Blades Of Glory: Smart Turbine Technology A Cut Above The Rest
Posted: 01/10/2012 12:00:00 AM EST | 0
The safety of wind turbines was recently thrown into relief after 180km/h winds recently ravaged the North of England, toppling turbines and ripping rotor blades from their fixings.
Above is an archetypal wind turbine design. Marked here as number 1, the rotor blades alone represent up to 25 per cent of the investment expenditure of every single wind turbine. Therefore, improving the rotor design is a way to keep costs low on the 25 year life-cycle of the wind turbine.
Offshore mega turbines
The horizontal axis Knock Enercon E-126 wind turbines, located in Emden, Germany, stand at 198.5 metres and generate the highest capacity of any turbine in existence at 6MW. With the growth of the offshore wind market, turbines are also increasing in size, and will likely top out at heights in excess of 200 metres.
The increase in size is driven by the fact that the power conversion by a wind turbine increases with the square of the rotor’s diameter. As the mass of the average blade increases, component costs will also increase, and so will the rigours leading to fatigue, such as:
· Mass effects acting on the blades’ rotation with respect to gravitational field
· Fluctuations in aerodynamic loading e.g. more severe wind shear
· Fluctuations in the stress distribution caused by dynamic deflections of the blades
The introduction of smart blade technology will allow for the control of loading on blades and therefore increase their efficiency and longevity as well as decreasing their overall size.
Smart blades make smarter turbines
The offshore arena is synonymous with adverse weather conditions, including highly variable and extreme winds that can wreak havoc on offshore rigs, let alone standing turbines. The creation of the smart blade, which was designed to boost the efficiency of individual turbines, will also be critical in preventing irreparable damage to assets in the most isolated of locations.
The smart blade concept uses micro-sensors and computational software to constantly monitor the forces exerted on turbine blades in real-time, allowing the turbine to adjust for rapidly oscillating wind conditions and thus avert damage from high winds.
The sensors arrayed in the blades allow for control surfaces and flaps like those found on the wings of an aeroplane to change the aerodynamic characteristics of the blades for maximum control.
Detailed sensory data will also show how the blades react to wind acceleration in various directions and map the blade's propensity to bending and twisting. In the long-run, this data can be used to ascertain how to counteract small vibrations near the blade tips that cause fatigue, in order to design more resilient rotor blades.
With countries like the UK, Denmark and Germany dedicated to a low-carbon future and already producing a combined total of 36 GW of power from wind farms, smart turbine technology will be a key component in the ever greening European energy landscape.
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