Fiber optics is helping deliver enhanced reliability and security to renewable energy installations like solar and wind farms. From delivering insightful monitoring to providing vital immunity advantages over copper cabling, fiber optics plays an ever-increasing role within renewable energy installations.
Let’s take a closer look at why and how fiber is used in these rugged environments.
Why Fiber Optic Cabling Makes Sense for Solar and Wind Farms
Delivering several advantages over traditional copper wiring, the popularity of fiber optic cabling solutions in solar and wind farm environments is no accident.
Onshore and offshore wind and solar farms are usually located in isolated or challenging topographical environments. Solar arrays, for example, are typically positioned in desolate desert landscapes. While they benefit from high temperatures and several hours of daily sunlight, nighttime temperatures can plummet, causing cables to temporarily become brittle and inflexible. Wind farms can also be located in remote locations and often contend with dust, lightning strikes, snow, and rain.
Solar farm cables usually are laid next to power lines and inverters, while wind turbine cabling has to contend with motors, solenoids, power lines, invertors, and generators. Both of which require dealing with high levels of physical noise and electromagnetic interference (EMI).
To contend with these challenges, copper cabling would require double-shielding to improve reliability, making them prohibitively expensive compared to fiber optic solutions.
With near-perfect noise and EMI immunity, fiber is a standout solution over CAT5 or CAT6 copper cables.
Fiber Optics Use Case #1: Wind Turbine Monitoring
Having explained some of the features that make fiber preferable for renewable energy installations, it’s worth looking at a few use cases to demonstrate their superior effectiveness.
In wind farms, fiber optic cabling is playing a pivotal role in maintaining floating wind turbines. Rather than being fixed to the bottom of the ocean, floating wind turbines are tethered with mooring chains to the ocean floor in places so deep that this is the only viable option.
These types of turbines, however, present several challenges. For instance, it can become challenging to perform maintenance and monitor operations economically without a fixed position.
However, fiber optic cabling provides vital preemptive indicating data points before they become catastrophic. For example, one of the most expensive wind turbine elements is the gearbox, which also happens to be the element most vulnerable to failure. Fiber optic cables wrapped around the entire gearbox can provide engineers with real-time data concerning the gearbox’s vibrational strain and temperature signals, along with other crucial sensor-based indicators. This solution allows wind-farm operators to identify problems with the gearbox sooner, facilitating emergency repairs before the problem causes the loss of the entire wind turbine.
Fiber Optics Use Case #2: Solar Farm Security
While fiber optics are already used within solar installations for operational purposes such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) networks, fiber plays an increasing role in the security of these systems.
Due to solar farms’ increasing importance in renewable-electricity generation, they have become popular targets for vandals and politically motivated activists. While most installations have robustly fenced perimeters, some obvious weaknesses leave them far from impenetrable.
The response from solar-farm operators has been to introduce fiber-optic intrusion-detection solutions. Fiber optic cable is a perfect solution because it is susceptible to pressure, acoustics, and motion. It can detect minute vibrations transmitted through the fence, soil, or surface.
Fence-mounted sensors can detect intruders, and given the high sensitivity of fiber’s signal, systems can differentiate between cutting, climbing, or the use of ladders. Similarly, fiber signals can distinguish between a strong gust of wind and a genuine intrusion attempt, reducing the number of false alarms to almost zero.
Remember that, in addition to reliably detecting multiple intrusion attempts and tampering, fiber optic systems are immune to EMI, RFI, and lightning, representing superior security value. Fiber-optic cable detection systems are usually self-contained, with alarm processing units (APUs) that offer reliability across considerable distances.
Some solutions require only a single APU to cover up to 60 miles if the cable starts and ends at the same point, making fiber optic cabling the most cost-effective fence detection solution for solar farms with large perimeters.
Contact NCS Today to Discuss Your Fiber Optic Cabling Requirements
At NCS, we have a track record spanning decades regarding the installation and testing of fiber optic solutions. We provide extensive experience in fusion splicing and terminations, testing conventional and Optical Ground Wire (OPGW) fiber installations, and more.
We have also developed specialist expertise in fiber-based security solutions, increasing concern for solar and onshore wind farm operators. Our solutions include industry-leading camera security and fence line detection systems that are well-suited to these rugged environments. Last, we can design and implement outside plant fiber connectivity for industrial sites such as solar farms.
Speak to a member of our fiber optics team today to discuss your requirements for your renewable energy installation.