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Challenging future for burgeoning US wind industry

Although wind energy only produces about two per cent of the current electricity demand in the US, the Department of Energy, in collaboration with wind industry experts, has drafted a plan that would bring the installed wind capacity up to 20 per cent of the nation’s total electrical supply. To meet these expectations, wind energy must be extremely reliable. Structural health monitoring will play a critical role in making this goal successful. Here PES takes an exclusive look at Wind Energy’s New Role in Supplying the World’s Energy: What Role will Structural Health Monitoring Play? Apart from anything else, the paper shows just how far our industry has come in a few short years around the world, as well as looking at the all-important safety issues surrounding the industry . . .

Wind energy has expanded dramatically since the early 1980s when small
turbines dotted the hillsides of California. Those machines had rudimentary
controls, no condition monitoring, were unreliable, and required extensive
maintenance. The utilities considered them an insignificant passing fad. Today, wind turbines have multi-megawatt ratings, sophisticated controls, and condition monitoring systems on most of the drive-trains. A typical wind plant today may have more than 200 multi-megawatt turbines installed and it represents a $600m asset investment. Each plant is monitored and maintained by a small crew of skilled technicians.

This new generation of turbines is far more reliable than those of the early 80s, but they have to be if we are going to depend on them for a major source of energy. Operations and maintenance costs represent a significant part of the long-range financial risk. An otherwise productive plant in a high wind resource site can be a net loss if not managed responsibly and creatively. Unlike other utility assets that have extensive operations crews to manage one or two generation systems, wind plants have many assets dispersed over a large geographical area. Instead of performing maintenance in an enclosed environment, the crews must work out in the field, sometimes in difficult weather conditions.


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