Last month, Clir Renewables – leading provider of performance assessment software for renewable energy – announced a partnership agreement with Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) to enhance LTWP’s wind farm performance tracking and optimization. LTWP’s flagship 310 MW wind farm represents the largest wind power project in Africa and is central to Kenya’s commitment to meet growing demand for electricity with 100% renewable generation. Gareth Brown, CEO and Co-Founder of Clir Renewables, speaks to Africa Oil & Power about the role of performance optimization in protecting asset health, increasing output, managing risk and driving domain expertise.
In what ways does the wind power industry lend itself to performance optimization software?
In power engineering, wind and solar are the only power sources where you don’t know what is going into the generator. In contrast, with gas, oil, coal or nuclear plants, there is a pipe with a controlled intake, in which you know how much steam is going through the pipe and how much electricity is coming out. Therefore, when there is underperformance in a wind or solar farm, up to 10% underperformance issues can be hard to spot. It is inherently more complex.
The renewable market is also a little bit of a race to the bottom. It’s incredible how cheap wind and the solar farms have become, but it isn’t just due to technology innovation. There has been a bloodbath of competition. Asset management and services are typically underfunded. Clir has come in with a low-cost Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform, which connects to wind farms and separates resource from performance issues. As a result, asset owners are able to get data from all of the asset’s different sources – the turbine, weather, sales meter, etc. – and combine it with operational activities to curate it, then run AI and other automated analytics on top. Asset owners are then able to get performance issues front and center, so they can resolve them to increase the output and protect the asset health. On the financial side, renewable energy is all about cost of capital. If you understand the performance well, then your certainty on future performance is more accurate. You are then able to obtain better financing on the asset to get better debt facilities and increase the leveraged internal rate of return.
What differentiates the Lake Turkana wind farm from other projects with which Clir Renewables has been involved?
The unique aspect of Lake Turkana is that the site and the resources are incredible. The average wind speed is far above what we typically see at European sites, for example, yet the extremes are not that high. Even though it is a much higher wind speed, it does not have extreme storms that come through. Therefore, the wind turbines operate at full output at a much higher frequency than a typical wind farm, without heavy loading events that drive asset failure. That said, it has its challenges: Kenya has to deal with grid constraints. The site is also off of the maintenance route. As a result, LTWP chose a slightly older technology, so that they could maintain the site without having to be part of major wind energy supply chains, in which most activities for that type of turbine have to be done on-site.
What is your outlook for the African renewables sector and what role do you see Clir Renewables playing in facilitating a transition to cleaner energy?
We see Clir becoming the leader in renewable energy intelligence, driven from operational data. Right now, our client base owns stakes in about 10% of the world’s wind farms and about five percent of the world’s solar. We have built the best, largest, granular and well-labeled dataset in the industry, layered with deep domain expertise and AI. As a result, we are able to gain insights that are above and beyond what anyone else is doing in the market right now. This is why investment funds use our platform. These insights are also used by operators, insurance providers, lenders and project developers. I see Clir helping to drive the industry forward in getting market intelligence out to more stakeholders and providing a much clearer view of what is going on across the asset lifecycle. In Africa, the market is booming. We are going to see the electrification of these countries, and we are seeing a general consensus that we need to resolve climate change. Wind and solar will be a huge component of that globally.