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Wind turbine collapse under investigation at Antarctic research centre

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Source: AAD

One of two wind turbines installed to help power Australia’s Mawson research station in Antarctica has partially collapsed, in an unexplained incident in the middle of last week.

The Australian Antarctic Division reported on Wednesday that the head of one of the Enercon E30 turbines had fallen to the ground on Tuesday night, during what was relatively “modeate” weather at the Antarctic research base. No one was injured.

The second turbine was deactivated as a precautionary measure, and will remain off until the cause of the fault was discovered, leaving the station’s 550kW diesel power generator as the only source of power for the time being.

The wind turbines have been in operation at Mawson since 2003, and have since managed on occasion to provide up to 95 per cent of the station’s power. On average, they have provided about half of the station’s power each year.

As reported here, in 2014 alone, the two turbines generated enough electricity to reduce Mawson’s diesel consumption by 288,000 liters, directly saving the AAD $263,000 in fuel costs. rsz_screen_shot_2015-11-12_at_20519_pm

The AAD also gained greater flexibility in scheduling resupply ships; instead of requiring a shipment of diesel fuel at least once per year to meet the station’s needs, the AAD can now send a refueling shipment every other year.

General Manager of Support and Operations, Dr Rob Wooding, said the cause of the incident was unknown and would be fully investigated.

“While Mawson can experience regular blizzards, the conditions over the last few days have been moderate, with wind gusts of up to 40 knots,” he said.

“Thankfully all expeditioners were safely inside and it didn’t land near any buildings or other equipment.

“They heard the noise, they went out, and saw that this had happened.”  

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  • Joe

    Two Tongues Turnbull will jump all over this with a headline like….”RE crashes out again ala South Australia.” No doubt he’ll now push for a ‘HELE’ to replace the wind turbines.

    • dono

      They may want to open a coal mine at Mawson so they can have a coal fired power station…

      • Joe

        The penguins won’t mind…just bulldoze them out of the way.

        • Jacob

          Buy they’re the ones getting jobs!

          • Joe

            Yes, the ‘heavy lifters’ in extreme conditions.

  • Bob Fearn

    If these turbines saved 288,000 liters of fuel they sure saved more than $263,000 in fuel costs. No way that you can get a liter of diesel to Antarctica for 91 cents Aus.

    • Brian Tehan

      Yes, it must be several times that. Of course, the other (main?) benefit is preventing a lot of diesel particulate pollution in the pristine Antarctic environment.

  • Hevii Guy

    Based on what can be seen in the photo, it appears that the nacelle detached from the tower. The penultimate cause will probably be determined as “fastener fatigue failure” (broken bolts). This happens (too often on WTGs) when the bolts aren’t tightened to the necessary stress level. It’s a common situation and one which we’ll continue to see because Industry allows WTGs to be installed without anybody having to know how tight these critical bolts actually are.

    • Alex Hromas

      Your observation is correct but I suspect that the cause is not as simple as you assume. Antdiv are very careful about anything they send to Antarctica especially power generation equipment as without heat you die. Don’t forget that this also includes the slew gear that turns the turbine into the wind and that it is being asked to operate at extreme conditions

      • Hevii Guy

        Slew gear fasteners operate under significant dynamic loads. When some are under compression, others are in tension. This is affected by a change in yaw. The same applies to the tower flange fasteners. As a result, accurate fastener preload is absolutely paramount. This simply cannot be achieved by common torquing procedures. Yet, even in the face of other similar total collapses caused by bolt failure, these ineffective procedures continue to be deemed acceptable by Registrars and Classification Societies. Thus we should have no doubt that everything was done “properly” and “by the book” during construction and subsequent inspections. The problem is that just like the book describing the Earth as being flat, this one is wrong and in dire need of an editorial update.

        • Alex Hromas

          Tanks for that. Preloading bolts by torque settings is common across many industries from bridge building to satellites what alternative do you suggest

          • Hevii Guy

            Torque-tightening is notoriously inaccurate (http://www.heviitech.com/torque-danger/). Fortunately, in most applications, “guessing” that a certain torque input will result in a certain fastener preload is ‘good enough’. However, in critical applications such as this, verification of the effect of the torquing (or direct tensioning) procedure is necessary. This enables the input force to be modified to produce the necessary preload. Since every fastener is unique, verification must be performed at each fastener; spot-checking is only for those who are confident in ‘educated’ guesses 😉
            There are a number of recognised options available for fastener preload verification as shown here: http://www.heviitech.com/verification/ The important thing is being able to apply the method commensurate to the nature of the application. For example, while the following method would be “overkill” for simple static civil assemblies, it would certainly be applicable to WTGs: http://www.heviitech.com/mill-bolting/

  • Mike Dill

    It it has been there since 2003 it needs an upgrade anyways. Newer turbines can provide much more capability, oh, and they need more batteries there.