So, you know those towering wind turbines? Well, inspecting them can be a real challenge. They’re crazy tall and have all these intricate parts, making the whole process both tedious and risky.

But here’s the deal: These inspections are crucial! Why? Because they help us spot core defects, delamination issues, and internal damages that mess with the turbine’s performance and energy output.

So, in this guide, we’re going to take a deep dive into wind turbine inspection, covering everything you need to know. Sound good? Let’s get started! ūüėä

Why Is It Important to Have Wind Turbine Inspections? 

So, wind turbine inspection is all about checking out the vital components that keep these turbines churning out renewable energy. You gotta do these routine checks to keep an eye on any wear and tear on the parts.

With the world going all gung-ho for renewable energy, the demand for wind turbine technicians is going to shoot up by a whopping 60% in the next ten years.

But here’s the catch ‚Äď those turbine blades, made of fiberglass and non-recyclable resins, are turning into a headache. They end up in landfills after about 25 years, and with more and more wind farms popping up, this blade waste problem just keeps getting bigger. Hence, we’ve got to figure out a way to make these blades last longer! Regular inspections and preventive maintenance are going to be vital in tackling this issue head-on. Let’s do our part to keep these turbines spinning and the planet greener!

What types of Inspections are usually performed on Wind Turbine Blades?

Wind turbine inspections play a crucial role throughout various lifecycle stages, ensuring quality and efficiency. These inspections occur during and post-manufacturing, during component transportation, during wind farm construction, and for monitoring operational performance. Regular inspections keep stakeholders informed and enable prompt resolution of potential problems, reducing downtime and ensuring peak performance. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce the levelized cost of energy (LCOE), making wind energy more cost-effective and sustainable.

Wind turbine inspections occur at different lifecycle stages:

  РDuring and post-manufacturing

  РComponent transportation

  РWind farm construction

  РOperational performance monitoring

WHAT ELEMENTS OF A WIND TURBINE ARE REQUIRED?

Wind farms grow in size as demand for renewable energy increases, highlighting how crucial routine blade inspections are. These blades, now growing in size to over 260 feet, larger than a Boeing 747’s wingspan, face operational wear and exposure to environmental elements, making them prone to damage. In essence, the blades are the heart of wind turbines, and their proper functioning is paramount for the success of renewable energy projects. Here are some of the other components that require routine maintenance:

  • Turbine blades¬†
  • Main bearings¬†
  • Generators¬†
  • Gearboxes¬†
  • Nacelle (a protective component housing)

Techniques for Wind Turbine Blade Inspection 

Wind turbine blades, crafted from a combination of resilient fiberglass and composite resins, encounter their share of challenges when facing certain conditions. Remarkably, even the most subtle imperfection adorning a blade’s surface can wield the power to curtail its aerodynamic prowess, ultimately resulting in a notable decline in energy production.

Surface Inspection for Wind Turbine Blades

Surface inspection employs various visual techniques, such as cameras, drones, or human observation, to diligently identify any potential issues. This method is adept at visually detecting the following flaws:

– Surface cracks

– Leading-edge erosion

– Lightning strikes

– Bird strikes

– Delamination

– Leading or trailing edge splits

The invaluable advantage of conducting regular wind turbine blade inspections is the ability to perform timely corrective maintenance. Early detection of defects enables swift repairs, ensuring the prolonged lifespan of components without compromising energy production.

Sub-surface inspections 

Sub-surface inspections employ various non-destructive methods to detect structural flaws within turbine blades, both during the manufacturing process and while in operation. These contactless technologies enable the examination of the internal structure without the need for deconstruction or damage to the thick composite coatings.

The methods used in sub-surface inspections include:

  • Thermal Imaging¬†
  • Shearography¬†
  • Ultrasound (Acoustic)¬†
  • Electromagnetic¬†
  • Radiography
  • Visual inspection within the structure

The ability to see through the surface using these non-destructive methods allows the early detection of issues like cracks, manufacturing defects, bonding erosion, and damaged shear webs within turbine blades. By identifying these structural flaws, appropriate maintenance and corrective actions can be taken, ensuring the safe and efficient operation of the turbine system.

Internal Inspections of Wind Turbines

Traditionally, wind turbine inspection involved physically climbing into each of the three blades, but technicians are limited to only 91 feet (28m) inside the blade, leaving over half of the internal structure uninspected. This approach is dangerous, costly, and inefficient, especially for tall turbines exceeding 200ft.

Each blade is divided into two sections, and both sections must be visually inspected for cracks, damaged hardware, and other defects that could lead to failure. Offshore wind farms face the additional challenge of potential internal corrosion due to salty air exposure.

With some wind farms having hundreds of turbines requiring annual inspections, the current method of traversing each blade is not sustainable. However, the renewable energy industry is rapidly adopting drone technology, which significantly improves inspection processes.

Traditional vs. Modern Wind Turbine Inspection

Traditional Wind Turbine Inspection Modern Wind Turbine Inspection
Rope access technicians are required, using ropes and tethering systems to scale wind turbines for inspections. Drones equipped with AI and advanced sensors allow for real-time data collection and analysis
Turbines must be turned off for manual inspections, leading to hours of income and energy loss. Drones enable safe ground-level inspections, eliminating the need for workers to climb the turbine
Inspections are conducted at high altitudes, posing risks to workers and requiring time-consuming processes. Turbines can continue operating during drone inspections, avoiding revenue loss and energy reduction.
Determining the structural condition by knocking on blades may not provide accurate results Drones offer improved efficiency, reducing the time required for inspections.
Wind noise and adverse weather conditions can make inspections challenging. AI-driven data analysis provides actionable insights for proactive maintenance and repair.
Damaged wind turbine equipment can put inspection personnel in danger. Improved safety for inspection personnel by eliminating the need to work at dangerous heights.

Pros of Wind Turbine Drone Inspection

  1. Versatile Sensors: Drone sensors can be easily interchanged for various types of inspections, allowing flexibility in data collection for different wind turbine components.
  2. Efficient Data Collection: Drones enable high efficiency in data collection, reducing inspection times and allowing for quicker assessment of multiple turbines.
  3. Enhanced Defect Detection: High-resolution images captured by drones can reveal defects that might not be easily detectable by the human eye, ensuring more accurate and comprehensive inspections.
  4. Onshore and Offshore Use: Wind turbine drone inspections apply to both onshore and offshore wind farms, facilitating maintenance and inspection efforts in challenging environments.
  5. Cost-Effectiveness: Compared to traditional inspection methods, the operational expenses of using drones are significantly lower, resulting in cost savings for wind farm operators.
  6. Safety Advantages: By employing drones, workers are kept out of danger at high altitudes and in cramped working environments, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries.
  7. Real-time Data Analysis: Drones gather and send data in real time for quick analysis during inspections.
  8. Interior Blade Inspection: Wind turbine inspection drones can inspect the interior of blades, providing valuable insights into potential hidden defects.

Future Demand and Efficiency Improvements:

As the world increasingly embraces clean energy solutions, the demand for wind turbine drone inspection is expected to grow exponentially. With the proliferation of wind turbines, there will be a corresponding increase in the number of checks required. This demand presents an opportunity for the development of more intelligent and efficient field inspection solutions.