How Weld Inspections Mitigate Wind Farm Risk
America’s wind power industry has demonstrated significant, rapid growth across the country over the last several years. Recent statistics show that this renewable energy resource powered 30 million homes in 2018, after experiencing 8 percent growth from the previous year. Additionally, in that same year, the wind power market supported 114,000 U.S. jobs across 500 domestic factories, generating a whopping $1 billion in revenue for states and municipalities that host wind farms within their borders.
The rampant expansion of wind power within the renewable energy vertical has prompted states and business owners to focus on supporting its extensive growth to keep pace with consumer need. However, beyond expansion, wind farm businesses are recognizing the need to maintain the structural integrity of these assets as well. As a result, consistent weld inspections are gaining increased attention throughout the industry.
How Weld Inspections Help Farms
Wind Farm Asset Management: Why Waiting For An Outage is Not an Option
Routine weld inspections are a viable way to eliminate the exorbitant cost incurred during downtime and safeguard the system against catastrophic failure. Unfortunately, many wind farm businesses assume that, as long as their turbines are performing according to specifications, there’s no need for a plant inspection. This simply isn’t the case. What many renewable energy distributors don’t realize is that the sheer amount of welding that goes into building a single steel tower makes it highly susceptible to possible issues.
Often, a welding problem on a steel turbine occurs as early as the manufacturing process. However, the structural compromise of the asset may take months, or even years, remaining hidden until later in the turbine’s life cycle when problems or deterioration symptoms begin to present. Worse yet, for turbines, the fabrication process is highly automated, which means that that if one structure was developed using a miscalibrated machine, many of the other assets might also have the same defect. Put simply: once one turbine begins showing issues and failures due to faulty mechanics, others will likely follow.
Weld Inspections Play A Key Role in Wind Turbine Maintenance
Routine weld inspections are one of the best ways to assess the existing health baseline of wind farm turbines as well as reduce the risk of structural damage in the future. An experienced renewable energy company that specializes in weld inspection will begin with a non-destructive test (NDT) of each individual turbine to determine that each asset is structurally sound.
Typically the NDT process begins with a wind turbine drone inspection to establish a less expensive baseline of asset health compared to other testing options. The drones serve as a visual tool to inspect any superficial level issues or wind turbine repair needs that may be noticeable on the surface of the turbine. Drones can typically detect and assess defects in forms of cracks or discontinuities that may require further, more hands-on non-destructive testing, such as ultrasonic testing (UT) and magnetic particle testing (MT).
Ultrasonic and magnetic particle testing are more expensive than drones, but they are also more definitive. A reputable NDT firm will work with a renewable energy organization to launch the welding inspection process with drones to capture big-picture insight on each individual asset, as well as specific areas of concerns. From there, your chosen partner will develop a customized strategy that leverages the power of UT and MT assessments only on targeted regions of potential compromise to keep the weld inspection process as cost-efficient as possible. Your provider will aggregate vital data regarding the validation and confirmation of the weld, pinpointing whether issues are systemic or isolated in nature.
Additionally, your chosen specialist should also be equipped to perform the same weld inspections on transmission lines and towers with steel assets connecting turbines to the grid. Beyond maintaining the performance of all wind farm turbines to reduce revenue loss, implementing weld inspections throughout the life cycle of all relevant assets can help identify minor problems before they become significant issues, as well as mitigate the overall risk of the wind energy company due to disastrous failure or damage.