The taller the wind turbine and the longer its blade, the more powerful it is. With turbines growing in size, it is increasingly difficult to train people who would be able and willing to dangle from a rope and scrub or repair the blades manually, said board member of Aerones, Jānis Putrāms. Training of such alpine climbers/technicians takes three years. Plus, with manual work, the turbine has to be stopped for a while, which results in energy loss.
In a quest to find ways to carry out regular maintenance so that the turbines don't stand still, the company has developed, produced, and is putting to use a robot that does the job quicker and safer, dealing with all major challenges a turbine might face, such as corrosion, ice, or lightning damage.
Though from a distance and to an untrained eye, the innovation looks like a couple of boxes and a lot of wires slowly moving up and down the blade, tied to the ground by winches, it is in fact going through several stages of repairwork: sanding, filling cracks, coating, and other necessary actions. A human operates the robot from a safe distance on the ground, and the training for the operation of such equipment is only a matter of weeks, the Aerones representatives said.
"With these winches, you can move the robot up, down, left and right, and it moves at a speed of four meters per minute. A human can only go downward, and it is all much slower," said Putrāms.
"We can improve downtime by three to five times, doing the work quicker and more precisely due to the technical calculations of the programming," said Putrāms.
Aerones deals with all stages of the production: the development, the manufacture, and bringing it to the customers, operating both domestically and exporting the product and service to large enterprises representing 50% of the world energy power production in Europe, North America, and South America. Last year, the demand for its services globally tripled.
In 2022, Aerones raised the highest investment amount of all Latvian startups – EUR 39 million, securing a USD 30 million investment at the end of the year.
"The wind energy sector is currently developing, and there will be opportunities for the next 20 to 30 years at least, so now is the time to jump on the train [..] Until 2030, the wind power on the shores of Latvia will be 1.5 giga-watts, so it is the time to start doing something in the industry," said a representative of the Latvian Wind Energy Association.
Aerones was founded in 2015 by Dainis Krūze, Jānis Putrāms, and Andris Dambis. The startup, part of the YCombinator class of W18, was a top 3 finalist in the Slush 100 Pitch Competition in 2018, raised $2.7 million in 2019 from the InnoEnergy investment platform, $9 million in 2022, and $30 million most recently. The startup is known for its heavy-lift drone solution, which was used to pull snowboarders across a frozen lake and to perform the world's first drone jump.