Never has such a lousy product been given so many free passes: wind turbines. Yes, they are lousy products – sorry!
In a free market, where poorly performing products get knocked out rapidly, wind turbines still can’t hold a candle to regular power plants. They only survive because of subsidies, and exorbitantly rosy promises.
Germany’s online engineering magazine Ingenieur.de here writes a short, but damning piece on wind turbine performance and reliability. Hat tip: Wolfgang Neumann at FaceBook. Ingenieur.de writes:
Lightening strikes, damage to power cable insulation, overheated gear-drives: Every month on average 10 wind turbines are destroyed by fire the British elite university Imperial College has found out in a study.” […]
Scientist Guillermo Rein of the Imperial College emphasizes that the risk of fire has been played down many times. Worldwide on average only 1 wind turbine fire per month is made public. However, in fact the real figure is ten wind turbine fires on average according to investigations by the university.”
No matter how you calculate it, wind energy is terrible. Even the most amateur of engineers are able to appreciate the ultra harsh conditions that wind turbines must inherently withstand just due to their design and siting. The power generation unit is far above ground level and gets subjected to forces and conditions that way beyond anything conventional power plants situated in buildings at ground level are exposed to.
Then there’s the trend to put them offshore where conditions are even far more violent and menacing. Only one conclusion can be drawn on the wind turbine concept: the contraptions are impractical. It’s tantamount to using 500 laborers to do the job of a single Caterpillar excavator.
It boils down to the simple economic logic: Wouldn’t it just make much more sense to replace all these little bicycle generators, which are propped up on sticks hundreds of feet above ground way out in the hicks, with a single big one that’s at ground level (where fires at least can be fought), is easy to maintain, and can run continuously?
Ingenier.de writes that the fires often result in “total damage” to the wind turbine and that especially offshore turbine fires “lead to considerable damage to investors”.
Gradually the public is getting the picture that this wind energy idea is turning into a megaflop, one that reminds us of early airplane designs with flapping wings. Wind turbine producers sure have taken governments and consumers to the cleaners – to the tune of hundreds of billions. The public was sucked into buying a real lemon.
As a solution to the burning problem, experts are calling for “improved materials”.
Firemen unable to even get near the fire
When a fire does break out, Ingenieur.de reports that firemen can’t even get close to the fire because the turbines are so high above ground. And even if they could there’s an acute danger from falling parts and rotors, and so they refuse to get anywhere near the damn thing! All they can do is watch the contraption burn down.
Overall Guillermo Rein, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Imperial College, calls the results of the study “serious”.
Sounds like a nail in the coffin of a dumb idea that needs to be buried sooner than later.
Oh, there’s more. Rein will soon be publishing the results of a risk study that looks at solar energy. Get the popcorn ready.
21 responses to “Engineering Magazine: “Underestimated Danger: Every Month Ten Wind Turbines Get Destroyed by Fire”!”
I believe there are some 200,000 wind turbines in operation. Whether one or ten is destroyed by fire in a month seems largely immaterial – it only contributes to increased lifetime maintenance costs. Do we have real data – not estimates – of maintenance costs?
At the end of 2012, there were 225,000 wind turbines in operation world-wide. If 10 burn per month, about 1.3 in 100 will burn in its lifetime.
hard to say because with aging they may be more likely to burn..or not …who knows?
Looks to me like the Portuguese turbine fire in the Youtube video I’ve linked to may have been hit by lightning, too. Note the dark stormy skies and wind we see after the fire broke out.
Overall I’d say that 10 fires from tens of thousands of wind generators that are in operation worldwide may not be that much, and so that it may be among the least of the problems. The greatest problem remains the poor economics and technical shortfalls I’ve described above. Again better to use one Cat instead of 500 laborers armed with picks and shovels.
But,if there is a chance that an airbag will fail? Or if a chance less then 1% of an home electrical fire would or could occur, the press is all over it. We have to be aware that one of the first requirements,in firefighting is safety on the scene. Stopping a run-away wind turbine? All those flammable oils and such, overheated, dripping down the entry shaft, glad I’m out of that field. But sounds as if a new approach is needed to tower firefighting,like installed systems. Wounded why the safety engineers didn’t think of that?
“But sounds as if a new approach is needed to tower firefighting,like installed systems. ”
I propose sending bare chested Hollywood heroes like Bruce Willis, maybe accompanied by a funny black sidekick. They’re incredibly resilient.
Some designs have braking systems. But these add complexity, cost, weight and some new failure modes. They also produce heat, of course. But NOT having a braking system is folly.
Another problem is blade icing. This causes ice projectiles to be hurled at several hundred km/h for several hundred meters, threatening other structures as well as lives. Ice accretion on the blade surfaces also causes imbalance, forcing a shutdown (or breakup). Not a minor issue in some locations. Also a good reason to have a braking system installed.
Kurt in Switzerland
“Lightening strikes, damage to power cable insulation”
Arghh. I think that’s the 5th time this week I’ve seen people spell it “lightening.” It’s lightning! No ‘e’!
The Fire Marshal in New Hampshire threatened to shut down the Groton Wind farm unless Iberdrola installed a fire suppression system. In response to some of the bureaucratic delays getting that point across, the calendar was getting close to what passes for our fire season, and he further declared that the first day with a high risk of forest fires that Iberdrola had a choice – shut down or institute 24 hour monitoring. They went with the monitoring, I never did quite understand what that entailed.
Fires make nice photos but they a problem that can and will be solved by engineers.
Wind generation has many bigger problems which are less likely to be solved. High cost, bird deaths, low frequency sound, etc.
Let’s hope those bigger problems gradually end this folly. Death by a thousand cuts.
Not if the industry is acting as a sheltered workshop; immune to the requirement for professional responsibility and economic pressures of the rest of the world.
The industry has been “experimenting” for about half a century.
I became aware of the depth of ignorance and dismissal of technical concerns within the industry in the 1980’s when my employer had contracted to supply a supporting structure for one; and I was the one who was supposed to make sure that the structure would stand up under all plausible loads. Yet there was a dearth of specifications. Questions about cyclic loading during blade passing were never answered. No lift coefficients for the airfoils; nothing.
Only a few quasi-static loads could be discerned from the “performance statistics” of the generator and blades. The only dynamic analysis that was tolerated (by managers) was to ensure that the natural frequency of the whole structure was well away from any notional excitation frequencies. Management failed to grasp the consequences of rotating machinery with potential pulse-loading and (partial) reversals every time a blade passed the tower.
Despite the belt and braces, quasi-static design with rather extra-large factors of safety applied throughout, the structure began to fail in fatigue modes within months. Welds cracked in the heat-affected zones. Expensive, on-site patch procedures tried to fix the problem, to no avail.
I left that job and noticed that the wind turbine was pulled down less than 10 years later.
Same publication, ingenieur.de, has another interesting article:
Germany’s largest wind park has been unable to deliver any current to shore since March. Eighty each 5.0 MW turbines, located about 100 km off Borkum in the North Sea, have their blades set to feather. Apparently there is a problem with the High Voltage DC conversion / transmission technology (150,000 Volt transmission, lower than other Hi-Voltage DC technologies used, which range up to 800,000 Volts). The German-Russian founder of the company Bard apparently did it his way, shunning ABB, GE & Siemens. Meanwhile, Bard is insolvent.
The article says the problem is supposed to be rectified in August after thorough troubleshooting by the Grid Operator TenneT. Sounds like an expensive little glitch.
Kurt in Switzerland
There seems to be a fairly common theme amongst Wind Generator providers, they take the money and run.
They take the immediate profit and then liquidate thus avoiding the the problems of Repairs and Clean up.
See this list of UK small turbine failures in Paul homewood’s forum.
Expected costs for power generation not yet in plan, generally meaning it will probably not get installed until 2019 (in time to meet the new EPA requirements) has guidance costs (with and without subsidy) in the following US EIA (Energy Information Administration) document – http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/electricity_generation.cfm#1
The EIA is expecting that by 2019 onshore wind will provide power which is cheaper without subsidy at $80 / MWh than all other forms of power generation except gas without CCS ($64.4 / MWh ).
Geothermal comes in at $47.9 / MWh if you happen to have the geology and hydro is pretty close, again if you happen to have the right geography, though hydro is rather strangely classed as non-despatchable because you get a fixed amount of catchment area water per season, even if you have a dam and can choose when to generate from it.
Yes it is more complicated than a single number, but the single number says that wind is very competitive, especially given that gas prices are potentially volatile over time whereas wind prices are pretty much fixed before installation. By 2040 the EIA expects wind to beat all other comers except geothermal on price.
The subsidies were all designed to get wind into the position of a mass market technology and, guess what, this has succeeded so for generation planned now it is competitive without subsidy. Other technologies such as solar will need subsidies for a while longer, though with solar prices of 5 cents / KWh with subsidy (something like 7.2 cents without subsidy) already being tendered to Austin it looks as if the EIA 2040 projection of solar PV prices is grossly pessimistic.
Hoorray! Now the next generation can subsidize the energy storage into existence!
“wind prices are pretty much fixed before installation.” I am glad to hear that wind projects have no cost overrun. More than six years behind schedule and billions over budget, the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened
in September 2013.
THE DARK SIDE OF “GREEN”: WIND TURBINE ACCIDENTS, INJURIES AND FATALITIES RAISE SERIOUS SAFETY CONCERNS:
Every ohm of inept engineereing is a loss. I hope those greedy Besserwissers trying to make some point can live with themselves as they cruise around in their Toyota Pious’.
Fires are the least of the problems with wind energy. Industrial Wind Turbines fail as a solution to global warming, meeting our energy needs and creating jobs. It’s as simple as the wind often doesn’t blow at high enough speeds to spin the blades, or create significant power from the spinning. Every MW of wind energy must be matched with a MW of fossil fuel generation, called spinning reserve, to make up for the shortfall. Here are a few articles explaining this and more:
1) Energy blow as wind power fuels pollution
2) The dirty secret of Britain’s power madness: Polluting diesel generators built in secret by foreign companies to kick in when there’s no wind for turbines
3) Reality Check: Germany’s Defective Green Energy Game Plan
4) Study: Wind Power Raises CO2 Emissions
5) Subsidizing CO2 Emissions via Windpower: The Ultimate Irony
6) Government Lab Finds Wind Energy Not Meeting Carbon Emission Goals
7) Power struggle: Green energy versus a grid that’s not ready
8) AWEA Confirms Electricity Prices Skyrocketing In Largest Wind Power States
And then there’s the fact that wind turbines sited near people’s homes severely impacts the health of many of those living close.
1) Wind Turbine Noise, Sleep Quality, and Symptoms of Inner Ear Problems
2) Wind Turbines can be Hazardous to Human Health
3) U.S. government has known about Wind Turbine Syndrome since 1987 (U.S. Dept. of Energy)
And wind turbines kill more birds – threatened eagles, hawks, falcons, osprey, etc. – than you could ever imagine:
1) Wind turbines kill up to 39 million birds a year!
2) US Wind Turbines Kill Over 600,000 Bats A Year (And Plenty Of Birds Too)
Wind energy is a sham and only the wind industry, certain politicians, and their crony capitalist associates benefit. However, they are very good at sales propaganda.
And over in the UK (plus Canada), many would-be climate saviours, once proud owners of small wind turbines, are now suffering from buyer’s remorse.
Wonder how many more similar cases are out there?
Another one destroyed by a thunder in Poland: