IK4-IKERLAN has been collaborating with this company since 2003. We spoke to Ton Trapman, head of the real-time systems area at Alstom Power, about the importance of embedded systems in his sector and the relationship between the centre and his company.
The picture that the general public has of a wind turbine is associated more with the mechanics rather than with the electronics that controls it. What is the function of embedded systems in a wind turbine?
In the past, wind turbines consisted of mechanical systems and a few power electronics components. In recent years, the use of electronic components has increased and now advanced control systems are being used to increase production while the cost of the product is being cut. Examples of these smart systems are, among others, the converter system, the blade positioning system and the more sophisticated sensors. For example, the converter allows the electrical and mechanical loads on the drivetrain (the set of blades, the multiplier and generator) to be reduced, which contributes towards increasing the production of energy or cutting component size. In parallel, it allows the wind farm to play an active role in stabilising the electrical power grid, which in turn increases the profits for the wind farm owner.
What are the most critical functions of embedded systems in wind turbines?
The main function of a wind turbine, the production of energy, is controlled by embedded systems. They play a very important role as they allow the energy produced by the wind turbines to be maximised within the limits set by the design.
They also perform other critical functions such as turning speed control, correct wind alignment and control of the vibration level.
What challenges are embedded systems going to face in the future to meet the needs of the wind energy sector?
Energy cost remains one of the most important factors and to improve it in this respect the components are going to have to function increasingly closer to their physical limits. The only way to do this is to use control systems, in other words, faster, smarter sensors, controllers and actuators equipped with more complex safety features.
In parallel, there will be increased interaction between the wind turbines on the farms and the operation centres in terms of detecting problems in advance and optimising production across the farm.
Alstom collaborates closely with IK4-IKERLAN. What would you highlight with respect to what the centre is contributing to your company in this area?
We deeply appreciate the knowledge that IK4-IKERLAN has about the new technologies as well as about the other sectors, thanks to which we are offered solutions that are more suited to our products.
Finally, in what other disciplines do you also work in collaboration with IK4-IKERLAN?
We collaborate closely in the structural and mechanical area, which are the cornerstones of innovation in the field of wind turbines. Also in the discipline of control engineering, which is essential when it comes to efficiently controlling the mechatronic system, which is what a wind turbine is.
Recently, we have also set up collaboration in the areas of the thermal management of wind turbines and in the monitoring and supervising of wind turbines, wind farms and farm fleets, in order to predict faults and incorporate the service concept.
The Alstom and IK4-IKERLAN technicians are very much in tune with each other, which is essential to achieve a maximum value contribution, and as a result, the collaboration gives both of us very good results.