For Danny Ellis and his team, wind energy is more than a job; it’s an essential part of our future. Ellis is CEO of an enterprise based in Ann Arbor, Michigan called SkySpecs, which optimizes operations and maintenance for wind farms (many of which partner with Arcadia) using custom-designed drones and predictive maintenance software and algorithms.
It’s an exciting time in the industry. This is our chance to make an impact on climate change, and pave our way to a better future.
He’s also an Arcadia customer. “I love the mission of Arcadia,” says Ellis. “I can’t be the CEO of a wind company and not be powering my house and office on wind power.” Recently, he even decided to add Arcadia to the list of perks he offers employees. For team members who make the switch to wind power, SkySpecs pays a portion of their bill. “We thought that was a pretty cool way to say our company is helping the wind industry and being powered by wind,” he says.
After all, Ellis’ entire career path has been carved by wind. SkySpecs, which grew out of his drone-centered college project at the University of Michigan in 2009, offers an innovative solution to wind farms everywhere. The company’s fully automated drones can quickly and accurately identify issues in wind turbines, such as manufacturing defects, wear and tear, damage from lightning, and more. The devices capture details about the wind turbines that could help wind farm owners identify and fix problems early, extending the life of the equipment and avoiding costly downtime.
TheSkySpecs team came up with the concept after identifying a problem that wind farm owners often face: inspecting, maintaining, and optimizing their equipment can be incredibly daunting. The blades of a wind turbine can range from 50 to 100 meters long, and accessing them is no easy feat. “You could either look from the ground with binoculars or a telescopic lens, which isn’t as accurate and is hard to document. Or you could send a team to hang from ropes, and that’s very expensive and time-consuming,” says Ellis.
Blade failure can lead to significant unplanned downtime, loss of revenue, and unexpected maintenance costs. Ellis refers to the reactive operational practice as a “run until failure” model. “If you are waiting for a failure to happen, you are already behind in fixing it. What could have been fixed for a few thousand dollars can quickly escalate to hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus lost revenue due to downtime. Owners are far better off planning ahead to avoid this downtime,” he says. Predictive maintenance is just starting to catch on as a maintenance strategy, but will be crucial for the longevity of the wind industry.
That’s where the drones come in. These unmanned aerial vehicles, which can autonomously inspect all three blades of a turbine in just 15 minutes, have been game-changers. Today, three years after SkySpecs launched, it has inspected more than 36,000 turbines in 22 countries. It has collected and analyzed data from all of those turbines, and uses those insights to identify trends and begin to predict when a particular turbine or blade might fail in the future. That information can help wind farm owners avoid worst-case “run until failure” incidents and plan ahead for maintenance. It allows them to be predictive rather than reactive.
It’s an exciting time in the industry. This is our chance to make an impact on climate change, and pave our way to a better future.”
As an entrepreneur and engineer, Ellis loves being part of an industry that he’s watched transform before his eyes. He relishes the fact that consumers have more choices than ever before when it comes to wind power, thanks to businesses such as Arcadia. And he’s excited to be a part of a broader community that’s making a mark on tomorrow. “It’s an exciting time in the industry. This is our chance to make an impact on climate change, and pave our way to a better future.”