An eye in the sky for wind turbines
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As you’re reading this, satellites are circling the planet and capturing images of the surface. It’s these very images that we’re now accessing, downloading and processing to gain new insight - all so we can know which way our turbines are facing.
The idea was brought to life by Nenad Keseric and Richard Hall. While Nenad has domain knowledge from operating wind farms in our New Energy Solutions department, Richard has extensive experience working with satellite images. The old clichè of teamwork making the dream work is true for satellites as well:
“You need three parts to succeed with a project like this. You need someone who understands the problem solving by adding new data content, a programmer who can manage and manipulate the data and a user who can make use of the output,” Richard explains.
“This project has been an exciting collaboration with several skilled colleagues and stakeholders all working to push it forward,” Nenad adds.
How it works
(1) ESA’s Sentinel-1 satellites orbit the Earth capturing SAR images.
(2) Then, these images are downloaded. Since they’re radar images and taken at an angle they need to be processed.
(3) The processed images are downloaded and the direction of the wind turbine (yaw) is estimated.
(4) This measurement is put into a dashboard, where you can look at other data like the date, time and wind speeds, to verify the results. Then, we might be able to tell which turbines need adjusting to perform even better.
Analyzing the final frontier
But what do you do to get access to satellite images? It might sound like you’d need a whole lot of funding, while in fact it’s all free to use. The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Copernicus programme actually let’s you register and then download the images you want.
“Previously, we had to order specific images and pay for these but now they’re free. The tech we use has also improved greatly the last few years, and this wouldn’t have been possible 5-10 years ago,” Richard says. “It’s really about data democratization and we were in a position to take advantage of that,” he adds.
So far, they had the idea and the satellite know-how in place. But to code it all and make it happen they needed a suitable team of developers. And who better to task with the job of processing the images than Software Innovation?
After all, we’ve got the Green Team dedicated to working with renewable energy. When they were asked, developer and keen photographer Hallgeir Holien naturally volunteered – and got the job.
“The project naturally caught my attention as a photographer. But it’s also great example of how flat the power structure in our team is. We’ll list prioritized tasks and then you can pick and choose what you want to work with.”
Meet our wind farms
All about automation
When Hallgeir went on to a new project, Thomas H. Thoresen picked up the mantle and continued work together with Thibaut Forest in agile sprints. The team were given a rather short deadline before the summer of 2018 to make a working pilot.
“We got a deadline of 2-3 weeks. Even though it was a little stressful it was mostly positive, and we were very productive during that time. Having a defined goal and a short deadline has its upsides,” Thomas laughs.
With most of the algorithm work having been done, Thomas’ task was mainly focused on getting the same code to run smoothly in the cloud. Several algorithms and datasets had to work together for it to function as intended.
"It’s a great feeling when you can see the end result of all the different parts, from downloading data to transcribing photographs, working together like it’s supposed to. That makes all the work worth it."
Thomas H. Thoresen
The radar images proved a little more challenging to analyze. The turbines are shown as bright spots on the image, and the biggest spots are thought to be the turbines. It can be difficult to know for certain that the biggest spots are in fact the turbines, but the idea is that the dashboard tool will help them decide.
Using the dashboard, the user can incorporate wind directions, power output and other types of data to get a bigger picture.