What is wind turbine
Wind energy consumption is on the rise. In the next few years, it is anticipated that both consumers and industry players will aggressively drive the growth of this sector. Wind turbines efficiently capture and harness the wind for renewable energy consumers and usually have lifespans ranging from twenty years to nearly a hundred years. Experts put their average lifespan at about thirty years. During this entire period, to ensure owners get the most out of their investment in this large-scale infrastructure, regular maintenance is required. This helps enhance the wind turbines’ performance and reliability and potentially increases their years of effective service. Care involves visual checks and servicing performed by wind technology experts and is often aided by wind turbine drone inspections. The size and nature of equipment make wind turbine maintenance work challenging.
Challenges in wind turbines
Wind turbines are exposed to the elements and sometimes operate continuously. As a result, several issues can crop up, such as damage to blades which are likely to crack and suffer wear and tear. In addition, exposure to harsh conditions like heat, rain, snow, and hurricane winds can hasten the damage process to the turbine. Lightning is also another factor that can play a role in causing fires and direct structural damage requiring immediate wind turbine repair.
Besides wind turbine blade repair, which may be needed from time to time, overload and stress can result from too much wind, and these can also affect the functioning of the internal gear systems, bearings, and other mechanical parts. Therefore, servicing teams must ensure that these components are regularly inspected and serviced to ensure hassle-free operations.
Wind turbine inspections and repairs are explicitly challenging because of several specific factors. For instance, the locations of wind turbines tend to be in geographically strategic areas with sufficient wind, often in remote areas and very far from cities and towns. Another challenge is the structural constraints and design involving equipment mounted on high ground and of significant size. For example, most turbines are mounted 300 feet above the ground, which presents unique constraints to technicians needing to repair and service components. In addition to these factors, renewable industry energy is relatively new and lacks sufficient data to analyze trends and improve operational decision-making.
Wind turbine Components
Typically, a wind turbine consists of a tower that contains the power cables and technology controls; towers may be onshore or located offshore, and these usually require more robust and complex foundations. The blades are vital parts of the turbine and help gather wind energy; they are delicate and susceptible to damage. The hub is where the edges are connected to the rotor, and the nacelle contains the generator and gearbox. While wind turbines may have different designs, these are broadly the components they are made of.
What is the outcome of poor maintenance?
Poor maintenance of wind turbines can have several repercussions. For one, there is curtailment. Curtailment is a payment that the turbine owner must make for the deficit cost of electricity when the turbine is not producing the optimal amount of power to meet the grid’s needs. This can affect the financial health of the owner over a period. Besides, when small repair jobs are delayed or not completed, they can result in more extensive damage. This can significantly increase the cost of repairs as the jobs get bigger and more complex; sometimes, they require cranes and special equipment to be hired. Finally, failure to maintain turbines properly may cause the owner to forfeit the manufacturer’s warranty and result in costly, unscheduled maintenance.
Components that fail often
Research shows that most repairs are required when internal engineering components fail. Over 60% of repairs are attributed to internal component failures, while external factors cause others. Blades also frequently suffer from wear and tear. This is naturally part of a pattern seen in the industry – that over 80% of issues are hardware related and need physical inspections and repairs. Other components that require frequent attention include gearboxes, bearings, and generators.
Wind Turbine Maintenance Strategies
Wind turbine maintenance companies follow inspection and repair protocols based on contracts with owners, warranty clauses, and the maintenance strategy owners adopt. Maintenance is conducted at a varying frequency depending on the type of turbine, its size, location, load, and the power volume it produces. For example, depending on wind turbine type, Horizontal Axis Wind Turbines (HAWTs) often need more frequent servicing than vertical axis turbines. Therefore, owners prepare a strategy that covers regular, planned, proactive maintenance and reactive, unscheduled jobs.
Preventive maintenance is designed to ensure regular servicing jobs so that it does not escalate into serious and more expensive repairs. The more comprehensively preventive care is done, the less there will be a need for unscheduled repairs. Predictive maintenance has the same goal and uses advanced technology such as sensors to help monitor the condition of the components in the turbine and feed essential information to service teams. Vital data points are collected and shared, including data on foundation displacement, temperature readings, lubrication levels, vibration readings, etc.
Examples of Monitoring & Predictive Maintenance
Based on these readings, software monitoring technicians can decide what needs servicing, repairs or replacement. Regular monitoring and predictive maintenance cover several aspects, including the blade condition and pitching, lubrication fluids in different components, the tower foundation’s condition, bearings, gearbox, electrical cabinet, bolts, ventilation, and drive train alignment, etc.
Wind Turbine Bolt Inspection
Bolts are vital components in wind turbines. Though bolts are small components, they hold the equipment components together and should be inspected for the high performance of the turbines. Wind turbines often contain as many as twenty-five thousand bolts across their parts like the blades, the nacelle, the hub, tower, and foundation.
Windtechs, as they are commonly known, are wind turbine technicians with the expertise to build and maintain these complex pieces of infrastructure. They require specific tools such as hydraulic bolt tensioners, hydraulic torque wrenches, tower alignment tools, and nut splitters. They also need a lot of training to perform their inspection and repair tasks in challenging conditions.
Fielda – Empowering Technicians with Hassle-Free Wind Turbine Inspections
Inspections and repairs are often conducted using equipment like cranes, drones, and other tools to suit the unique requirements of wind turbine work. They are also sometimes required in off-grid locations, and technicians carry out repairs on many turbines. Fielda is designed to help manage this process seamlessly and efficiently. With custom field data gathering forms and a completely digital workflow, wind turbine inspections can be controlled in just a few clicks. Offline data gathering enables uninterrupted work in remote areas, and data is readily available in real-time for operational teams to make informed decisions and increase their productivity and efficiency.