Wind Week in August was to create awareness of the working of wind farms and the importance of the upkeep of wind turbines.

The fourth annual American Wind Week kicked off on 9 August, celebrating the nation’s various accomplishments in the advancement of wind energy. According to Chris Brown, Board Chair of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), 2020 should go down in the history books as the year in which wind worked for America. The reasoning behind this is very simple: at the peak of stay-at-home order, wind farms across the country generated enough electricity to successfully power more than 32 million homes during April and May. While Wind Week ultimately celebrates accomplishments pertaining to wind energy, it also aims to create awareness about the working of wind farms and the importance of the upkeep of wind turbines.

Wind turbines have a precarious life

Wind turbine blades are fabricated from a variety of laminated materials such as carbon fiber, fiberglass and balsa wood. As the blade tips can reach speeds of as much as 180 miles per hour, even the smallest particles contained within the air can result in severe surface damage. This, together with the threat posed by lighting and common wear and tear necessitates frequent visual inspections and precautionary maintenance procedures. At present, there are a number of technologies commonly utilized to inspect wind turbines. Apart from optical inspection tools such as borescopes and drones, photo scanning systems can also help fine-tune the upkeep of wind turbines.

Protect the gearbox at all costs

While all components of a wind turbine require frequent inspection, the gearbox is undoubtedly the most important, as the rotational speed of the blades is dependent on it. Should the gearbox become corroded or cracked, it can result in a catastrophe that can turn out to be both dangerous and costly. In order to ensure that the generator output of the turbine continues to deliver the clean, affordable energy celebrated during American Wind Week, the gearbox has to be expertly maintained. Visual inspection using a borescope (e.g. spiborescopes.com/4mm-borescope/) is one of the best methods of inspection. A flexible video borescope is able to provide a crystal clear view of the inside of the gearbox to technicians without them having to take it apart. This not only saves time, but saves money as well.

Drones inspections cut costs

As highlighted during Wind Week, wind energy can be utilized to not only drive economic recovery but aid in building a cleaner and more resilient future as well. In order to achieve this, however, wind turbines need to be at optimal operation and thus well-maintained. While optical tools such as borescopes make it increasingly easy to view the inner workings of a turbine, drones are being readily applied to detect structural damage, while also serving as a maintenance guide. The drones used in turbine maintenance sport a range of high definition cameras and sensors that can effectively detect everything from hot spots to corrosion. Using drone tech has been found to not only reduce costs, but also result in far fewer job-related incidents, as workers do not have to carry out routine inspections at a great height.

A picture is worth a thousand words

It is undoubtedly in the best interest of all wind turbine technicians to avoid hands-on inspections as far as possible. While the use of borescopes and drones has made this considerably easier to achieve, photo scanning systems such as the GEV WP from French outfit Cornis SAS, can boost the efforts even more. The system makes use of a digital camera to take photos of the entire surface of the wind turbine blades, either from the ground or an offshore platform deck. The technique, which bypasses the need to work at a great height, makes use of technology that was originally developed for the space sector.

The advantages are multiple

Camera scanning systems boast multiple benefits. One of the most prolific is undoubtedly the speed at which a normally time-consuming inspection can be completed. According to the manufacturer, the GEV WP can successfully scan all three blades of a wind turbine in under an hour. These camera inspections can even be carried out in conditions that would be unsuitable to human labor, including when the wind is high and the light is low. The inspections typically take place in three steps with all images and comments being saved on a computer system indefinitely.

Wind energy undoubtedly plays a huge role in the plan of a cleaner, healthier America. By conducting regular checks using optical tech on wind turbines, they can remain well-maintained and performing at an optimal level.