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Everything You Need to Know About Wind Turbines

Working on wind turbines

Wind power is nothing new – and today, wind energy is a growing source of renewable energy across the world. Wind turbines are now commonplace in the UK both onshore and offshore, and as technology evolves, they have become bigger, better and more efficient.

The History of Wind Power

It is thought that humans have used wind power for over two millennia. The first wind powered sailing boat is thought to be over 5,500 years old and windmills were thought to be used for irrigation in West Asia in 1700 BC.

The Dutch started using windmills (or molens) to pump water from wetlands in the 14th century, and by 1650 windmills were used to saw wood in shipyards.

The first wind turbine used to produce electricity was created by Prof James Blyth of Anderson College, Glasgow – and was 10 metres high. The cloth sailed wind turbine was installed in the garden of his holiday cottage in Kincardineshire and powered the lighting in the cottage. The wind turbine provided a surplus of electricity, which Blyth offered to power the local main street – but the offer was turned down as many still believed electricity was ‘the work of the devil’.

Wind Power in the UK

In 2017, 15% of the UK’s electricity was generated from wind power. That’s enough to power 12.7 million homes across the country. That figure is growing each year, with a further 629 onshore and 1,764 offshore wind turbine installations in the UK in 2019*.

BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019 - Chart

How Wind Turbines Work

Wind turbines produce electricity from the wind by turning the kinetic energy

Wind turbines turn kinetic energy into electricity. Sensors at the top of wind turbines measure wind speed and direction, to signal which way the nose of the wind turbine should point (pointing into the wind). The wind causes the blades of a wind turbine to rotate and this spins a shaft which is connected to a generator that converts this kinetic energy to electricity.

Types of Wind Turbines

Modern wind turbines fall into two main categories:

  • Horizontal Axis Wind Turbines (HAWT)

Horizontal-axis wind turbines are those most common in the UK. They have three blades and operate "upwind," with the turbine pivoting at the top of the tower so the blades face into the wind.

Horizontal Axis Wind Turbines (HAWT) in a Field

  • Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWT)

There are several types of vertical-axis wind turbines (VAWT), including the Darrieus model, where the blades revolve around a vertical shaft.

VAWTs have some advantages. They have fewer components, can be grouped closer together as they can operate in turbulent winds and can catch the wind in any direction - as opposed to HAWT which needs to be pointed into the wind.

However, VAWT’s tend to be less reliable and less efficient so not as well suited to large scale energy production.

Vertical Axis Wind Turbines (VAWT)

Why are wind turbines white?

Wind turbines are almost entirely white in colour. This makes them neutral and non-intrusive to the landscape around them and they can blend with the sky and clouds. International aviation laws also require large structures are white so pilots can see them clearly in the air.

The white paint used on turbines also protects them from weather and prevents rust, as well as reflecting the sun away from the inner components

Why do wind turbines have 3 blades?

Traditional windmills have 4 blades so why do wind turbines tend to just have 3?

Every blade extracts kinetic energy from the wind and exerts torque. But the more blades a wind turbine has the more they experience drag and thus reduce the power extracted from the wind. Three blades ensure the angular momentum stays constant because when one blade is up, the other two are pointing at an angle. This allows the wind turbine blades to rotate smoothly and efficiently.

Wind Turbine Facts

  • A wind turbine has 8,000 parts
  • Good quality modern wind turbines last around 20 years
  • Large wind turbines generate enough electricity in a year (about 12 megawatt-hours) to supply about 600 homes. 
  • The largest turbine in the world is GE’s Haliade-X, the industry’s first 12 MW turbine, that stands 260M high
  • Large groups of wind turbines are called wind farms
  • Industry experts predict that by 2050 one third of the world's electricity needs will be wind powered
  • The blades on modern wind turbines can reach speeds at the tip of over 320 kph (200 mph).
  • The largest onshore wind farm in the UK is in Whitelee, Scotland with 215 wind turbines and a capacity of 539MW

Wind Turbine Maintenance

Although wind turbines have around 8,000 components, they are constructed of three main parts: a tower, blades, and a nacelle. The nacelle comprises of an outer case, generator, gearbox, and brakes, and most of the maintenance work on a wind turbine involves the nacelle.

When a problem is identified, wind turbine technicians use computers to diagnose the malfunction and then make the necessary repairs. They also do general routine maintenance 2-3 times a year to keep parts lubricated and in good working order.

Wind turbines are often located in remote areas, either onshore or offshore wind farms, with workers operating at considerable heights. They must climb ladders inside the tower – often 250 feet tall.

All workers must comply with the Working at Height Regulations 2005. These regulations stipulate that employers must ensure no person engages in any working at height activity unless he/she is competent to do so. Falls from height account for around 40 fatalities in the UK each year.

Furthermore, when maintaining mechanical systems, they work in the confined space of the nacelle.

Wind Turbine Maintenance

What training do you need when working on a wind turbine?

When working on wind turbines you will be exposed to risk, so you must be properly trained to ensure you know how to work safely and are competent to mitigate those risks.

The Global Wind Organisation (GWO) has developed common training standards across the wind industry which are accepted worldwide.

To become a wind turbine technician, you require some core skills and will need to complete the Basic Safety Training accredited by the GWO. This training covers First Aid, Manual Handling, Fire Safety and Working at Height and the entire course takes 5 days to complete. It needs to be renewed every 2 years.

Further training may be required depending on the role you are doing, and more advanced rescue and first aid training are available for anyone who may be working in very remote areas where they cannot rely on the emergency services for rescue or first aid.

GWO Training Courses with MRS Training & Rescue

MRS Training & Rescue are part of the GWO global network of certified training providers, delivering standards of training trusted worldwide anyone employed or seeking employment within the wind sector.

With turbine training facilities at our training centres in Knottingley and Fife, the training can replicate as far as possible ‘real-life’ field conditions.

Errol Parrish, Operations Manager at Fife said:

‘’We can offer realistic training in a safe environment, where the facilities consist of an actual wind turbine and a specially designed training tower. These provide our clients with the most realistic scenarios possible, enabling training to take place without the costs incurred from turbine shutdowns.”

“We are engaging with organisations and key stakeholders across the sector to highlight the courses available to the future generation of workers in this growing industry, to help to develop skills and create job opportunities. “

Our range of courses available to book online are:

These four courses combined provide the GWO Basic Safety Training package and run on concurrent days so all training can be completed in one week.

We also offer:

We can also offer bespoke courses on request of the client, always with safety, quality and professionalism at the forefront of our minds.

Practical GWO Training Courses on a Wind Turbine

* WindEurope Annual Statistics 2019

Find and book your course online here

Or call 01623 423 777

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