As a roving reporter for Intel® Embedded & Communications Alliance, I recently paid a visit to Advantech, a Premier member of the ecosystem program and an exciting group of people to talk to. Our subject was what role their products for wind power generation are playing in the coming world of 15 billion intelligent connected devices.


Obviously, this is a great field to be in. There's a lot to feel good about in contributing to the wind power industry. Wind power is clean, plentiful, renewable, widely distributed, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions when replacing fossil-fuel-derived electricity.


Right now, wind power is the fastest-growing renewable power generation technology. According to a survey by World Wind Energy Association, worldwide installation and capacity between 1997 and 2006 grew by ten-fold. Worldwide capacity is projected to grow from 73.9GW at the end of 2006 to 160GW by 2010. While this is just a drop in the bucket compared to overall world electricity demand, it shows how much opportunity there is in this field. Our friends at Advantech are right there in the thick of it. Advantech embedded computers are being used in wind turbine facilities in China, Germany and the United States.


In my conversation with Richard Hung, Product Manager of Advantech's Embedded Computing Division, I found out that in response to wind data from anemometers (devices for measuring the speed and direction of wind), programmable logic controllers (PLCs) direct nacelles (the structure at the top of a wind turbine tower that houses the blades) and their rotor blades to catch the most wind. PLCs also brake the blades from moving too fast and becoming damaged. Advantech's niche is embedded computer systems that record, monitor, store and transmit data when the wind turbines are in operation. The computer checks the functions and conditions of the turbine signals from the PLCs (including data like the tempeature of bearings and gear boxes) and sends real-time information through an IP-based network to an energy management center often hundreds of miles away. This is vitally important since many wind farms don't have onsite employees.


Wind farms are typically located in harsh environments where strong winds are constantly present. Consequently, they need embedded computers that are highly reliable, shock and noise resistant (blade rotation generates a lot of vibration, shock and noise), and support wide operating temperatures. Often these computers must be hermetically sealed against dust and thus fanless. 


According to Hung, Advantech turns to Intel® processors to meet these challenges. Their low power requirements and reliability allow Advantech's solutions to run cool, while enabling a compact design and the high mean time between failure (MTBF) required for remote environments and harsh conditions. A good example is the Advantech* UNO-2170, an Intel architecture-based embedded automation computer available in a fanless, diskless design using industrial CompactFlash to increase system reliability. This solution is currently used at US wind power company to monitor  a 328-foot-high wind turbine with a distance between blades of 231 feet. For wind turbines erected to provide power to Beijing and the 2008 Olympic Games (see video case study), Advantech supplied its ARK-3382 fanless embedded computer designed for high exposure to dust and broad temperature ranges.


As for Advantech contribution to helping produce clean energy, Hung says Advantech "is proud to see many of its energy-saving products being applied to a wide range of energy industry applications. This includes everything from energy development and power substations, to energy efficiency and pollution-free power storage." Hung goes on to say that "the use in wind farms is particularly gratifying. The 33 turbines installed in Beijing to help power the facilities for the 2008 Olympics generate 1 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year and take the place of 50,000 tons of coal and 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions."


Where does this fit into the Embedded Future of 15 billion devices? Every time a wind turbine is erected, another embedded device designed to monitor its devices and report back to us humans comes to life. And this is just one small example of something that's going on in a large scale all over the planet.


What do you think? Are embedded devices that talk to one another over the networks the next generation Internet? Will you be joining in or left blowing in the wind?