Meet the Technicians Who Maintain Wind Turbine Blades
High Tech: These technicians maintain & repair massive wind turbine blades
As Europe ramps up its investment in wind power, turbines have bloomed like wildflowers across the continent. Wind-energy production has more than doubled — from 150 terawatt-hours in 2010 to 364 terawatt-hours in 2017 — and now makes up more than 11 percent of the European Union’s electricity, according to a report by Agora Energiewende and Sandbag. Germany now generates so much wind power — more than 106 terawatt-hours in 2017 — that on blustery days in the north, high-voltage transmission lines carrying all that power to the southern part of the country sometimes have to divert excess electricity to neighboring countries. This increase in wind power production means an increase in demand for wind turbine blade repair & maintenance – as well as increased demand for wind power technicians.
All these wind farms also need maintenance. As wind turbines age, so do their blades. Some of Europe’s wind turbines have been operating nearly 24 hours a day for 18 years. Their slender wind turbine blades — some are as long as the wingspan of a jumbo jet — are under considerable stress from wind, sea, rain, sunlight, lightning and freezing winters as they rotate and generate electricity. Identifying problems in wind turbine blades early is vital not only for wind farm maintenance but for operators and owners to keep costs down and assets running.
No wonder that maintaining these blades is now a growth industry in Europe. LM Wind Power, a GE Renewable Energy business that manufactures turbine blades, has hundreds of thousands of blades working on about 90,000 turbines globally, including 35,000 or so made for GE turbines. The holy grail of wind power maintenance is spotting small flaws in turbine blades before they become big, costly ones. But finding flaws early isn’t easy — they often hide inside the wind blades themselves, invisible on the surface. One approach used by GE Renewable Energy employs thermographic cameras that can sense the heat from the friction between the fiberglass layers occurring when a flaw has developed deep inside a blade. The company is also developing acoustic sensors, which use sound waves to detect flaws inside the turbine blades.
Naturally, LM Wind Power technicians aim to find flaws early and fix the blades while they’re still attached to the turbines. Usually this is done from a platform, but sometimes it requires deft use of ropes and harnesses. For this reason, a disproportionate share of the 250 wind turbine repair technicians at LM Wind Power are mountain climbers in their leisure time.
Once the wind power technicians reach the place on the turbine blade that needs repair, they grind down the area of the blade around the flaw and rebuild it on the spot — adding alternating layers of fiberglass and resin by hand and sculpting the final shape to make the flow of air over the blade as efficient as possible. “Composite materials are very, very strong if you use them right, but they’re brittle if you don’t,” says Fred Maenhaut, general manager for LM Wind Power Blade Service.
Interested in learning more about the technicians who maintain our wind turbine blades? Contact us today.
Read the full story at GE Reports.