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Wind Turbine Problems

The wind energy industry has been growing at nearly 30 percent per year for the last decade. The heavy push for more green energy has created a gold rush of sorts...which means buyer beware ...

Germany easily leads the world in installed wind energy capacity. Its 18,865 wind turbines (as of the end of 2006) supply 5.7 percent of the nation's electricity. Plus, German turbine manufacturers and suppliers produced more than 50% of the turbines and components manufactured worldwide in 2004.

The wind energy industry has been growing at nearly 30 percent per year for the last decade. The heavy push for more green energy has created a gold rush of sorts...which means buyer beware (Excerpts fromhttp://www.windaction.org/news/11519).

"Many companies have sold an endless number of units," complains engineer Manfred Perkun, until recently a claims adjuster for R+V Insurance. "It hardly leaves any time for testing prototypes."

Wind power expert Martin Stöckl knows the problems all too well. The Bavarian travels some 80,000 kilometers (49,710 miles) across Germany every year, but he is only rarely able to help the wind farmers. It is not just the rotors that, due to enormous worldwide demand, take forever to deliver, but simple replacement parts are likewise nowhere to be found. "You often have to wait 18 months for a new rotor mount, which means the turbine stands still for that long," says Stöckl.

"Sales... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Germany easily leads the world in installed wind energy capacity. Its 18,865 wind turbines (as of the end of 2006) supply 5.7 percent of the nation's electricity. Plus, German turbine manufacturers and suppliers produced more than 50% of the turbines and components manufactured worldwide in 2004.

The wind energy industry has been growing at nearly 30 percent per year for the last decade. The heavy push for more green energy has created a gold rush of sorts...which means buyer beware (Excerpts from http://www.windaction.org/news/11519).

"Many companies have sold an endless number of units," complains engineer Manfred Perkun, until recently a claims adjuster for R+V Insurance. "It hardly leaves any time for testing prototypes."

Wind power expert Martin Stöckl knows the problems all too well. The Bavarian travels some 80,000 kilometers (49,710 miles) across Germany every year, but he is only rarely able to help the wind farmers. It is not just the rotors that, due to enormous worldwide demand, take forever to deliver, but simple replacement parts are likewise nowhere to be found. "You often have to wait 18 months for a new rotor mount, which means the turbine stands still for that long," says Stöckl.

"Sales Top, Service Flop" is the headline on a recent cover story which appeared in the industry journal Erneuerbare Energien. The story reports the disastrous results of a questionnaire passed out to members of the German WindEnergy Association asking them to rank manufacturers. Only Enercon, based in Germany, managed a ranking of "good." The company produces wind turbines without gearboxes, eliminating one of the weakest links in the chain.

Even among insurers, who raced into the new market in the 1990s, wind power is now considered a risky sector. Industry giant Allianz was faced with around a thousand damage claims in 2006 alone. Jan Pohl, who works for Allianz in Munich, has calculated that on average "an operator has to expect damage to his facility every four years, not including malfunctions and uninsured breakdowns."

So much for German precision...there are quick profits to be made.

Many insurance companies have learned their lessons and are now writing maintenance requirements--requiring wind farmers to replace vulnerable components such as gearboxes every five years--directly into their contracts. But a gearbox replacement can cost up to 10 percent of the original construction price tag, enough to cut deep into anticipated profits. Indeed, many investors may be in for a nasty surprise. "Between 3,000 and 4,000 older facilities are currently due for new insurance policies," says Holger Martsfeld, head of technical insurance at Germany's leading wind turbine insurer Gothaer. "We know that many of these facilities have flaws."

And the technical hitches are not without their dangers. For example:

- In December of last year, fragments of a broken rotor blade landed on a road shortly before rush hour traffic near the city of Trier.

- Two wind turbines caught fire near Osnabrück and in the Havelland region in January. The firefighters could only watch: Their ladders were not tall enough to reach the burning casings.

- The same month, a 70-meter (230-foot) tall wind turbine folded in half in Schleswig-Holstein--right next to a highway.

- The rotor blades of a wind turbine in Brandenburg ripped off at a height of 100 meters (328 feet). Fragments of the rotors stuck into a grain field near a road.

These examples do highlight a rare benefit of our nation's NIMBYism regarding wind farms...there's less for failing turbines to damage in rural settings.

At the Allianz Technology Center (AZT) in Munich, the bits and pieces from wind turbine meltdowns are closely examined. "The force that comes to bear on the rotors is much greater than originally expected," says AZT evaluator Erwin Bauer. Wind speed is simply not consistent enough, he points out. "There are gusts and direction changes all the time," he says.

But instead of working to create more efficient technology, many manufacturers have simply elected to build even larger rotor blades, Bauer adds. "Large machines may have great capacity, but the strains they are subject to are even harder to control," he says.

Even the technically basic concrete foundations are suffering from those strains. Vibrations and load changes cause fractures, water seeps into the cracks, and the rebar begins to rust. Repairs are difficult. "You can't look inside concrete," says Marc Gutermann, a professor for experimental statics in Bremen. "It's no use just closing the cracks from above."

The engineering expert suspects construction errors are to blame. "The facilities keep getting bigger," he says, "but the diameter of the masts has to remain the same because otherwise they would be too big to transport on the roadways."

The strength and variability of the wind was a surprise to the engineers designing the turbines and their support structures? Those are part of the site conditions--basic parameters that engineers would need to do the designs for the turbines, masts, and foundations. The less confidence one has in the weather (and soils) data, the greater the safety factors that are needed. One has to seriously wonder who was cutting corners in the design, construction, materials, and/or gathering of reliable weather data.

Still the wind power business is focusing on replacing smaller facilities with ever larger ones. With all the best sites already taken, boosting size is one of the few ways left to boost output. On land at least. So far, there are no offshore wind parks in German waters, a situation that Minister Gabriel hopes to change. He wants offshore wind farms to produce a total of 25,000 megawatts by 2030.

Perhaps by then, the lessons learned on land will ward off disaster at sea. Many constructors of such offshore facilities in other countries have run into difficulties. Danish company and world market leader Vestas, for example, had to remove the turbines from an entire wind park along Denmark's western coast in 2004 because the turbines were not sufficiently resilient to withstand the local sea and weather conditions. Similar problems were encountered off the British coast in 2005.

Some say early adopter, others say guinea pig.

This link provides information on the wind farms that are on-line or currently being built in Oregon, including the number and types of turbines at the facilities. Almost half are Vestas (the Danish company mentioned above...yes, the list has a typo), with GE Energy coming in second and Mitsubishi (Japanese) third. A wind farm being constructed in Sherman County will have some Siemens turbines; it's the only German manufacturer on the list.


Source: http://roguepundit.typepad....

AUG 25 2007
http://wind3.herokuapp.com/posts/10818-wind-turbine-problems
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