together, we can share our expertise to help shape the future of the nation's wind energy generation."

The CREW Database Wind Turbine Reliability Benchmark is available here.

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