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The importance of testing for wind-farm maintenance

Nicola Brittain

Director of load bank manufacturer Power Prove, Andrew Keith, explores how wind farm operators can save money and avoid downtime.

As most of us windswept Brits know all too well, the UK is endowed with vast off and onshore wind resources. In fact, the country leads the world in this field. By 2023, the British isles had over 11,000 wind turbines with a total installed capacity of 30 gigawatts (GW): 15 GW onshore and 15 GW offshore.

By their nature though both on and offshore wind turbines face operating conditions that can impact system reliability leading to component failure. Key problems are likely to include energy fluctuations, blade damage, gearbox problems and generator strife.

Rigorous testing programme

Implementing a rigorous testing programme can alleviate these problems as Andrew Keith, director of load bank manufacturer Power Prove explains.

He said that before turbines are connected to the grid, they must be assessed to ensure they can safely handle and produce the loads promised. The unpredictability of natural sources leads to energy fluctuations, and systems must be able to deal with these. 

Before set up, operators will need to secure warranties and certifications ensuring the windfarm meets a certain level of quality and safety and that they are compliant with local regulations – this will prove to investors and owners that their wind farm will succeed.

Once the system has been proven, regular testing must be carried out throughout the turbine’s lifespan.

POWERING PROTECTION

When it comes to large scale wind farms, equipment installation may take several months or even years to complete. This can mean that some equipment is left stagnant, awaiting connection to the grid. Unfortunately, this can lead to significant system damage.

Condensation can develop within the mast, damaging the electrical circuitry and increasing the risk of failure. The bearings can also warp, leading to a sub-optimal performance when the turbine is finally brought online. In such cases,  a small generator can provide sufficient power to keep the turbines moving just enough to avoid any permanent damage. But how can operators test the functionality of the turbines and their generators during downtime or when waiting to be connected? By using a load bank.

LOAD BANKS

A load bank is a series of resistors used to create a dummy electrical load in order to test the turbine’s performance. The generated load is used to mimic or simulate the turbine’s operation in a repeatable way allowing for comprehensive testing. Load bank manufacturer Power Prove is able to supply banks that handle power levels representative of those generated by the wind farm itself.

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