Monday, 9 February 2009

Snow Problem

As various parts of the British Isles face another week of snow and ice, people everywhere are turning the heating up high, keeping lights on all day, and keeping the radio tuned into the local radio news to keep abreast of school closures, traffic news and weather forecasts. Our energy consumption is sky high and the coal fired plants are, no doubt, burning to capacity, oil is being brought in by the gallon load, and the wind turbines… what about wind generation? As a power generation device which is intrinsically and irrevocably connected to the elements, what will the effects of all the snow and ice be on wind energy generation?

As one of my colleagues from the US pointed out, there are wind turbines installed in many places in the world where extreme weather is the norm, so ultimately they are able to cope with extreme weather (unlike the Brits!). Nevertheless, ice can be dangerous for the turbines. The recent “UFO” collision with one of Ecotricity’s Enercon turbines was possibly due to ice or freezing conditions. Ice can be damaging to the turbine. A group of local residents opposing Nuon Renewable’s plans to construct a wind farm in North Yorkshire are claiming the turbines can be dangerous, especially in extreme weather conditions, and are quoting five other occasions when weather conditions have affected the turbines to the detriment of the machines (and occasionally its surroundings). See details on the Say no to Harrington website.

Wind turbines are programmed to cut out when wind speeds reach certain levels, to prevent them spinning uncontrollably and avoiding disasters. The negative of this is that energy generation suffers. I have heard of occasions when blade heaters have been installed on Vertical Axis Wind Turbines to help prevent the ice problems. Other solutions have also been experimented with, including different types of anti-freeze coatings on the turbines.

No need to panic then, solutions are being evolved, and the wind turbines keep spinning. Ultimately we cannot protect the turbines 100% from the elements, because that’s exactly what we need to keep them turning. We just need more to cope with all the extra energy being consumed!

Thanks Tony (via plaxo) and @doubtingthomH for your input.

By Clare Buxton
Wind Energy Sector Lead, EcoSearch

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