Throughout the world today, nations are turning to the wind power to meet ever growing energy needs. Large-scale wind turbine construction is continually being developed and implemented to help solve the energy problems that face us. While the basic operation, production and installation of these massive machines might be similar to that of smaller units, there are also some major differences to take into account.
To produce a large quantity of electricity for schools, manufacturing plants or even entire cities, equipment of tremendous proportions must be built. Regardless of where they are located, wind resources must be maximized to make use of open land or seas that may be available. Simply placing smaller units over vast areas of land is not a practical solution.
To be adequately efficient in capturing wind energy without compromising huge portions of the environment, bigger machines are required to produce the most electricity in the smallest spaces possible. These will be subject to much greater factors concerning weights, speeds and material strengths than smaller units. Merely scaling up generation systems that might be used for individual buildings or other small facilities is not practical.
First of all, a great deal of planning goes into feasibility studies that will need to go far beyond that required for a backyard power station. In addition to assessing the basic wind resources, there are detailed consumption pattern predictions and ecological impact implications which must be carefully evaluated. Proximity to housing, local regulations and any transmission barriers must also be considered before the actual building of a wind farm can start.
This is an important and complex part of the overall process because it will involve many crucial components to the success of the wind project. Besides considerations to air traffic agencies, local communities and communication providers, this planning stage will determine the possibility of any future problems that could arise. It will also establish facts on investment return expectations.
The next stage would be to produce the proper design of all supporting structures and the wind turbines themselves. The engineers responsible for the design and installation will have to construct an integrated wind turbine system that will meet all criteria for the individual location. There will be geological surveys required to make structural calculations for the foundation designs.
Every unique location will additionally have its own set of specifications for appropriate placement of transmission lines and transformer stations. After all designs have been drawn up and are found to be in compliance with the necessary requirements, the installation can be normally accomplished in a relatively short period of time. In most cases, wind turbine construction projects may only take a few weeks at most.
Of course, the most difficult and detailed portion of the entire process lies in the manufacturing and design of the turbines that will do the actual work of producing energy. Each one will have thousands of parts that must work reliably in the field. Components like heavy duty gearboxes, immense rotatory blades and complex electronics are designed especially for use in high stress situations.
Large capacity generators must be constructed of particularly strong materials in order to perform adequately and avoid unnecessary maintenance. They require higher accuracy, since design flaws that might go unnoticed on smaller units will be greatly amplified in larger scale. For example, a minuscule wobble in a three foot blade may not affect performance, but could destroy a machine with fifty foot blade lengths.
Modern inspection processes use various computer, laser and mechanical processes to ensure accuracy of component specifications. Intensively demanding quality control is implemented to guarantee the safety, efficiency and reliability of these powerful machines. Attention must be paid to the smallest of measurements in all aspects of design and the assembly of these larger wind power systems.
This precise design and production concept is carried out through the numerous sections that comprise an industrial sized wind turbine. Besides the blades and shafts that are familiar on any wind powered unit, there will be specialized equipment as well that will need the same detailed accuracy tolerances. Large modern units have intricate gearboxes, pitch adjustment mechanisms, speed controllers and other innovations that can provide the maximum performance possible.
In addition, there will be a wide array of cooling systems, braking assemblies and high power electrical connectors that are essential for consistent operation in all kinds of wind and weather conditions that will be encountered. Not only must they do their job, but they need to do it consistently over long periods of time. Planning, design and stringent quality control will all play a significant role in the development and the final production of quality wind turbines and effective wind farms.
Cory Sober is the IT Director for UpWind Solutions, a full-service operations and maintenance provider for utility-scale wind turbines projects and wind farms. He is part of a highly trained team focused on maximizing long-term productivity through effective wind turbine O&M,.