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Unified communications takes a whirl on wind turbines

The sheer height of wind turbines, plus their typical construction in remote locations, make them not all that easy to keep running smoothly. Enter a new communications system developed by Teo and Bergelectric that outfits turbines with Internet access and telephones equipped with Enhanced 911 technology.
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Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

The sheer height of wind turbines, plus their typical construction in remote locations, make them not all that easy to keep running smoothly. Enter a new communications system developed by Teo and Bergelectric that outfits turbines with Internet access and telephones equipped with Enhanced 911 technology.

The first two deployments of the technology will be at the Harvest Wind Project and White Creek Wind I installation in Roosevelt, Wash. (Pictured in the photo to the right.)

Teo is providing the phones, switches, unified communication technology and other IT gear, while Bergelectric is designing the fiber optic network used to connect everything. One challenge is that the high voltage running through the turbines can interrupt the communications signal, which creates special design considerations. But the integrated solution from these two companies enables communications between a turbine and a distant location or even between different turbines.

Here's the core value proposition of this equipment, as explained by Jason Hayes, an executive from Bergelectric:

"By equipping the top of each turbine with an E911-enabled phone and IP connection points for various devices such as computers, cameras and sensors, we're not only increasing safety for maintenance personnel, we're also enabling them to become more efficient -- they can now access electronic work instructions, contact technical support, access manuals and diagrams and operate SCADA from the top of the turbine, eliminating the time-consuming up-and-down process or the need to utilize a radio-to-hone middleman."

OK, I admit it, I just had to look up SCADA, which is an acronym that designate supervisory control and data acquisition systems.

This technology is interesting to me not just because of the safety considerations, which are compelling, but for two other reasons. First, the better a wind turbine runs, the more likely it is to be producing green power. No brainer. I like to see alternative energy technologies succeed. Second, the solution has me wondering about the whole area of managed services for industrial control systems, which would eliminate lots of unnecessary driving and thereof would seem like a greener approach to maintenance.

I literally just interviewed an executive who provides services to help make factory equipment more efficient -- from a productivity and energy consumption perspective -- and he says managed services for maintaining and correcting issues in industrial equipment are largely unexploited area today. Primarily because we're talking about a lot of proprietary systems, not to mention the fact that these technologies have a much longer lifespan than the average PC, which is usually just three or four years old when it is put out to pasture. That makes what Teo and Bergelectric are doing all the more intriguing and worth watching from a broader trend perspective.

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