Jul 16 2015

Wind Farm Operation Sets the Safety Benchmark for the Energy Sector

Published by under Student blog entries

In January of this year, a wind farm in Northern Ireland was shut down after one of its eight turbines collapsed. Yes, this fact firmly contradicts the title of this discussion, but as you examine the topic further, it’s easy to see the major improvements to safety and sustainability the renewable energy sector brings.

 

Turbine Collapse at Screggagh Wind Farm in Northern Ireland. Photo by Artur Widak.

Turbine Collapse at Screggagh Wind Farm in Northern Ireland. Photo by Artur Widak.

 

Commissioned in 2011, the Screggagh Windfarm in Tyrone County, Northern Ireland is made up of eight Nordex 80m turbines capable of generating 2.5 MW of power each for a total of 20 MW. Immediately following the accident, the entire wind farm was halted and a full investigation was conducted to determine the cause of the collapse. Luckily, there were no casualties.

 

As of February 14 of this year, the wind farm was once again fully operational. The investigation “confirmed that this was a unique fault concerning the wind turbine blade control system,” said Screggagh Windfarm Ltd director Doreen Walker, “following identification of the failure mechanism, Nordex immediately implemented an additional protective measure to exclude any recurrence of this incident.”

 

The United Kingdom’s wind energy industry started back in 2000, with the construction of its first wind farm, the Blythe Offshore Wind Farm, a small, 2-turbine array intended as a pilot program for future wind energy construction. As of today, the UK leads the world in wind energy, with over 6,500 turbines in operation, over 1,100 of which are offshore, and brings an estimated 13 GW of power generating capability. The UK is also home to the world’s largest offshore array, The London Array, a massive 175-turbine array capable of generating 630 MW of power.

 

According to RenewableUK, the governing body of wind energy in the UK, there have been five recorded cases of turbine collapse since the inception of the wind energy sector; 5 collapses out of 6,535 total turbines, not bad. RenewableUK tracked the total reported accidents as well: 1,500 total accidents between 2006-2011, with 300 of those that caused injury and a total of 4 deaths. Compared to the other energy sectors, those numbers are exceedingly good.

 

A study conducted by the World Wildlife Fund concluded that in China alone, there were 5,938 coal-mining fatalities in 2005 and 4,746 in 2006. Benjamin Sovacool, director of the Danish Center for Energy Technology, estimates coal-mining deaths in the U.S. at approximately 100 per year, down from the 1,500 per year at the beginning of the 20th century. The oil industry isn’t any better. With the recent spill in Santa Barbara this year, and the historic big spills such as the BP Deep Water Horizon in 2010 and the Exxon Valdez in 1989, the oil industry may not carry the human death toll like coal mining, but no other industry seems to compare with the ecological havoc it has been inflicting on the world.

 

Explosion of the Deep Water Horizon Oil Rig in the Gulf of Mexico, 2010. Photo Courtesy of The NY Post.

Explosion of the Deep Water Horizon Oil Rig in the Gulf of Mexico, 2010. Photo Courtesy of The NY Post.

 

One possible explanation for the improvement of safety renewable energy brings lies in the whole idea of sustainable energy. The renewables sector in its core is designed to bring a better solution to the world’s energy needs; this includes safety and preservation of humans, animals, and the environment. Strict guidelines and requirements for construction and operation of renewable energy sources means accidents can be minimized. Wind turbines themselves must pass tough inspections and be designed to run 24/7 for a minimum of 25 years. This means the design and construction of each turbine must be top notch.

 

John Ramsden, director of the Knowledge Centre for Materials Chemistry, comments that the “properties of wind turbine materials are often over-looked by the general public… offshore turbines must cope with a dynamic wind environment, with speeds upwards of 14 m/s in many locations. They must also withstand the high humidity of the salty sea air, combined with strong UV doses from the sun.” Design and the choosing of building materials is key in the sustainability and durability of wind energy turbines.

 

Construction of Wind Turbine Blades. Photo by Renewable Energy World.

Construction of Wind Turbine Blades. Photo by Renewable Energy World.

 

Another factor is the inherent clean operation of renewable energy devices and the resources they utilize. Oil and coal are naturally dirty resources and require physically demanding operations to harness the energy contained in the raw sources. Wind turbines, once constructed, minimize any negative impact to the surrounding environment and require substantially less human involvement to generate power, thus the likelihood of human injury or death is greatly minimized. And the fact that wind energy directly converts to electrical power, refineries and further processing of raw resources are not needed.

 

Wind energy in the world is still young, and some would argue that the safety numbers lie due to the relatively small size of the renewable energy industry; scaling the operations to current coal or oil sizes would increase the safety risks of wind and put them on par with coal and oil. The future may show us otherwise, and the short history of wind is thus far doing just that. With the track record that oil and coal have for human and environmental destruction, wind energy and other renewables aim to clean up the future and ensure safety off all organisms, human and animal, a goal they seem to be well on their way to achieving.

 

 

References:

 

  1. Carrington, D. Windfarm closed until cause of collapsed turbine is found. The Guardian Wind Power Online. 5 January 2015. Accessed 15 July 2015. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/05/windfarm-closed-until-cause-of-collapsed-turbine-is-found
  2. Stewart, L. Screggagh Wind Farm back up running after collapse of giant turbine. Belfast Telegraph News Online. 14 February 2015. Accessed 15 July 2015. Available at: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/screggagh-wind-farm-back-up-running-after-collapse-of-giant-turbine-30990568.html
  3. Malnick, E and Mendick, R. 1,500 accidents and incidents on UK wind farms. The Telegraph Online. 11 December 2011. Accessed 15 July 2015. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/8948363/1500-accidents-and-incidents-on-UK-wind-farms.html
  4. Uncredited Press. Wind Turbine Collapses in Northern Ireland. The Guardian Online. 4 January 2015. Accessed 15 July 2015. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jan/04/wind-turbine-collapses-northern-ireland
  5. Screggagh Wind Farm Information. The Wind Power: Wind Energy Market Intelligence. Accessed 15 July 2015. Available at: http://www.thewindpower.net/windfarm_en_16088_screggagh.php
  6. Ramsden, JC. Materials are Blowing in the Wind. Renewable Energy World. 10 July 2015. Accessed 15 July 2015. Available at: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2015/07/materials-are-blowing-in-the-wind.html
  7. Pozan, I and Mench, P. Coming Clean: The Truth and Future of Coal in Asia Pacific. World Wildlife Fund. 2006. Accessed 15 July 2015. Available at: http://d2ouvy59p0dg6k.cloudfront.net/downloads/coming_clean.pdf
  8. Energy Accidents. Wikipedia. Accessed 15 July 2015. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_accidents
  9. Wind Power in the United Kingdom. Wikipedia. Accessed 15 July 2015. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_the_United_Kingdom#Public_opinion

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