Cost of wind energy could be lowered by new technology

August 18, 2015 0 By Erin Kilgore

University of Sheffield engineers may have found a way to make wind power cheaper.

The university engineers have developed a new method to forecast when internal wind turbine bearings will fail, which would enable engineers to predict when a turbine may need maintenance. The technique can also be used to prevent unexpected bearing failures, which could help save the wind energy industry money.

The technique uses ultrasonic waves to help engineers with their predictions.

According to a Phys.org news article, the new method was developed by Wenqu Chen, a Mechanical Engineering research student. Chen developed a technique that utilizes ultrasonic waves to measure the load that is transmitted via a ball bearing in a wind turbine. The stress on the wind turbine is recorded, providing engineers with data they can use to predict how much service life the internal bearings have left.

When subjected to a load, the thickness of a bearing decreases by miniscule amounts. This is caused by elastic deformation. The speed of sound is also affected by the stress level in the material. These two effects alter an ultrasound wave’s time of flight through a bearing. In order to measure the time of flight and measure the load, the technology utilizes a custom-built piezoelectric sensor mounted in the bearing.Wind Energy Research

The new system is the only way to directly gauge the transmitted load via the turbine’s internal rolling bearing components. Chen’s technique was published in the journal, “Proceedings of the Royal Society A”.

The new wind energy technology can save money on maintenance.

Another bonus of the sensor that was developed is that it is cheaper and smaller compared to others, which means that it can also be use in smaller-sized turbines. Furthermore, not only is it less expensive and more practical, but it can also save money in servicing by improving an engineer’s prediction of the maintenance a wind turbine requires.

While the technology is still in its testing stage, the hope is that in the future it will be used inside monitoring systems for wind turbines.

According to the Director of the Leonardo Centre for Tribology at the University of Sheffield and the co-author of the paper, Professor Rob Dwyer-Joyce, the technique “can be used to prevent unexpected bearing failures, which are a common problem in wind turbines. By removing the risk of a loss of production and the need for unplanned maintenance, it can help to reduce the cost of wind energy and make it much more economically competitive.”