Poco Windy #26: Wind Energy Tech Transformations: A Couple of Game Changers

Look around you and you will unfortunately see most people - from young kids to the elderly - with their heads buried in cell phones. Every year or couple of years, we upgrade - change phones in order to get the latest, best ‘gadget’. We get it. Cell phones, now trucks and cars, even kitchen appliances are constantly upgrading, improving with the latest technology. Every couple of years. Gosh, just look at the interior of a new Tesla 3 automobile. Steering wheel, computer screen and seats - that’s it! Does that look at all like the vehicle you bought even ten years ago? Not even close.

Of course, these transformations didn’t just happen overnight. Nor were they limited in origin to the cell phone companies, automobiles, or other industries. The cell phone industry however has been wise enough to adopt and adapt, adopt and adapt. Most of us don’t realize that the same change occurs with many or most types of technology including, by the way, in the wind energy industry. Many changes have happened to many facets of wind energy technology since its commercial power origins in the early 1980s. 

For example, here are several of the latest adaptations:

  1. Use of aerial drones with high tech, thermal imaging cameras. Instead of technicians hanging from towers to visually inspect blades for possible damage, wind energy companies today use aerial drones with high tech, thermal cameras operated by a technician on the ground using a computer tablet off the tailgate of her or his pickup truck collecting data on the condition of turbine blades. Outfitted possibly with 3D goggles too, and in communication with engineers hundreds of miles away. Pattern Energy employs such technology at its Grady/Broadview wind farms north of Clovis.
  2. Special tower lighting for airplane and bird safety employing IdentiFlight (an automated computer vision system). It’s an aircraft detection lighting system, FAA compliant, used at onshore wind farms to warn low flying planes and birds away from turbine tower areas.
  3. Use of LIDAR (light detection and ranging) has replaced use of anemometers for more exact wind speed and direction measurement. Such measurements take place at 80 or 100 meters high, 24/7. Perched on “met” (measurement) towers. The change to LIDAR makes a significant energy potential difference. In New Mexico’s Corona region, it revealed two mph better wind velocity - a big 23% difference in numerous locations. In that business, that’s a big deal! Its’ use led to relocating turbine locales sited with earlier technology as well as adding new ones, too. 

These and other scientific changes also fit into the changing nature of wind energy CTE. For example, technicians-to-be have to have some familiarity with advanced drones, their operation and use. Since just drone usage at wind farms is often through project maintenance contractors, the technician may eventually collect drone data, or, even choose to work in the drone industry as a career alternative. Monitoring and maintenance of aerial lighting and LIDAR instruments may also be part of a tech’s maintenance schedule. 

What does this all mean for secondary school and community college CTE? CTE students today have to have hands-on exposure to these new technologies in order to complete certification. Not your old high school Home Ec or stick welding CTE program, is it? 

This is the home of Region 9 CTE. Thanks for dropping by.

Dr. Jim Miller

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