Published on 2 February 2023

By Vestas Department Applications, Controls & Electricals

  Wind Turbine Software Technology - The key to customer value-based differentiation

 Wind turbine technology has evolved tremendously since Vestas sold and installed its first wind turbine in 1979, a 30 kW 10m diameter machine. Just a few weeks ago, the latest addition to the portfolio, the impressive V236-15.0 MW generated its first kW hour. That's a 500 multiplier right there!

 Together with the growth in size, we have also seen a massive technology evolution. Originally, turbines were basically passive, regulated machines, with primary engineering focus around structural design and electricity generation, but little in the way of intelligence and quite literally zero software development.

In brisk contrast, software today is an essential part of both turbine design, turbine operation and the bridge to cost-effective maintenance.

The journey towards placing software at the core of the technology, also covered by other industries such as the automotive industries, has shifted the criticality of software development for wind turbine OEMs. However, it has also opened the door for innovation, and created multiple opportunities for increasing the value we deliver to our customers. Let’s look into some of them.


Continuous (and fast) innovation

One of the key advantages of any software-based modification is speed. Thanks to Vestas' state-of-the-art software toolchain, any improvement can be made available by a Software Developer on Monday and deployed to the fleet less than a week after having been thoroughly tested. This depends, of course, on the approval of the end-customer and the certification bodies when required.

It is also possible to leverage A/B testing techniques to ensure that the developments are having the intended impact. When we talk about the cost of innovation, the differences between HW and SW are just abysmal. While the cost of running any major innovation can add up to large figures, the comparative costs of Software innovation are effectively peanuts. This means that you can have a much larger portfolio of innovation based around software, trying out more things, trying them out faster, and ensuring you quickly prune the losers and grow the ones with highest potential impact.

The outcome of this is the speed at which new innovations can be made available. Although wind power plants are highly regulated entities by the time a new software version is ready to be deployed, there is enough evidence of the behavior of the intended modification, that the risk of its deployment is very small, as it has been thoroughly tested both in Vestas’ test environments and in real wind turbines purposedly prepared for it. Alternatively, when things do not work as expected, it's equally fast to revert the changes or to introduce fixes.


Quality increase through data-driven insights

The ability to collect real time operational data from the entire fleet, and understand what's brewing out there, is an incredibly powerful functionality that Software enables. Having the right data pipelines in place, and the right engineers to process said data, allows almost immediate detection of field issues. This helps us understand what's going on and to devise quick solutions that address any upcoming issues. This also enables software engineers to verify new solutions in offline simulations using this data, hereby knowing the performance - even before the first deployment - which significantly increase the quality.


Advanced sensing strategies

By combining sensor measurements with dynamic models of the turbine components, it is possible to estimate a variety of turbine states with a higher accuracy and reliability that would not have been possible with any single sensor. It also makes it possible to get state information at locations where it is not possible to place a sensor, and to make software-based redundancy so the turbine can keep operating with failing sensors.

By using the data from the control sensors in a smart way, it is possible to carry out conditioning and health monitoring of the turbine components to predict wear out or mis performance before it becomes a server issue. It also makes it possible to give concreate information to the Service team about which components need service and when.

In some cases, it is very hard to find a suitable dynamic model that represents the real behavior of turbine states or conditions of components. The huge amount of available turbine data will be used for a machine-learning based approach, maybe in combination with a dynamic model to make it more robust.

To reduce manual calibrations, turbine specific parameters and to increase accuracy of measurements, most sensing functions are made adaptive and self-calibrating, so that the same software and sensors can be used across all turbine types, automatically adapting to the specific turbine and site conditions.

All developed sensing solutions will be tested with hundreds of turbine-years of logged data from the field, sometime induced with addition failure modes, to ensure they will perform as intended before the software is deployed to the turbines in the field.

With more than 35 patents filled over the last five to six years, Vestas is at the forefront of the Advance Sensing & Diagnostics area.


Big Data Analytics

It would, of course, not be possible to talk about the possible improvements of software in the wind energy domain, and not talk about Big Data Analytics.  The possibilities that cloud and analytics technologies will bring to the wind energy industry, and generally to the entire energy ecosystem, are just starting to emerge. Vestas has been invested in this line of work for over a decade and had made very significant in-roads, both through in-house development, but also through the acquisition of Utopus Insights.

Through its strong collaboration with Microsoft, and the availability of structured fleet data going back several years, the development of data-science algorithms has played a very important role and has had a very significative and quantitative impact on raising Vestas’ quality. There is, however, still a lot more work to be done on this front, as we are only starting to scratch the surface of what’s possible.


The above are just some examples of the importance of software development in Vestas today. Wind turbines have evolved from mechanical devices to highly intelligent machines, and as this trend continues, the potential for improvements in quality, lowering the cost of energy, and creating new digital service offerings based on software, will continue to grow.

Come and help us #PowertheSolution! If you work in software development and are interested in being part of the team, search for our open positions here.