Insight Into One Of The Most Vulnerable Parts Of A Wind Turbine

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Originally published on ABB Conversations.
By Jari Pekka Matsinen.

Approximately one-third of all wind turbine failures are somehow related to the electrical drivetrain

Although the wind turbine looks quite simple, it is actually a complex electro-mechanical process that includes thousands of components and hundreds of different connection interfaces. As with any integrated system, some of the components are more important than others – the electrical drivetrain is one such component and it is made up of a combination of various technologies and elements from the fields of mechanical, electrical and electronic engineering. The electrical drivetrain is an integrated sub system that consists of sub components such as generator, converter, transformer and switch gears.

This means that you must have a multi-disciplinary expertise as well as detailed and specific know-how about all these sub components in order to be able to understand the interfaces and their possible interactions correctly. Without this expertise, you may face unwanted surprises and turbine failures due to incompatibility issues.

What are the most typical wind turbine failures?

It’s a good question but difficult to answer. The truth is that there is no simple answer because each wind turbine model in practice is unique and is, given the number of components (often produced by different suppliers), incredibly complex. Today’s situation however, is that turbine failures tend to be one of the wind power industry’s best kept secrets.

One way to get a better idea about this topic is to explore Reliawind‘s failure data and statistics. This information is publicly available and collected from wind turbine OEMs and component suppliers. Perhaps the statistics do not tell the absolute truth, but they do provide one of the most realistic views about typical wind turbine failures. The statistics show that the contribution of the “power module” to the total failure rate of a wind turbine is approx 33% annually, resulting in an averaged down time of 38%. When we look at the statistics in more detail, the most vulnerable parts of “power module” include the electrical drivetrain components, resulting in an annual failure rate of 31% and averaged down time of 37%. Hence, we can say that the electrical drivetrain is one of the most vulnerable parts of the wind turbine.

Does turbine OEM need to accept and bear all these risks alone?

Typically an electrical drivetrain is a system of sub components sourced from multiple suppliers. Even though a component supplier tends to have a detailed understanding about their component, they do not necessarily have a system level understanding of the complete electrical drivetrain. If a component supplier can’t take the overall responsibility for the integration of the electrical drivetrain sub components, then the turbine OEM must take it as well as bear the risks.

ABB has all of this essential electrical drivetrain expertise, knowledge and decades of experience. Thanks to our in-house joint R&D, we can either supply proven electrical drivetrain sub components as well as a complete electrical drivetrain package to you, our customers. We understand not only the technology but also the global standards, grid codes and the turbine certification processes. In this way we can help you to achieve a more predictable performance, more economical designs and ensure time to market designs.

P.S. “Knowledge is experience everything else is information” – Albert Einstein.

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4 thoughts on “Insight Into One Of The Most Vulnerable Parts Of A Wind Turbine

  • O&M is expensive offshore and at times of bad weather access may be too high risk to contemplate.

    “. . generator, converter, transformer and switch gears.”

    There’s a very simple answer – remove those components altogether! A typical farm of say 1GW, only needs five 200MW generators, housed in a central (accumulator) power station, fed by high pressure water pipe from, say 200 turbines. Having 200 5MW generators is a dumb way of doing it. We can save a fortune on copper and use no rare earth material.

    Use variable displacement water pumps instead, and transfer the captured wind energy direct to storage in pressurised accumulators. Before-generator energy storage is intrinsically more efficient, on a whole-system basis, as it would stop the over-production of electricity at the wrong time and deliver it to meet demand. This principle should be adopted for all marine renewables – wind, wave and tidal.

    Total installed (nameplate) capacity could be cut by half. There’s be no need for other storage capacity on-grid and the system works with lower-rated transmission lines and fewer interconnectors.

    • Dave, these seem to be logical arguments. Why is this not being tried in your opinion?

      • Wow – where to start? I could give you the flippant answer, which is – people don’t like change, they can’t think outside their own little box, and disruptive technology is anathema in a profit-seeking business world. Many a true word spoken in jest? Trouble is, that’s a serious problem, because those three human frailties stop radical innovation dead in its tracks. If you look back through my Disqus archive you’ll see what we’re up against. My mountain bike avatar is a photo of a prototype that proved the principle of bicycle-specific suspension. That was 22 years ago, but the entire industry still uses the ‘independent’ (front and rear) orthodoxy that wastes the rider’s power.

        The same situation persists with chassis dynamics. No car designers start with a ‘clean sheet’, they all assume that their ‘independent’ suspension can’t be bettered. They’re mistaken in that belief. Stable Suspension has no ride/handling compromise. My proof-of-concept model is now 12 years old!

        In this instance, the root cause is an erroneous perception of the role and value of storage in a renewables-powered world. So you won’t find anybody who’s motivated to work with the fundamental design premise that energy storage is a prerequisite for at least SOME new green tech’, and it’s BEST located before you generate the electricity. On a whole-system basis the value is huge and the cost far less than everyone assumes, but the industry has a dis-integrated structure, dictated by discredited ‘market’ ideology, so the players compete against each other rather than co-operating on a single goal.

        This excerpt from ‘The Engineer’ sets the tone:-

        But there’s a problem: who will build, own and run these storage facilities? Grünewald said that this could be a major sticking-point. “I have been looking into this, and it’s a bit like a carousel.” he said. “I asked the generators if they’d be willing to build storage capacity, and they don’t think it’s their responsibility; they think it’s a network function. And if you ask the network operators, they say that government regulations say that they’re not allowed to own generating capacity and storage, ironically, is classified as generating capacity; but if someone were to offer it as a contract service, such as a demand aggregator, they’d be happy to pay. So I spoke to them, and they said they’d offer the service, but they aren’t in the business of investing in capital-intensive equipment and the intermittency wasn’t their problem, so why didn’t I talk to the generators? And so around it goes.”

        Almost without exception, designers are working on various means to store electricity, so don’t expect logic to enter the argument any time soon!!!

        • Disruptive technology is difficult but that’s where the $ is

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