Your browser is not supported. Please update it.

8 June 2021

Nokia supports UK wind power with 4G/5G private network

Wind power operator Equinor has tapped Nokia and NetNordic to deploy a 5G-ready network across its global wind sites, starting with the Dudgeon and Sheringham Shoal projects off the coast of the UK this summer.

The industrial-grade, private LTE networks will initially operate using 4G wireless technology to enable a reliable, secure, and low latency communications platform for the operation of the projects. The eight-year frame agreement between the companies will include hardware, software, design, radio planning, implementation, and support.

The Nokia DAC solution comprises the Nokia 4.9G LTE and 5G radio access network technology and Nokia Industrial devices. The solution also includes a large range of access points for both indoor and outdoor coverage, and an edge solution with complete packet core and application framework for edge computing.

Offshore wind is one of the fastest growing forms of renewable power generation. Installed power production capacity has grown from 3 GW to 28 GW in the past decade and is expected to reach 234 GW by 2040. As the technology evolves, trends point to a significant increase in both project size and distance from shore. Larger crews and more expensive vessels are required to be offshore for longer periods of time, and the amount of operational data that needs to be analyzed increases, presenting significant communications challenges.

The need for high speed and low latency communication exists throughout the full lifetime of an offshore wind farm. In construction, push-to-talk communication between onsite workers and with the mainland can be essential for safety and productivity. Offshore wind experienced 256 high-potential incidents in 2018, which were noted as having possibility for death or life-changing injury.

Throughout construction and maintenance, crews must also be able to communicate or video call with specialist onshore staff for instruction, with high speed networks offering the potential to use augmented or virtual reality to reduce travel times and improve efficiency throughout development. Reducing the time of wind farm deployment or the downtime of turbines in instances of failure can be essential to ensure that project revenues remain close to their maximum. Due to component failure, each wind turbine typically fails at least once per year, and is unavailable for 3% of its lifetime, with larger wind turbines failing relatively more frequently.

Once in operation, networks that fulfil these requirements can also be extended for other uses in remote monitoring and control. The deployment of remote-controlled drones or autonomous underwater vehicles at the project site can reduce the cost and need for physical inspections – but this requires a communication network to support these applications.

In terms of smart energy systems, perhaps the most important application is for the deployment of device sensors, cameras and cloud storage to provide real time data for things like technical performance of individual components, weather, staff presence and vessel proximity.

Using these, developers can create digital twins of offshore wind farms, to monitor performance and conduct reliable analysis from onshore. A greater amount of analytic data from components can be essential in predicting if and when they will fail, helping to prevent expensive repairs or turbines being shut down for extended periods of time.

While the world’s largest completed wind farm at present is the 630 MW London Array in the UK, it’s become increasingly common to see pipeline projects surpassing the 1 GW mark, with 10 already approved for development. These farms are also moving further offshore, with development zones like Dogger Bank in the UK and Hollandse Kust Nord in The Netherlands over 150 kilometers from the coast.

Historically, with farms close to shore, ships could ferry back and forth, and could often capitalize on the edge of coverage from onshore wireless networks for any communication, or those in place at any offshore oil rigs. Moving on from this, for projects that had no access to shore-based networks, trials were undertaken using satellite (VSAT) and 3G networks. However, these have often proved slow and expensive for project developers.

A private 4G network can offer 30 times more bandwidth than VSAT, enabling HD video communication between offshore platforms and onshore teams, file synchronization for real-time analysis or cloud storage.

Projects that have deployed networks so far include Norther and Mermaid in Belgium, where nCentric and Nokia have installed a private 4G network to cover an area with a 20-kilometer radius around the wind farms, alongside a complementary network in the Port of Zeebrugge for onshore communications. Last year it was also announced that Tampnet would supply LTE coverage for Orsted’s largest wind farm to date, Hornsea One in the UK, and more recently that it would do the same for the Gemini offshore wind farm in the Netherlands.

These platforms will also provide a foundation for further ‘smart elements’ within the energy system. While traditional generating assets like coal-fired or nuclear power stations are highly centralized and easy to inspect on-site, offshore projects take up considerably more room, with only between 3 MW and 12 MW of capacity per square kilometer.

Given the cost to perform physical inspection, mobile networks, including those using 5G for large data applications, can facilitate low-latency drone control for inspection over the full project area. With projects operating over a significant geographical footprint, beyond visual line of sight operation is a common requirement, and radio-controlled drones, with ranges topping out at around two kilometers, can often be insufficient.

These 5G-based networks will enable real time transfer of data from equipment the drones carry, such as thermal imaging and machine vision cameras and sensor suites, which can be seamlessly integrated into cloud-based applications.

For wind farms, inspection of components like the blades can be performed during brief, planned shutdowns, and inside the turbine tower of the turbine while operating. Drones may also be used for the inspection of power lines to identify any failures or risks within electricity transmission.

Ericsson takes a new packaged approach to private networks

Nokia has taken a strong lead in private networks in recent years, providing options from ‘out of the box’ cellular networks to managed services based on its cloud-based packet core. Ericsson has been more ambivalent about the private and enterprise sector, engaging in very large deployments along with operator partners, but being less willing than its rivals to bypass its telco customers when selling to industries.

Now, however, it is looking beyond the top tier of enterprises for a more packaged solution that could reach somewhat smaller companies. Ericsson Private 5G actually offers 4G options as well as 5G Standalone, providing a complete 4G/5G network running on a single server.

However, the company remains focused on its core base of operators rather than alternative channels to reach enterprises. A spokesperson said the main go-to-market model will be carrier partners, although he made an important caveat – “In some markets with industry spectrum there might be exceptions to this.” Germany is one of the most prominent countries where spectrum has been allocated directly for industrial use, while in the USA, some enterprises and their providers aim to use shared or licensed spectrum in the CBRS scheme.

Different combinations of radio, core and services are supported by the Ericsson packages, and there are other options such as RAN sharing and integrating management with operator networks.

The vendor highlighted some usage scenarios that it expects to see strong adoption of private cellular. These included asset tracking, real time warehouse automation, digital twins and augmented reality to support high quality inspections, and surveillance drones to support worker safety in mines.

Niels König, coordinator of the 5G-Industry Campus Europe project at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology, said: “Efficiently deploying and using network solutions in enterprises requires simplicity in installation, flexibility in connecting to existing production IT and lean operations while at the same time being able to scale the network to meet future challenges.”