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The Winds of Change: How Cisco is Helping First Wind to Connect and Secure Its Assets

First Wind, an independent energy company focused on utility-scale wind projects in the U.S., is using communications technology to more efficiently manage their operations and produce wind power.  First Wind has deployed a unified Cisco network throughout various parts of its operations to support data, video and voice communications for lowered costs and greater reliability. And today at AWEA Windpower 2011, Cisco and GE announced a collaboration that will provide wireless connectivity to the First Wind’s site in Milford, Utah.

Why is this important? Wind power is a small, but rapidly growing, source of energy. Wind accounted for just 1.3 percent of total U.S. electricity generation in 2008, but over the past decade, wind turbine use has increased more than 25 percent per year and experts forecast it will be able to generate one-third of the world’s electricity by 2050.   How is that possible?

While the concept of generating power from wind is fairly easy to understand, the actual operation of a wind farm is more complex. One of the major challenges is wind turbines tend be built in areas like shorelines, on top of hills and in open plains. These areas are remote, and the turbines themselves are often spread over a wide range, making them difficult to access. For example, First Wind’s Milford site is a four-hour drive from the nearest airport and the wind turbines are spread over 42 square miles.

This is where a unified IP-based wireless network can create efficiencies. The GE/First Wind deployment at Milford provides up-tower and down-tower wireless to all 39 GE turbines.  The network also supports voice, video and data communications. This enables technicians to collaborate with GE and share data on the operations, leading to less downtime and increased production.  Information from the turbines, including high-def images, can also be shared with utility companies as well.

Another major challenge wind farms face is security. Energy producers in the U.S. commonly face security threats like vandalism and theft.  Cisco’s Physical Security solution running over First Wind’s IP-based network helps control physical access to sites and allows central management of security from any of its six locations nationwide. Via the network, First Wind can also monitor assets with real-time video surveillance, and because the physical security systems are IP-based, the video can be integrated with physical access controls for comprehensive security and control.

For First Wind, and for wind power globally, this is just the beginning. Technological innovations will continue to push the envelope for what energy producers can achieve, including cutting costs, security, customer interaction, meeting regulatory demands, and environmental sustainability. It’s an exciting business and social opportunity, and we’re only just seeing the tip of the wind turbine!

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