Drones de-icing wind turbines

The accumulation of ice on offshore wind turbine blades negatively influences aerodynamics and can result in a loss of up to 50% of energy production.[1,2] Ice also causes an imbalance among the blades, putting stress on the structure and components of the windmill, thus reducing its lifespan.[3] De-icing the blades removes the imbalance and restores power output.[4,5]

Current practice sees turbine blades being de-iced by helicopters or maintenance workers repelling down with a water jet. These options are costly, time consuming, and dangerous.[1] Pre-installed in-blade heating systems are also currently available, but retrofitting or replacing existing blades with new ones is expensive. 

Outstanding challenges include the cost of heavy lifting drones that are capable of carrying the weight of the water jet and the hose. Additionally, the calibration of the pilot algorithm for the rough weather conditions at offshore wind farms needs to be stable enough to get close to the blades while shooting a high-pressure stream without damaging them or the drone.

When will it become accepted practice that the offshore de-icing of wind turbine blades is performed by autonomous drones?

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References:
[1] Neil, D. (2014) Icing Impacts on Wind Energy Production
[2] Ilinca, A. (2011), Analysis and Mitigation of Icing Effects on Wind Turbines
[3] Habibi, H., Cheng, L., Zheng, H., Kappatos, V., Selcuk, C., & Gan, T. (2015), A dual de-icing system for wind turbine blades combining high-power ultrasonic guided waves and low-frequency forced vibrations
[4] Bladecleaning (2017), Lipieza de Palas
[5] Jeon, M., Kim, B., Park, S. & Hong, D. (2012), Maintenance robot for wind power blade cleaning
More information:
NorthSEE (2016), Offshore renewable energy developments - Offshore Wind
Battisti, L., Fedrizzi, R., Brighenti, A. & Laakso, T. (2006) Sea ice and icing risk for offshore wind turbines
Froese, M. (2017), Cracking the icing problem on turbine blades

By Matthew J. Spaniol