Burning Wind Turbines Revisited
While I was away in pastures new, I witnessed a rare and catastrophic failure of a motor vehicle. It caught fire. Luckily nobody was hurt but the car burned with spectacular vigour. I only noticed this catastrophic failure because of the smoke and flames.
If the forlorn Vauxhall Vectra had merely lost its cambelt so allowing the pistons to punch the valves through the cylinder head, or if the car had crashed and rolled and had been left on the hard shoulder I probably would not have noticed. But in either case the catastrophic failure would have been just just as complete.
Less than one car in a thousand in a year catches fire due to mechanical/electrical failure. But I place bets that one in a hundred cars will suffer a non fire catastrophic failure that reduces them to scrap.
So for every accidental car fire, at least ten others suffer a non fire catastrophic failure that reduces them to junk.
That got me thinking about the celebrated explosion and burning of the Scottish turbine during the high winds in December 2011. ( See Daily Mail Here )
We know that a burning turbine is a fairly rare event though it is very far from unique. We also know that there is a severe and apparently intractable generic gearbox problem (See Here) which affects almost all turbines in current use.
In Scotland during the storm one turbine burned. So how many others quietly suffered some catastrophe, but without the drama of flames and burning wreckage?
When a car catches fire it is usually related to the fuel system dumping fuel onto the hot exhaust. In Wind turbines the only flammable liquids are the lubricants.
As a result, I would suggest that, the ratio of wind turbines catching fire to those merely suffering
a catastrophic failure is smaller than the same ratio for cars. That is what I would suspect anyway. (Anyone disagree? and why?)
For cars statistically, for every one that burns more than ten others catastrophically fail without the flames. A ration of 1:10 (worst case)
For wind turbines a ratio of 1:20 possibly 1:30 would appear to be more appropriate. Maybe it is higher, say 1:50. Who knows? (nobody is telling)
So the (excuse the pun) the burning question is:
How many turbines got quietly taken out by the storm in December 2011?
If this were cars, from one burning car you would suspect that 10 or more would have failed.
We know from ( Here ) that these large turbines have a really severe reliability problem with their gearboxes. I would therefore suggest that 20 possibly or 30 turbines suffered catastrophoc failure due this this one severe (though not unusual) storm.
This is of course supposition, but I do not think the operators are likely to be telling us any more information soon. So this analogy is as good as any.
The final thought on this is how many turbines would we lose if we had a 1987 severity storm?
Of course in the 1987 storm and other severe storms there was a great deal of damage to the electrical supply infrastructure as well. With this insane expansion of the wind turbine fleet, we are going to end up with hundreds upon hundreds of extra miles of extra grid to maintain. A great deal of this pyloning and cabling will be cutting across our open countryside and is going to be difficult to maintain at the best of times, let alone where large sections of the grid are knocked out.
So next time you see a burning turbine remember it is just be the tip of the iceberg.