Protect The Turbines

Protect The Turbines

The alternative energy industry consists of different areas that make up the bulk of what is considered “renewable energy”.  These are wind, solar and hydroelectric power, with wind and solar showing the most promise of greater adoption and expansion in the future.  The push towards renewable energy sources is not necessarily grounded in the protection of the environment, although that does play a major role in public support.  In reality, the move toward renewable sources of energy is about sustainable resources for the future, and cost. To be completely beholden to oil or coal as the primary fuel sources of a nation’s electricity puts that nation’s coming generations in a tenuous position for the future.  With regard to fossil fuels, countries are generally reliant upon trade agreements with oil producing countries, and the desire for energy independence combined with the potential for the ability to produce energy cheaper, leverages public support for renewable energy as oil prices increase.  People have begun to call for technological advances that provide cleaner and cheaper power, and are looking to the wind and solar industries to provide these solutions.

Wind and solar energy is derived using free fuel sources, so what is the cost of production that makes it currently more expensive than fossil fuel production? The costs are seen in the purchase, repair and maintenance of equipment that is utilized in the process.  In the case of wind power, we see these costs in damage to the wind turbines, the blades and the equipment that is connected to the turbines, either inside the structure itself or within close proximity and connected through power cables or data transfer lines.  All of these components are in the field, and are exposed to the weather as well as storm conditions.  Natural life spans of this equipment can be estimated, but the additional risks of lightning strikes or inclement weather damage must also be factored in as well in order to ensure proper pricing and profitability.  Lightning strikes to wind turbines are more common place than most people know, and will usually cause severe damage to the blades of the turbine, as this is usually the strike point.  Unfortunately, this isolated area of damage is not what provides the majority of the costly damage.  The electrical surge that follows the strike produces far more costly damage than the destruction of a blade.  The surge travels down power cables to connected equipment, easily overloading and damaging circuitry that must then be repaired or replaced before the system can be put back online and producing energy.  The combined losses of equipment and downtime produce the costs that result in higher prices needing to be charged to consumers.

The good news is that this is also the area where technological advances can rapidly reduce operational expenditures (OPEX).  The integration of advanced industrial surge protection devices for wind turbines can effectively divert the flow of the electrical surge, stopping damage at the strike point from affecting equipment downstream. Proper surge protection can keep sensitive electronics equipment intact and functional even after a lightning strike incident.  This extension of the useful life span of a wind turbine system, as well as the reduction of downtime due to strike damage, can drive production costs lower than they currently are, eventually resulting in an energy source that is far less costly than fossil fuels.  Advanced SPDs may be part of the answer that the world is seeking with regard to reduction of dependence upon fossil fuels.