Gallery: Wind Turbines Might Not Stand Up to Hurricane Irene

 

As Hurricane Irene careens towards the east coast of the United States and residents rush to batten down the hatches we must not forget to take care of our renewable energy generators — especially wind turbines. In the past 11 years the United States has installed over 38,000 megawatts of wind power with almost 3,000 watts standing directly in Irene’s path. Though most wind turbines are built to withstand category 5 hurricanes, most of our installed wind power was erected after the last major hurricane (Hurricane Bob in 1991) hit the east coast. Though theoretically, the large turbines should be fine, a small error in manufacturing, installation or maintenance could prove deadly for them. As for small turbines on rooftops, experts are saying to remove them immediately.

In Portsmouth, Rhode Island, Assistant Town Planner Gary Crosby is in charge of making sure the town’s turbine stays erect and functioning through Hurricane Irene’s winds and rain — in Rhode Island winds could reach near 100 miles an hour. He told EastBayRI.com that if the turbine weathers the storm, other problems could arise when the winds pass. Most turbines are equipped with sensors that will feather their blades — turn them into the wind to minimize lift — and shut off if winds are 45 miles per hour or more for longer than 10 minutes. When the winds pass a turbine’s internal sensor, the battery powered system must be in working order for it to turn itself back on and generate the correct amount of energy to get the turbines spinning again and begin feeding power to the grid once again.

They are overdesigned to be safe,” said Tom Wineman, principal and owner of Clean Energy Design, a Massachusetts-based company that installs renewable energy technology. Some towns along the coast are opting to put their turbines in protective mode manually to diminish the possibility of damage. Falmouth, Massachusetts has already shut down their Wind 1 turbine. With the cost of commercial scale turbines running up into the millions of dollars, every protective measure should be taken to ensure the safety of the equipment. Even if the instruction manual says it can withstand rare and dangerous storms like Irene, why take the chance if you’ve never tested it?

+ Inhabitat Hurricane Irene Coverage

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4 Comments

  1. Blu3RSX August 30, 2011 at 10:33 am

    @zeppflyer

    I find your lack of faith disturbing. lol

    I actually pursued this very topic as part of a design competition where the wind energy from a hurricane would be used for dewatering purposes:

    http://challenge.bfi.org/application_summary/12

    and seamusdubh is correct that the states with the lowest annual winds speeds are actually the same regions which experience the highest national wind speeds during hurricane season.

    There have been hurricanes in Florida since before there was a Florida and we do know that it is a seasonal event.

    If there were a time to advance technology in wind energy this is the time to do it.

    If we can design a space shuttle to overcome extreme wind speeds, we can do the same for our wind generators.

  2. zeppflyer August 27, 2011 at 11:11 am

    @DGetz, It’s not just about max wind speed, but consistency as well. While yes, we could build a turbine to gather power from a hurricane, it wouldn’t make sense to do so. A turbine designed to do anything more than feather its prop and try to ride out something like Irene would require massive strengthening which would make it more expensive to build and far heavier and less efficient under normal conditions. You’d, furthermore, need either more transmission capacity or massive amounts of storage to take advantage of that energy. Building up billions of dollars in infrastructure that would actually create a less efficient system doesn’t make sense when you wouldn’t need it except for the maybe half dozen or so times a year when a hurricane/tropical storm hits.

    Not to mention, the heavier power distribution would have to be very extensive to be of any use since areas around our hurricane-drenched turbine will see a decrease in electricity consumption during the storm as businesses shutter up and power lines are blown down.

  3. seamusdubh August 27, 2011 at 1:42 am

    Anybody notice that almost ALL of the states that are prone to being hit by hurricanes are the ones not producing wind power.

  4. DGetz August 26, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Am I the only person wondering how much additional power could be generated by the significant wind speed increase resulting from this storm that these turbines were designed to handle?

    That is the other side to these storms. The prospect of harnessing their power. We crunch so much data looking for the windiest possible sites in the world for turbines. Maybe we should harness the power of hurricanes.

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