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Behind the windfarm scenes

Readers may remember Gordon Hughes' report about the lifetimes of real-world industrial wind turbines and the finding that this is much shorter than assumed in government cost projections. The reasons for the short lifetimes centre on wear and tear on the turbine blades and on the gearboxes.

In that vein, you may be interested in this recording from a forum for windfarm operators in which some of these problems are discussed in fairly plain terms. Having listened, you realise that the factors affecting performance are legion, including not only wear and tear, but dirt build-up on the blades, icing. These factors can severely impact upon performance, and because they tend to unbalance the blades they then increase wear and tear on the mechanical parts of the turbine. But icing is even more serious, as the last speaker on the recording notes:

The icing issue in Northern Europe is huge...there was a [wind] park in Northern Sweden...and it iced up for 21 are talking about a complete the maths...everything else becomes insignificant...there will be huge PR are looking at if we will invest in wind farms or wind energy ever again.

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Reader Comments (71)

Professor Hughes report was widely criticised for its "innovative" use of statistics (he used actual recorded wind speeds local to a wind farm to re base output) and he deduced that 10 to 15 years would be the life expectancy of a turbine. Now, each of the O&M people in that recording gave a maximum of 20 years life for any add-on eg leading edge heaters. This puts the absolute life of the main structure at less than 20 years. It vindicates or backs up Hughes.

The remarks right at the end about not spreading any (more) bad news otherwise people will be put off (wind power) is not funny.

The fact that the subsidy regimes are guaranteed for a similar period is not happy coincidence but merely that DECC believe the cost of gas generation will exceed wind by that time and therefore no further subsidies will be required. I see pigs flying .....

Nov 26, 2013 at 3:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterJTBroadhurst

"Followed by a section from FoE about "Anti-green ideology". No bias or slant there at all."

Mistaken hyphen, Shirley?

"Anti green-ideology"

Nov 26, 2013 at 3:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterLeo Smith

Sherlock 1
"laughingly described as a 'career' "

Unfortunately I know exactly what you mean. Maybe we should have taken a different path, politics, journalism, green NGO? All that lot require is a big mouth, a brass neck and a very strange way of viewing reality.

Nov 26, 2013 at 4:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterBlack Dog

I was involved in a big research project looking at the process of Ice Accretion on overhead line conductors 20 years ago. It was a fascinating process as it tended to occur on the upstream surface and created an aerofoil shape, effectively a wing that then started to fly creating all sorts of problems for cables in groups. A secondary problem was that the off centre weight of ice caused the cable to twist and rotate so that a bigger surface area was exposed to the snow bearing wind and hence the aerofoil would grow and the increasing off axis weight cause more twisting. Cables in the middle of the span between two pylons could rotate through several complete turns which was not good when the cables are made from twisted wires. The combination of additional weight, unexpected vertical forces and untwisting of the cable made the problem very difficult to solve. Its no wonder that the lights still tend to go out in blizzards, especially in wet sticky snow conditions.

Given my own experience I'm not surprised that wind turbines have severe problems.

Nov 26, 2013 at 4:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterEddieo

Wonderful wind.

The bit from 1:10 onwards says a great deal

Nov 26, 2013 at 4:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterBlack Dog

Shades of the 1946-7 debacle, which was partly the result of a winter so cold that the coal froze at the pits and depots on the way to the power stations - and also partly the result of political irresponsibility by the government, come to think of it.

Nov 26, 2013 at 4:49 PM | Unregistered Commenteranonym

Air Crash Investigation on Discovery Channel .Ice bringing down Turbo Prop Passenger Aircraft.

The FAA only allows Turbo Prop Aircraft to fly in warmer part of the United States due to problems with ice build up making the aircraft unstable.Not forgetting off course it was ice on the wing that caused the Manchester United Air Crash in Munich in1958

Same ice problems must also apply to Wind Turbines.

Nov 26, 2013 at 5:27 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

MikeHaseler (12:43 PM): "it was a two person job, but I got in trouble doing a blade when the "trained" person went to the toilet."
Are we to conclude from that statement, that you weren't toilet-trained? ;-)

Mike Jackson (3:23 PM): "Do you know the Roald Dahl story of the woman who clubbed her husband to death with a frozen leg of lamb and then cooked the weapon and invited the investigating officers to lunch?"
I well remember its adaptation on Alfred Hitchcock's TV show.

Nov 26, 2013 at 5:46 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

As a regular visitor to Denmark, I love the way the Danes call wind-power "political electricity" .

Wind turbines , though madness economically except for off-grid applications, are interesting technically. We go to the "All-Energy" renewables conference each year to talk to the engineers and see what their problems are. (To see if we can sell them anything, basically).

All I can say is, the media and activist groups are gigantically misleading the public (naively or deliberately, I don't know) when they go on about wind and solar etc being "free" and talk as if it could replace "fossil fuels" tomorrow. It is not remotely near that. I think that's why the Big Oil conspiracies abound. People think if it's so good, then why aren't we using it NOW? Obvious answer: Evil Fossil Fuel deniers are suppressing it. Oh, right. The bastards!

Nov 26, 2013 at 5:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

Lamb to the slaughter

Nov 26, 2013 at 8:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank Davis

In a warming world models show to the 95% confidence level that wind turbines will be ice free by 2020 (at least in the summer).

Future generations of wind turbines just aren't going to know what ice is.

Until glorious ice free 2020 comes, there is still no truth in the malicious lies spread by fossil fuel funded deniers that wind turbine repeairers will mostly be killed by ice throw from neighbouring turbines as they try to clamber onto a turbine from their boat. They are far more likely to drown having been thrown off the boat in 60 foot swells resulting from extreme weather events caused by warming.

Nov 26, 2013 at 8:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Dunford

Apologies for repeating myself in my post at 5:53. For some reason, my post at 2:23 had not shown up by then.

Nov 26, 2013 at 8:43 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

I am not a subsidised wind farm lover, but wonder why the icing cannot be eliminated by applying heaters to the blades and hubs. After all there is no shortage of local power.

Nov 26, 2013 at 11:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Melia

Another paper on blade heating entitled 'WIND TURBINE BLADE HEATING – DOES IT PAY?':

Nov 27, 2013 at 12:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

In the US, since 2008, the largest insurer of wind turbines, GCube, has paid over $200,000,000 in settlement of claims to the renewable industry, mostly to the wind sector.

In 2012 alone "gearbox claims typically cost the industry $380,000, while turbine blade claims cost an average of $240,000, per claim. Claims associated with wind turbine foundations are typically higher, averaging $1,300,000 and have risen to $2,500,000 in exceptional circumstances throughout the 2012 period."

Overall, "data based on 2012 US reported claims, shows that blade damage and gearbox failure account for the greatest number of losses – accounting for 41.4% and 35.1% of the total claims reported.

"Meanwhile, damage to generators (10.2%) and transformers (5.1%) ranked third and fourth with damage to foundations coming in fifth.

"Commensurately, the top two most frequently reported causes of loss were cited as poor maintenance (24.5%) and lightning strikes (23.4%). Design defect (11.5%), wear and tear (9.3%) and mechanical defect (6.2%) featured in third, fourth and fifth when it came to assessing and understanding the reason cited for the initial claim."

Nov 27, 2013 at 1:45 AM | Unregistered Commenter52

When our great-great grand children read history, they will think us fools.

From the 12th century up until the early 18th century windmills were the powerhouses used to grind wheat into flour and corn into cornmeal. Windmill power was also used for sawing wood, pressing seeds to make oil, papermaking, grinding spices, and for the chalk and pottery industries. It was however never very reliable source of power, being available only when the wind blew, and then within restricted speeds.

The steam engine emerged during the 18th century and with their refinement came a reliable source of power for the industrial revolution. During the 20th century these engines were then replace by better, more reliable and efficient, internal combustion engines.

Then in the early 21st century when, due to mass hysteria, governments tried to get windmills to make electrical power and replace reliable engines. These windmills were made bigger and bigger, and were sited all over the country. Some were even put in the sea! This was during the anti-science era, and after many hundreds of thousands of people died due to the lack of reliable warmth during the winters. The governments were forced to give-up on the project but not before a massive civil uprising. This was the start of the Great Green War....

Nov 27, 2013 at 2:32 AM | Unregistered Commentertom0mason

The fact that wind energy can't be stored and that these things need back-up from other energy sources rather defeats the alleged green energy benefits of wind turbines in the first place.

Nov 27, 2013 at 7:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterEve Elizabeth

Mike J/Frank D

I remember it well. Always struck me as a good plot - a freezer is the perfect place for temporarily solid implements.

I also remembered a comic-book story from my childhood of an assassin who used bullets made from solid CO2...

Nov 27, 2013 at 7:01 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

tomOmason - love the story - especially the conclusion - the 'Great Green War'...!

Oh - please let it come to pass before I get the meet-and-greet with St Peter...

Nov 28, 2013 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterSherlock1

Just a 'reality check' folks - wind currently providing 0.71% (0.33GW) of 46.32GW demand...

Mr PotatoEd and the whole DECC staff had better get out there and all blow together - no, wait a minute - they'll be exhaling CO2 - so that won't work...

Now - about these wood pellets....

Nov 28, 2013 at 1:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterSherlock1

So the number of airframe losses we've had, and the effort put into de-icing etc in aviation. Suddenly it's news that aero foils and ice do not play well together........

Nov 29, 2013 at 12:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Ozanne

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