Wind Turbines Wear and Tear

Overview

As a design Engineer and having personally spent many years flying complex mechanical machines with propellers, transmissions, gears, turbines, all subject to vibration and overall wear and tear has provided an instinctive sense of relevance as applied to design, operations and maintenance of such interesting machines.

It has always struck me that this whole mechanical wind turbine farm idea would likely end up as a very expensive proposition on a life cycle cost basis due to the inherent mechanical and physical complexity, regardless of whether it is approached on a preventative or breakdown maintenance strategy. There are the wind turbine wheels, the articulating blades, complex vibration management, bearings in the gearboxes, the gears in the transmissions, the generator, lubricating systems for the entire low speed and high speed shaft sides (yes, even wind turbines need dirty carbon based oil to operate, as well as ongoing routine oil changes, no different than other rotating machinery), yaw systems, computer control management and on and on.  Just to complicate the O&M support effort, all of this has to be carried out while balancing on a high pole on land or rolling sea.

Couple that idea with the relative low density of wind power for the large logistical footprint and the typical low load factor of direct wind based energy over the long haul drags the net economic return even lower.

Because wind farm turbine power cannot be relied on as part of the baseline grid power due to its intermittent and variable nature, it needs to be backed up 100% by solid high inertia predictable generating sources. Thus, the incremental capital costs for wind turbine farms (including grid modifications) must stand on their own merits for the full life cycle renewable cost analysis added to the grid. That is, wind power can’t be considered (subtracted) as capital replacement for taking existing predictable inertial grid capacity offline. (Although you can’t seem to tell the political scientists that to date. Fortunately, real physics, like gravity can’t be legislated).

The Cracks are Beginning to Show

In looking at sample literature online for large scale turbine specifications, industry and the government have the commercial turbine life optimistically  estimated at 20 to 25 years.  Just recently, the Telegraph has reported on a recent large scale study of 3000 onshore wind turbines that has found the actual lifespan in service is only 12-15 years. Compounding the bad news, the measured load factor drops to just 11% over that shortened span.  For the platforms at sea, it drops to 15% in just over 10 years because of the harsher environment.

See the full Telegraph Article here.

Quote: Dr John Constable, the director of REF, said: “This study confirms suspicions that decades of generous subsidies to the wind industry have failed to encourage the innovation needed to make the sector competitive.

“Bluntly, wind turbines onshore and offshore still cost too much and wear out far too quickly to offer the developing world a realistic alternative to coal.”

In Conclusion

You don’t need to be an accountant to see how the political push to wind farms has weighed economically on every place that has gone to scale in the rush to renewables at all cost. Regardless of how various governments might try to bury the accounting and taxes on executing their master renewable plan (and history says the will), big increases for the cost of Electricity are already ending up at the last mile lapping on the doorstep of the impoverished consumer. As a Canadian, its easy to see the very real economic pain this ‘rush to please’ on things like the Paris accord have inflicted on the citizenery.  Consider the current grief caused to our Ontario brethren. You can fool all of the people some of the time, etc.

It’s plain to see that the government there is on the run, but it can’t hide from the growing backlash.  I’m pretty sure there will / must be other international governments in similar boats rowing madly away from the dock .

Rub-a-dub-dub.

mauiturbinesTurbines on the hill