Chasing After the Wind

Australia’s climate displays some of the widest variety of conditions for any single country on the planet. From the Great Barrier Reef to the Gibson Desert and from tropical Darwin…

Australia’s climate displays some of the widest variety of conditions for any single country on the planet. From the Great Barrier Reef to the Gibson Desert and from tropical Darwin to the southernmost tip of Tasmania, our weather extremes and environment are truly astonishing. Most would also agree that Australia, no matter where you live, is a windy place. Australia’s wind conditions have the capacity to deliver a sustainable source of energy that could power numerous homes across our land. A modern 2.5MW wind turbine will typically generate 6.5 million units of electricity every year, which is enough to make 230 million cups of coffee!

For Australia to benefit from the potential of this natural resource a debate is currently on-going among professionals and engineers about the best options for controlling wind turbines – Should it be via a gearbox, direct drive or with a hybrid of the two? Whatever the outcome, over 80% of installed (pre-existing) turbines use conventional gearboxes. This technology is expected to play a significant role in the future. The trial for designers is to develop components that can endure ever larger turbines, with steadily increasing capacity, which is mounting the strain on gearbox mechanisms.

The growing requirements on turbines only accentuates the point that a critical part of any preventative maintenance programme for wind farms is the application of vibration monitoring technology. The rotating apparatuses of wind turbine generators need to be constantly monitored to provide warning of bearing and component defect/wear and since wind turbines are commonly installed in isolated locations, great expense incurred when there are any failures. It is imperative ascertain data on potential failure before is occurs so counteractive action can be taken and expense minimised. By programing and implementing an effective vibration monitoring scheme, maintenance and design engineers will maximise equipment life and minimise expensive failure & downtime costs.

GVS Reliability Products accelerometer products have been supplied in the thousands for use with worldwide wind turbine projects and operators. For example, low-frequency accelerometers have proved to be an excellent solution. The accelerometers, determined by customer requirements, have been; 100mV/g or, the higher sensitivity of 250mV/g or 500mV/g outputs (these are for monitoring the low-speed aspects of the generator, e.g. output shafts). Most projects have involved supplying a local junction box (HS-JE), which houses the vibration sensor cabling at the top of the wind turbine. Depending on the configuration, a multi-core cable is connected and run down to the ground level for termination to an online monitoring system. With the recent addition of GVS Reliability Products’ latest product; the GV-7000 Vibe Port(wireless vibration monitoring solution), these long cable runs may become a thing of the past.

Online vibration monitoring software and programs enable operators to monitor turbine bearing conditions in “real-time” using any PC or handheld device (iPhone, iPad, etc…) with internet access. Using the information derived from the vibration sensors mounted to the wind turbine, the vibration monitoring system can then provide an accurate overview of asset health that will signal faults and identify failures before they occur. This then permits operators and maintenance professionals to develop an effective predictive maintenance program, which will ultimately allow considerable savings in time, resources and money.

The real power behind wind turbines comes not just from the elemental force of the wind itself but also enlightened engineers that are pushing technology to harness this force and supply our generation with a sustainable power source. Turbines designed to operate in partnership with an effective vibration monitoring system, protect investment in our future with power generators maximising the benefit of our natural environment and hence, make chasing after the wind something to strive for.

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