Harnessing brisk Texas winds takes more than towering turbines – it also takes teams of technicians to keep them tuned and repaired.
Over 1,700 NextEra wind turbine technicians recently added Apple’s iPod Touch to their tool kits – helping them service the gargantuan machines.
The iPods are pre-loaded with technical information and repair diagrams that technicians can access while working some 300 feet in the air – both inside and outside the green energy company’s turbines.
Having detailed information close at hand means that a technician won’t have to climb back down a ladder and then drive back to an office to search for needed data, said NextEra CIO Lakshman Charanjiva.
Charanjiva said NextEra, which he described as the nation’s largest wind and solar energy provider, came up with the idea to provide the iPods to the wind turbine techs after making a site visit to a wind energy farm in west Texas.
During a visit, he climbed with the techs up a ladder inside the dark structure in 110 degree heat.
“It’s not something you want to do if you have a fear of heights or closed spaces,” Charanjiva told an audience at the Premier 100 conference here this week. “We needed to do something for those guys to save them time going back and forth without having to come down” for information.
Charanjiva estimates that using the iPod Touch has cut six to eight hours of work per technician every week since the program was implemented about a year ago. iPods are also inexpensive, up to 10 times less expensive than alternative ruggedized handhelds, Charanjiva said.
NextEra has also put mobile Wi-Fi hotspots inside the technicians’ trucks, enabling them to access the internet and the home office from a perch atop a wind turbine.
NextEra subsidiary Florida Power and Light has replaced rugged tablets used by power outage technicians with 500 iPads. The iPads, which cost less than $500 apiece, are replacing $5,000 ruggedized tablets.
Technicians can use the devices to track the locations of homes without power, since many homes are equipped with two-way smart meters. During a major hurricane, having outage locations delivered to a tablet in a truck means the technician can notice patterns in outages quickly, and thus better track where a major switch might be out.
NextEra can also overlay weather satellite information about the path of a storm on top of the outage data to to decide where to send repair crews.
Having that data has helped NextEra come closer to its goal of restoring power from storms within 24 hours, Charanjiva said.