Second Wind, Looking to Boost Wind Farm Productivity, Logs Millionth Hour of Data Captured on Which Way the Wind Blows

7/1/10Follow @xconomy

Somerville, MA-based Second Wind started with the intention of measuring which way the wind blows. And in the last few years, it has learned that there’s more than one reason to do that.

The company formed in 1980 with the aim of collecting wind data to determine which sites were ideal for developing wind farms. It came out five years later with a system for measuring the output of a cluster of wind turbines as a single power plant.

In 2007, Second Wind launched its Triton Sonic Wind Profiler device, which uses what it calls “sodar” technology to capture wind data and pinpoint the optimal sites for developing wind farms. (Wade first wrote about the company in December 2007 when it received $4 million in second round funding from Good Energies.) But in its three years on the market, the device has evolved to serve wind farms that are already operational in a number of ways, says CEO Larry Letteney.

“Triton is closing the information loop for wind farm operating,” he says. “You can know what wind is coming in, how to set up turbines, and what energy is coming out.” In June, the company officially hit 1 million hours of wind data logged with the Triton, which functions by emitting a sound into the atmosphere, and monitoring the changes in that sound over time. It’s packed with sensors that can measure barometric pressure, temperature, and wind speeds and directions—all at varying heights, Letteney says. And it operates without having to be monitored regularly.

The new and emerging functions for the Triton device include diagnostics and near-term forecasting of weather and pressure conditions. Wind farm operators often see a few turbines remain static while the others are moving, Letteney says. The data from the Triton helps them determine what factors are shuttering individual devices and then fix the problems. “It’s like getting a checkup,” he says.

The Triton also brings wind farm operators information that can help them adjust turbines to capitalize on immediate conditions. Wind farm operators often struggle with knowing what will happen at their sites in the next 15 to 20 minutes, Letteney says. The information the Triton collects can be transmitted via satellite every 10 minutes to Second Wind’s software interface, SkyServe, which graphs the site data and enables customers to manage multiple locations.

“As long as you know what the wind is doing, you can tune your operation in the way that you set up your blades to get the most energy and the safest operation,” Letteney says.

The data collected by the Triton can also help customers prevent the damage to their devices that often occurs as a result of wind shears, which results when the speed of wind varies at different heights. The shear can cause turbine blades to spin at different speeds at different heights, putting stress on the device, and damaging its gearbox, Letteney says. The Triton, which costs $50,000 including one year of SkyServe support, allows customers to forecast when the shears are on their way, and adjust settings to prevent damage. “When you don’t know, you stick your finger up and put on some average setting,” he says.

In the last 14 months or so, Second Wind has added about 20 employees, making its work force around 60-strong. The Triton is also evolving to incorporate more data management and alert capabilities into its services. Last week the company announced a partnership with Canadian firm Mistaya Engineering, in which it will integrate Mistaya’s analysis software into its SkyServe technology. Mistaya allows users to plot wind data and predict turbine performance, adding another layer of visual analytics to Second Wind’s monitoring system. Second Wind is also in the process of developing an alert system that could send notifications of upcoming wind abnormalities, like shears or drafts, straight to users’ BlackBerry phones, Letteney says.

“We want to work with really smart customers, to share ideas on how you can take these sensors, measure the wind, and use that information to make money or save money,” he says.

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