Among the grab bag of lies pedalled by wind power outfits, and especially fan makers, is that these things will run on the smell of an oily rag, without the need of so much as a shifting spanner, for more than 25 years.
The pitch is made to beguile the gullible (read, ‘planning authorities’, ‘politicians’, ‘bankers’ and ‘investors’) into believing that the costs associated with operating these things, can be readily covered out of petty cash – which fits with the other great line about there being nothing as ‘free’ as the wind.
Mechanical wear and tear, including bearing failure is one of the most common reasons for turbines to be put out of action; and is one of the key factors that accounts for the fact that the ‘economic’ life of wind turbines is 10-12 years, which runs contrary to wild claims about them lasting for “25-plus years” (see our post here and this paper).
Top flight German fan maker, Siemens booked a €223 million write down (ie loss) last year due to the fact it has had to replace bearings in a fleet of turbines that are less than 2 years old. Siemens talking about the loss said: “The charge is related to inspecting and replacing bearings due to the early degradation in certain turbine models. We believe this is related to recent batches of bearings and we are in discussions with the supplier” (see our post here). And Siemens’ ‘luck’ has been no better in the US, where its – barely-out-of-nappies – turbines are literally falling apart in the Californian desert:
Our favourite whipping boys, Infigen run a fleet of dilapidated and fast-deteriorating Suzlon S88s at Woodlawn and Capital in NSW – just about the worst designed and built turbine there is.
Suzlon – aka Suzlon REPower, aka Senvion – have planted hundreds of its S88s all over the Australian countryside: in addition to those Infigen operate in NSW, Trustpower planted 47 at Snowtown, in South Australia’s Mid-North; and AGL speared a hundred or so into SA’s Mid-North, around Jamestown and Hallett.
To keep their workings lubricated and operating, wind turbine gearboxes have oil-reservoirs, like the sump in a car engine, and – like a car engine – the oil needs to be drained and changed on a regular basis.
At Woodlawn and Capital – the wind farms Australia’s Treasurer, Joe Hockey rightly called “utterly offensive” – STT hears that the maintenance crew – charged with the job of changing the oil in Infigen’s Suzlon S88 turbines there – are finding the task getting more difficult over time.
Apparently, the gearboxes are wearing out a whole lot faster than expected, with metal filings gumming up the oil-reservoirs; which has required the mechanics to make special efforts to first clear away the munched-up metal, in order to get the metal/oil mixture to drain out of the oil-reservoir.
Repairs, general maintenance, metal fatigue, wear and tear, blade and bearing failure all cost – and, together, help make intermittent, unreliable and intermittent wind power insanely expensive; and smash to bits the wind industry’s nauseating falsehood about wind power being “free”.
Wind farm operating costs are typically in the range of $25 per MWh dispatched to the grid. That is, every additional MWh delivered, costs an additional $25 to produce; therefore, the marginal cost of production is (at least) $25 per MWh, not zero. And – due to the need for repairs to blades, gearboxes, generators, cooling systems, etc – or wholesale replacement thereof – that cost naturally increases over the life of the turbines used.
In this glossy tissue of lies (click here for the pdf) Infigen sets out the financial “performance” of its American and Australian operations. From page 26, here’s Table 16 relating to its Australian operations, where it reports “Operating Cost (A$/MWh) as $23.93 for 2012/13 compared to an “Average Price” of electricity sold of $96.57 per MWh.
From page 29, here’s Table 20 where, on total operating costs of $36.3 million, $17.2 million is attributed to “Turbine O&M” (ie operation and maintenance); $0.9 million to “Balance of plant”; and $7.5 million to “Other direct costs”. Infigen’s US operations reported similar operating costs of US$24.18 per MWh for 2012/13 (refer to Infigen’s report at page 20 and Table 15 on page 24).
Bear in mind that wind farm operating costs of $25 per MWh compare with the ability of Victorian coal fired power generators to profitably deliver power to the grid at less than $25 per MWh.
The bulk of wind farm operating costs are taken up by maintenance and repairs: see Table 20 above (and see our post here for more detail).
Although some ‘repairs’ are more costly than others – if a ‘repair’ is possible, that is.
In this post we reported on a cluster of Suzlon S88s at a wind farm in Nicaragua that burst into flames and threw their blades to the four-winds – after which, one of them collapsed and hit the deck – all in spectacular fashion: the cause was said to be a “failure in their emergency braking systems”.
Then there’s the cost of a more mundane class of ‘repairs’.
The top picture is of the gearbox assembly of a Suzlon S88 that literally ground itself to a halt at (what was then) AGL’s Hallett 2 wind farm in SA. The main ring-gear in the planetary section split into multiple pieces, destroyed the housing and sent about 250 litres of gear oil – contained in the housing – raining down the inside of the tower.
The turbine in question was out of action for over 3 months: the replacement was under warranty, meaning Suzlon was liable to stump up for the cost of doing so. That it took so long is no wonder, as Suzlon – which suffered India’s biggest convertible-bond default in 2012 – was seriously struggling then and isn’t in any better shape now – even a name change to “Senvion” hasn’t helped. Senvion – aka REPower – is so thoroughly strapped for cash, that it recently dropped its plans to spear 90 of these things into the hillsides around Rugby in NSW (see our post here).
As well as the gearbox self-destruction episode at Hallett 2, the 34 Suzlon’s S88s used there suffered a raft of generator failures, all requiring complete replacements.
But it’s not just Suzlon’s rubbish that has a life-span shorter than a half-starved mayfly.
‘Reliability’ and ‘longevity’ are words that won’t ever be used in earnest when it comes to describing these things, whoever cobbles them together. Here’s another ‘spin’ on the greatest fraud of all time.
Wind Turbines: More Ghosts in the Gearbox
22 August 2015
There is a wall of silence from the wind industry regarding wind turbine reliability. But once in a while data seeps out through the wall to the general public. A little bit of new seepage has just come to my notice.
The last time I blogged about wind turbine reliability was after I had come across an obscure department within the USA government National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) called the Gearbox Reliability Collective (GRC). The purpose of this U.S. government sponsored department is to address the appalling and largely hidden reliability problems with wind turbines, particularly gearboxes.
The GRC has their own website here: http://www.nrel.gov/wind/grc/
My first post on the GRC is On This Link
The GRC is not alone. Clearly there are several European agencies and groups working on this problem too. Unfortunately information on them is very obscure. I am unaware of any public access to their data other than when it is mentioned by the GRC.
What has just caught my attention is a 2013 paper from the GRC. The paper is titled: Report on Wind Turbine Subsystem Reliability ─ A Survey of Various Databases.
The paper is available here: NREL Report on wind turbine subsystem reliability
If you look at the linked document above you will find a survey of many wind turbine failure databases held in Europe and the USA.
As far as I can ascertain there is no public access to any of this data except to that presented in this paper. If I am wrong I would be grateful for any links – I have found none.
The figures from Europe in this survey stop short of fully quantifying failure rates. They do though hint at a failure rate increase for larger turbines and crucially, also for direct drive turbines.
We also have the USA data in the same document. Some of the USA data goes right up to 2013. This American data is far more open and definitive. It gives failure rates for all major components not just the gearboxes.
Here is the table (see page 31) relating to expected annual gearbox and generator failure rates for on-shore turbines.
The NREL reckons for gearboxes this averages out at 5% per year for the first ten years. Notice that in year 5 it hits 10%.
Whatever way you cut it statistically around about 50% of turbines will suffer a gearbox failure within 10 years. Remember this is for properly maintained, serviced and generally “looked after” turbines.
But also remember – that is ONLY the gearbox. The generator is “slightly” more reliable coming out at an average failure rate of 3.5% per year or 35% over ten years.
So for an onshore turbine in the USA the chances of a properly serviced and maintained turbine failing due to gearbox or generator issues within 10 years is 85%.
If you include the other potential failure areas (say the blades – failure rate quoted at 2% per annum) then statistically, it is almost surely that a properly maintained and serviced wind turbine will suffer a major failure within 10 years. It looks like most failures will occur in year 5 or 7.
All rotating machinery can (and will) break down. But wind turbines are operating in a chaotically changing and hostile environment (offshore turbines even more so). A gas plant by comparison is operating in a closely controlled and regulated environment. So per Megawatt-Hour, the wind turbine will require much more maintenance.
The energy return from a wind turbine is simply inadequate to pay for the very high demands placed on maintenance and repair. As the machine gets older more maintenance and repair will be required. Eventually the point will be reached (7-10 years?) where the maintenance/repair bills exceed the returns.
The often hyped 25 year life span for a wind turbine would appear to be hopelessly optimistic.
Currently the only way round this problem is to hugely increase the price of the electricity generated by the machine from day one. This is essentially what the current government subsidies do.
But one day the subsidies will have to fall. When this happens, or as the turbines get older and more unreliable, the wind farms will end up being be sold on – and on.
The new owners will be ever more dubious organisations. Eventually the turbines will be run until they suffer the final major failure that renders the turbine beyond economic repair. Then they will be abandoned.
When the last one fails and the payments stop, the bailiffs will arrive to claim the “guaranteed” decommissioning fund. But by then the main company office will be a post box in Belize and the decommissioning fund will be long gone.
Remember almost all of the data in the above paper is for on-shore turbines.
When you go offshore the maintainability and reliability falls off a cliff. The consequent subsidies sky-rocket.