Wind Power Industry Moves toward Hardware-in-the-Loop Simulation

By: 
January 15, 2010

One big challenge plaguing wind power system design is that although it's been around for nearly 25 years, it's still very much a developing technology, particularly with the trend toward bigger capacity turbines in the 2-5 MW range and beyond. As a result, test periods are limited, and it is difficult and expensive to test and verify control algorithms on the real system.

Following the lead of the auto industry, the wind turbine industry has begun moving toward adoption of hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) simulation as a method for real-time testing of embedded control systems during the development phase, says Chris Washington, National Instruments HIL and Real-Time Test Product Manager.

"A major benefit of doing these simulations is that it allows design engineers to optimize the control system during the development stage, which is going to have a big impact on reliability," he says.

Moreover, he says, engineers can take exactly the same code that was used in the simulation and run it directly on the deployed target, saving time and effort in the design process.

NI is currently partnering with a number of players in the wind turbine industry, including Siemens Wind Power. A manufacturer of wind turbines since 1980, Siemens Wind Power recently developed a HIL simulator for testing its wind turbine control system software.

Washington says one of the secondary benefits of HIL simulation is the potential for it to allow design engineers of different backgrounds to work together more seamlessly. "One of the challenges with wind turbines is that there are so many different domains that you need to take into consideration - you have mechanical engineers and controls engineers and embedded engineers all working on these systems, which makes it really difficult to change things once you get to a certain point in the integration," he says. "By combining these tools together, companies can now have all the design engineers working together during the development phase"

The upshot? Better designs, and back to the original goal, more reliable wind turbines in the field.

To read a case study on Siemens Wind Power's use of HIL for wind turbine control system software testing, go to http://designnews.hotims.com/27735-526.

For information on NI's LabVIEW FPGA Module, go to http://www.ni.com/fpga/.

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