Article - Greenbyte

October 2, 2020 — Customer Stories

4 ways Greenbyte helped new operator Skyline in the US

We talk to Ann Walter and Sara Jih from Skyline Renewables about how Greenbyte has helped them optimize projects during their first 12 months.

Caroline Mizael
Director of Marketing, Greenbyte

Ever been at a company where you are starting from a clean slate? It can be an exciting idea for sure and mean a lot of freedom. But it also comes with immense responsibilities and very real financial implications. 

It’s a challenge known all too well by the asset management team at Skyline Renewables.

Set up in 2018, this Portland-headquartered renewable energy independent power producer was founded by a team of renewable energy industry executives who partnered with French infrastructure investor Ardian. Skyline has ambitious growth targets and has grown its portfolio to 800MW, which is made up of projects using turbines from three of the industry’s biggest players.

“The goal is to grow by 500MW each year and get to a portfolio of 3,000MW,” says Ann Walter, manager of asset management at Skyline Renewables. The company’s focus so far has been on wind farms, but its team is looking at all renewable energy technologies.

Walter joined Skyline in November 2018 after eight years at another major independent renewable energy power producer in the US and was tasked with putting in place project monitoring and management systems in a team far smaller than what she was used to. Today, there are 19 employees at Skyline, five of whom focus on asset management and operations.

“We needed a system to help us really manage the turbines and save us time,” she says. “We’ve come from previous companies that had processes, procedures and systems already in place. This is a little different in that we’re now implementing systems because of the company being new.”

In this article, we’re going to hear from Walter and her colleague Sara Jih, who also joined Skyline as an asset manager in October 2019. They discuss the challenges of managing the wind farms in Skyline’s portfolio, and how a series of benefits in Greenbyte Platform have enabled them to do so optimally.

Strategic challenges

Skyline is led by Martin Mugica, former president and CEO at Iberdrola Renewables in the US. The company was set up with a strategy to acquire operational assets that offer opportunities to add value with smart asset management. This means Skyline’s asset management team is fundamental to the company’s long-term expansion

Its first acquisition was the 60MW Whirlwind wind farm in Texas in March 2018, and it has since followed this by buying the 166MW Hackberry wind farm in Texas from RES Americas; 51% stakes in the 230MW Electra and 230MW Horse Creek projects in Texas from Starwood Energy; and a 117MW portfolio in four US states from NJR Clean Energy Ventures. The latest of these deals concluded in February 2019.

Because Skyline is getting involved in projects after they are operational, the company is under pressure to ensure they run profitably from day one even though it may not be aware of any idiosyncrasies with specific turbines. There are now 351 turbines in its fleet.

“Our fleet is made up of different turbine models and manufacturers. The sites came from different owners. We really needed a consolidated system” says Walter. “We did an extensive search for systems, and we liked the functionality and usage best in Greenbyte.”

Skyline moved onto the Greenbyte Platform in September 2019, and Walter says it has helped the company to identify performance issues with individual turbines that would have proved costly. She adds it saves time that the team would otherwise spend manually drawing in data from different sources and systems.

This enables Skyline to work more effectively with the maintenance companies that carry out work on its turbines: “The monitoring helps us to easily check the service providers and provide an independent view of the sites,” explains Jih.

Here are four main areas where they say Greenbyte has helped so far:

1. Reacting to real-time alerts

Jih says one key benefit she has found with the system is the automated alerts that highlight anomalies in turbines.

“I receive alerts within 30 minutes of an issue, so I can act on it pretty much right away. That’s the biggest benefit with this system versus having someone manually check performance,” she explains.

Even the most eagle-eyed asset manager can miss important trends when analyzing vast amounts of data.

She says this support helped in one instance when a de-rate happened at one of its projects – essentially, switched to partial power – unexpectedly. That could have severely damaged profitability at that wind farm, but Jih says the alerts meant it could be corrected “pretty much immediately”.

“When the site is de-rated, typically you’re at a very high production,” she says. This is because high wind speeds can exacerbate technical problems within the turbines.

“As you can imagine, full production is really important to us because that’s how we make our money, and the fact that we were able to catch it in real time and correct it, versus finding out about it on a monthly report, meant we were able to prevent it from happening multiple times in a month.”

These real-time alerts have also helped Skyline to ensure that it’s complying with its environmental permits, which seek to mitigate impacts to bat species by turning off the turbines at particular times – mainly sunset to sunrise – and at specific wind speeds. Turbines can be programmed to automatically comply with these stipulations, but an external data platform can help operators to ensure that this is actually happening. Non-compliance can put operators in breach of their operational permits, and at legal and financial risk if a protected species is killed on site.

“We want to be good environmental stewards and be in compliance with our permit. It's in our best interest to proactively monitor the functionality and avoid any potential for violation or fines,” she adds.

2. Generating Availability Data System (GADS) compliance

Compliance is also an issue for Skyline when it comes to GADS, which is a system run by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC).

This requires operators to provide quarterly information on reliability to NERC for projects of 150MW headline capacity that have been commissioned since 1st January 2005. This is set to also include projects of over 75MW, making rounding up this data manually a major task.

“It’s really difficult to do this if you don’t have any of your data readily available,” says Jih.

“When I started at Skyline, I was pulling in the 10-minute data from each turbine, the active power, the wind speed, and then the warning alarms [from the turbines], from multiple systems. A lot of the alarms overlapped and there were duplicate alarms within one downtime event, resulting in data challenges.”

Jih says Greenbyte Platform can automatically draw out this data and save huge amounts of time going through these line items manually. This is a more efficient use of the team’s time, and also removes a potential barrier to growth in the portfolio.

3. Outlier turbines and one-off errors

As well as highlighting project-wide challenges, Greenbyte Platform has enabled Skyline to identify problems at individual turbines. This was crucial as the team tried to solve a vexing issue at a turbine in one of its projects.

Jih explains: “At one turbine, we could not figure out what was going on with the power curve. When the turbine should have been producing, the power curve was showing zero output.”

The reason for this was that the primary turbine anemometer – which measures the wind speed and direction – was incorrectly reading wind speeds. Once troubleshooting of the anemometer was complete, the issue went away.

4. Remote access and coping with Covid

Skyline is headquartered in Portland, but employees such as Jih are based around the US wind heartland of Texas. She says remote access to data and dashboards has helped to support the growth of the company thus far and meant that the firm has been able to adapt easily to travel restrictions from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jih explains: “These dashboards were all set up and in place before Covid, but I do think it helps that anybody can go in and check data and see the detailed notes.”

She says the benefit of Greenbyte dashboard is similar to the real-time alerts, because it gives an up-to-date view into the performance of projects. This is a huge change from Skyline’s system before Greenbyte, when they had to wait for monthly reports from its subcontractors. These came too late to make profit-boosting changes.

“We were sometimes waiting until the end of the month to get a report from our subcontractor to see what happened at the site,” she says. “When you get reports at the end of the month, quite honestly it’s almost a month-and-a-half after the event. It means you have less impact and less ability to make the changes.”

These dashboards share project data that enables Skyline to push its subcontractors to make changes that will enable the company to hit its targets.

Walter agrees: “As you can imagine, acquiring these projects – like any developer or owner – we have certain targets we’re trying to hit. Anything we can do in real time to protect the production ends up protecting us as a company.”

This can play a vital role in helping Skyline to satisfy investors, which include private equity, project finance and tax equity players.

Perhaps it’s no wonder that interest in the system has gone to the top of the firm, with the CEO checking in on a regular basis. With the importance of asset management to the Skyline business model, the company is looking forward to continued growth in the system and seeing what future benefits it can identify. 

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