Reducing carbon emissions is a global issue, which was recently bought to the forefront globally at December’s COP21 conference. There, world leaders announced a 1.5 degree climate change ceiling, meaning that renewable energy must take a greater part in the world’s energy mix. Wind power has a key role to play in meeting this target, saving over 608 million tonnes of CO2 emissions globally in 2014.
The substantial cost of installing wind turbines, substructures and various other components alongside the longer-term costs of grid integration and a reduction in government funding, means that reliability and cost-effectiveness of wind farms across their life span is vital, especially if wind power is expected to compete with fossil fuels. This is where a test bench comes into play.
The very nature of a turbine’s job means that it encounters constant stress from wind, rain and other elements. However, unforeseen excessive loadings of the mechanical components can lead to a reduction of the product’s life expectancy. This is not acceptable for both customers and investors, which are looking for reliable and profitable solutions.
Customers expect to receive products that perform according to the required specifications straight away. Over the past decade, the time it takes to develop turbines has reduced dramatically, however, any delay could still be costly. Therefore, it is imperative that turbines and the accompanying technology are tested prior to deployment, so that malfunctions and errors are not discovered in the field during operation.
These delays can be avoided by simulating the worst-case conditions before turbines are deployed in the field, using test benches. It also reduces time to market, as you don’t have to wait for the right wind and weather conditions to carry out testing, allowing for simulations in a controlled environment.
Testing is a key element in the renewables supply chain and should not be overlooked or underestimated. The testing stage should be thorough, as it will reveal how a wind turbine will react under both predictable and unpredictable conditions. For example, wind load testing units can put stress on the turbine, bending it to varying degrees to identify stress points, something that would be catastrophic were a malfunction or break to occur during operation.
Grid simulation can also be carried out to ensure a turbine’s Fault Ride Through capability works as predicted. This ensures the product can operate under even the weakest grid conditions, minimizing lost revenue.
Testing control and protection systems at the first stage also allows for more detailed, dedicated, single-component oriented test sequences on load-carrying components like main bearings, yawing systems and gearboxes. It is also possible to simulate drive chains and converters, which will be used in the field, so it is possible to predict how it will behave once deployed. All of this is repeatable, as the test bench can be used for future turbine deployments.
Stress testing individual components, such as gearboxes, generators and converters, as well as simulating issues which may be encountered during cabling and installation, is crucial to this process. Also, performing the test bench visualization, control, cabling and installation – everything from a single source – GE’s execution capability spreads over a wide spectrum of activities.