Monitoring systems within a turbine are essential. From vibration sensors, embedded fiber optics and blade surface mounted sensors, people have tried any way to glean useful information out of component performance and damage accumulation. If OEMs can use this data to control performance in order to prolong a turbine’s life and limit unscheduled maintenance, costs will go down and profit will increase.
How can composites help?
The more composite manufacturers can understand how their product works in a given wind turbine operating element, the more informed decisions can be made by turbine operators. “By better understanding damage accumulation of turbine components, we can control the turbines life,” says Totaro. For example, instead of letting it run at 100 percent of available capacity, if we run it at 95 percent, will it prolong the life? If so, by how much? Not only that, but how often is maintenance required? Can we cut it down to every three, six or twelve months?
The struggle of a design engineer is how to optimize energy production regardless of prevailing conditions or locale. How can the optimum amount of energy be achieved 100 percent of the time? “Optimum does not necessarily mean maximum,” says Totaro. “But understanding optimization is important. If a manufacturer sells a product as a 2.5 megawatt (MW) turbine with a design life of 20 years but its components only last 10, then changes of some sort need to be made. Should the product be derated, meaning a 2.5 MW turbine should be run at 2.3? Or are there ways to uprate a turbine, meaning with an increased ability to control a turbine it can output 2.6 MW instead 2.5 MW and therefore be more profitable. GE, for example, has already permanently uprated its 1.5MW turbine to 1.6 with the data it has collected.”
How can composites help?
Despite a lagging economy affecting the wind energy industry, it continues to innovate. The single largest driver is the desire to displace conventional forms of energy production and at least a 2 cents / kwhr reduction in the production cost of energy is required in order to make that a reality. Major OEMs are focusing on cost-out on their existing platforms as well future technology development with early stage R&D. “We’re at a point where significant R&D investment in furthering technology is resulting in minuscule improvement, says Totaro. “We need something more radical and no one has that figured out yet. We need to talk about implementing carbon nanotube based technologies and composite materials in areas that will have a huge impact.”