Skip to main content

Lower levelised cost of energy for wind energy in extreme conditions

The OWI Lab uses its laboratory for climatic testing, measuring instruments and data analysis tools to provide support to companies and research initiatives around the world. This yields the key R&D datasets researchers need for a better understanding of the situation as they seek further cost reductions.

The levelised costs of energy (LCOE) or average costs for wind-energy facilities are falling dramatically. However, wind turbines facing the extreme cold and icy conditions of the 'High North', or those exposed to offshore conditions, are still a relatively new development. Such facilities demand further research to acquire a better understanding of the conditions in which these units will be operating and the impact of this on the performance and reliability of these turbines and their designs in light of preventive or condition-based maintenance and with a view to supporting the decision-making process. Given the remoteness of these facilities, issues such as reliability and ease of use are absolutely vital. Companies wanting to conduct climatic testing of prototype systems and components can use the OWI Lab's climatic testing facility in Antwerp. Research, involving taking measurements, is performed in situ with our partners. The main focus here is on the offshore wind-energy facilities in the Belgian zone of the North Sea.

"The clear aim of the OWI Lab's RD&I work is to conduct research that will make wind energy more affordable and more reliable."

Projects in 2016

IBN Offshore Energy creates an offshore energy cluster

In late 2016, approval was granted for an Innovative Business Network (IBN) to be rolled out, with Sirris, Ghent University, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), and Agoria as partners and the support of Flanders Innovation and Entrepreneurship (VLAIO). This new initiative was launched to promote innovation and R&D in the Flemish offshore-energy value chain. While there is a central focus on offshore wind energy, its scope also includes wave and tidal power applications. Innovative business networks aim to generate an innovation dynamic within a group of companies. Close cooperation between them and the research community can allow companies to implement a concrete plan of action with demonstrable economic added value for the participating companies.

Smart and cost-effective O&M for offshore wind farms

OWOME (Offshore Wind O & M Excellence) is a project supported by Flanders Innovation and Entrepreneurship (VLAIO) that aims to support and enable the development and checking of smart and cost-effective operations and maintenance (O&M) solutions. The project gives companies access to offshore measurements and actual data, develops an integrated data platform, and provides support to companies as they devise smart O&M solutions. As part of this project, a series of R&D monitoring campaigns has been launched involving partnerships with industrial players with a view to creating datasets that can provide insights for root-cause analysis (RCA), assessments of the (remaining) service life, and model validation. The purpose of these measurements was to develop new, advanced techniques for condition monitoring and decision-making support methods that will enable a reduction in the O&M costs for offshore wind energy, which still account for about one third of the total lifetime costs of an offshore wind farm. One part of this project is the ongoing C-Power measurement campaign, whose initial results were presented at the 3rd International Conference on Substructures for UK Offshore Wind and whose findings have been published in a report.

Climatic testing at Europe's largest climatic test chamber

Various electromechanical systems facing or needing to continue operating in challenging, extreme climatic conditions were tested in 2016. As well as wind-energy applications being tested, other sectors made use of the large climatic chamber to check or test their systems against predefined standards, with a view to certifying the product for use in extreme climates. A new development in 2016 was the capability to subject test samples to an ice test and to measure the relevant influences.

Moments of inspiration

OWI Lab shares its expertise and experience internationally

The OWI Lab participated in the WindEurope Summit 2016 in Hamburg, giving a presentation on wind energy in cold climates. This annual international event organized by WindEurope is one of the world's largest wind-energy conferences. At one of the thematic workshops we gave a presentation with the title 'Low temperature compliance testing of wind turbine applications for the 'cold climate' market', setting out best case practices of companies using our climatic test facility to optimize and check products for wind farms in cold climates. The OWI Lab belongs to the IEA Wind, Task 19 Wind Energy in Cold Climates expert group, which addresses the challenges cold and ice pose for wind turbines. Two expert reports with input from the OWI Lab have also published as part of this international R&D cooperation.

Some cases

Siemens tests 15-MVA transformer in extremely cold conditions

In the first six months of 2016, a battery of climatic tests was conducted on a Siemens 15-MVA transformer in the OWI Lab's large climatic chamber.

The 15-tonne transformer was tested at extremely low temperatures going down to -50 °C to check its cold start-up performance and its behavior in general when operating at low ambient temperatures. During the testing, which lasted four weeks, 85 sensor parameters were measured to ensure the reliable, safe and optimal operation of products of this kind in such regions as Canada, Russia, China, Mongolia, and Scandinavia, where freezing temperatures as low as -40 °C or even -50 °C can be recorded in winter.

Fluid flow

The transformer was filled with an environmentally friendly but highly viscous synthetic ester fluid. Its high viscosity at low temperatures impedes natural fluid flow and so leads to a change in thermal performance. This is especially relevant in the case of cooling by external radiators, which is standard for power transformers. The fluid flow in the narrow radiator ducts is completely different from the flow at the tank wall, and all the more so in the event of high viscosity.

Large, heavy test sample

Due to the large dimensions and above all the substantial weight of the test sample, Siemens needed a partner that had a large climatic chamber and the relevant services to conduct fully functional tests in cold climates. The OWI Lab's engineers tested the specimen in close collaboration with Siemens's Austrian transformer factory in Linz, which has been able to remotely monitor from their offices every test sequence performed in the lab.

Read more ...

Medium-sized XANT wind turbine tested under cold-climate conditions

Belgian wind-turbine manufacturer XANT had low-temperature tests performed on its XANT M-21, a 100-kW unit, to ensure safe and reliable operation in areas where the temperature can drop to as low as -40 °C.

XANT is a spin-off of 3E, one of the founder members of the OWI Lab, and develops and manufactures medium-sized wind turbines. The tested wind turbine, which is intended to meet the energy needs of small businesses and communities in remote locations without a connection to a power grid, has been customized to work in cold climates, which are a growing market in the wind energy industry.

Monitoring and maintenance in harsh conditions

The low temperatures and icy conditions of winter add to the challenges facing wind-turbine design in general and the process of setting up wind farms in areas facing harsh conditions of this type. Carrying out maintenance work, for example, may be expensive or may even need to be postponed in the worst-case scenario when turbines are inaccessible, as can happen in remote locations in Alaska for example.

Customised turbine components

This means that the developers have to take additional environmental factors into account, such as ice accretion on rotor blades and sensors. Also different materials and lubricants need to be used, and cold start-up procedures have to be adjusted to avoid damaging pan or tilt drive mechanisms for example. Also other components in the nacelle, such as the power electronics and pumps, needs to be checked and their operation tested for such extreme events at cold-climate locations. To address these challenges, the engineering team at XANT came up with certain modifications specially for cold climates.

Tested in extreme conditions and approved

To test and check these design modifications, a battery of low-temperature tests was set up in collaboration with the OWI Lab, which has a large climatic test chamber. Due to the large size of this chamber, the full nacelle of the wind turbine and its power electronics unit (which are normally installed in a separate unit below the wind turbine) could be installed and functionally tested at extremely low temperatures going down to -40 °C. Various start-up and shutdown procedures were successfully checked, as well as pan operations during a cold start-up. The power electronics and sensors also withstood the tests in the climatic chamber.

Read more ...

Hyundai and Cummins test two excavators at the same time

Hyundai, a specialist in machinery for the construction sectors with its Belgian base in Geel, wanted to check new, innovative start-up procedures in collaboration with Cummins, its supplier of powertrains. For this purpose, they called on the OWI Lab with its large climatic chamber. The size of the chamber and the bearing capacity of the floor allowed two identical excavators to be tested at the same time. Such an arrangement enables the sample to be tested more intensively, a comparison to be made between the results, and cooling times to be halved.
This solution results in intensive, high-quality, reduced testing periods that are extremely cost-effective.