With their eco-friendly means of generating electricity, wind farms and turbines are growing in use and importance as a source of renewable energy. However, this equipment, often located in offshore wind farms, needs to be built, regularly inspected, repaired, and maintained.
Companies responsible for coordinating the work carried out by wind farm technicians need viable and efficient ways to protect them. How can a company keep techs safe from the threat of severe weather and the genuine danger of being struck by lightning?
Efficiently managing weather windows and optimizing the time technicians have to develop, construct and operate wind projects is mainly dependent on highly sophisticated weather forecasts. In addition, wind turbine technicians need to be safe not only while at the site of the wind turbines but also when traveling to and from the offshore location.
DTN Offshore Forecast Services will empower your renewable energy company to plan for and efficiently handle weather risks.
General wind turbine safety concerns
Maintenance of large, high voltage electricity-generating machines like wind turbines carries both challenges and risks in service and care.
Statistics confirm a rise in turbine-related accidents in line with their increased use. The number of recorded accidents globally involving wind turbines reached 3,033 in June 2021. The number of total recorded fatalities reached 156 by June 2021. The majority of those fatalities (127 in total) were wind industry and direct support workers, according to data shared at www.caithnesswindfarms.co.uk.
Wind technician safety
In tandem, a wind farm technician with wind project managers develops, constructs, and operates wind turbines. The technician’s job also involves the maintenance and repair of these structures. Therefore, if a turbine has technical problems from day to day or for any reason fails, the technician must be prepared to troubleshoot and carry out appropriate repairs on site.
A technician’s typical workday involves climbing turbines to conduct inspections and repairs. Routine tasks wind technicians carry out include:
- Checking the towers to ensure their physical integrity
- Diagnosing and carrying out repairs on turbine equipment
- Testing electrical components
- Testing hydraulic and mechanical systems
- Replacing worn or malfunctioning components
The role of a wind turbine technician involves specific safety hazards related to weather. Technicians need to work outside at dizzying heights, sometimes hundreds of feet. For safety, they must be equipped with a full-body harness while performing skilled work around delicate components.
The wind energy industry is very concerned with safety and continuously improves safety protocols. Overall, the wind energy industry has a strong safety record. However, one of the most significant obstacles to technician security is the risk of severe weather, including lightning.
Risk of lightning strikes
Lightning is one hazardous condition faced by wind turbine technicians. Whenever a thunderstorm occurs, risk assessments for work to be performed must account for the possibility of lightning.
The threat of lightning is often underestimated. Why? Lightning strikes may claim only one victim at a time, perhaps leading to these events being underreported. Yet, the danger is real, and the results can be costly.
Lightning is caused by many small pieces of ice colliding and causing an electrical charge. When the cloud gets filled with these positive and negative electrical charges, these tend to produce lightning.
A person can be struck by positive lightning even up to 25 miles away from precipitation. So even if the sky above you is blue, if you can hear thunder, you are still within range of a potential lightning strike. Hence the expression, “a bolt from the blue.”
Obviously, due to the construction of wind turbines both at onshore wind farms and offshore wind turbines, lightning poses an increased risk to technicians. Unfortunately, it is difficult to accurately evaluate the risk of lightning strikes in those areas using ordinary weather monitoring methods.
Weather and offshore wind farms
The safety of technicians working on wind projects often depends on suitable weather conditions. If there is the threat of severe weather, this will prevent them from carrying out their work, particularly at offshore locations, safely.
Depending on the type of system used to access the wind turbines, monitoring the precise weather conditions will also play a crucial role in your company’s staff safely reaching the wind farm.
If your maintenance technicians are dispatched on a service vessel, then a clear picture of the maritime weather conditions before they depart is necessary. The length of the suitable weather window for appropriate meteorological and oceanic conditions also needs to be considered to allow for the crew’s safe return. If a different method of access is typically used, the access system type will doubtless also need to factor in weather conditions.
Safety in the wind energy industry should be paramount, but it is not the only concern. There is also the vital matter of efficiency. For example, scheduling repairs and maintenance when weather conditions would be optimum for power production will result in delays and increased cost of labor.
In addition to the enormous safety advantage, accurate weather monitoring and forecasting allow your renewable energy enterprise to arrange for work to be carried out by wind technicians at an optimal time from both a safety and efficiency perspective. To find out what makes a weather forecasting application highly accurate and reliable, check out this great article.
Perhaps your company has always accounted for the threat posed to an offshore wind technician’s safety by severe weather and lightning in particular. For safety and efficiency reasons, a highly accurate and reliable maritime weather forecasting application is a must. Managers responsible for sending out turbine technicians will have peace of mind knowing that they are not being put needlessly in harm’s way.
Severe weather will always present problems, but by taking full advantage of the tools DTN offers, you can make excellent decisions in line with the probability of weather events and avoid negative consequences. Safety and efficiency can thus be significantly enhanced in your renewable energy enterprise.
DTN has many solutions specifically related to lightning safety, such as:
- Lightning Risk Forecasts: A daily forecast bulletin for an individual wind farm indicating the physical risk to personnel from lightning strike activity.
- Lightning Proximity Alerts: When strikes are detected within a specified distance, alerts are automatically generated.
- Lightning Tracking: A web-based solution to monitor real-time lightning strikes in proximity to your assets.
- Lightning Inspection Reports: Automated reports that use historical lightning strikes compared against exact turbine location to determine which turbines were struck and need to be inspected for damage.
DTN Offshore Forecast Services empowers you to handle weather risk, plan better and execute operations by expertly managing the available weather window.