Combustion in the wind

Sian
Friday 09 Dec 2011

Questions are raised over wind turbine safety, as Scotland experiences serious cases of malfunction


Heralded by various incumbents as an important element in the global drive for renewable energies, the solution proffered by wind turbines has often proven a divisive issue. Usually though, what gripes the most for those brought into direct contact with these green sources of electricity, is the aesthetics; people consider them an eye-sore, and it’s all too often a case of ‘not in my own backyard’. Now, it seems, a new reason for aggravation may begin to be given for wanting away with expansive wind-farms.

During the recent extreme weather conditions in the UK, experienced most keenly throughout Scotland and the Northern regions of England, several instances of serious mechanic failure have been witnessed amongst the turbines. Fears are growing about the safety risks that could be caused once wind speeds exceed expected levels. In North Ayrshire (a town on the West coast of Scotland) amazed spectators have been recalling the ‘spectacular’ moment when their £2m, 100m-tall wind turbine burst into flames. Despite an internal mechanism correctly responding - designed to halt the blades movement in severe gales - breaks in electrical connections caused this fiery result, as burning shards of metal were blown across the hillside.

In a separate incident in Coldinghan in the Scottish borders, large pieces of a malfunctioning turbine went crashing to ground, landing mere metres from a nearby road. Fraser McLachlan, the Chief Executive of GCube (a wind turbine insurer), has worryingly predicted that instances of this ‘rare phenomenon’ could rise over the upcoming period; on trying to dissect the cause of the failure, he explained: “It can catch on fire for a whole multitude of reasons. It can be the mechanism going into overdrive. It can be to do with the connections or oil catching alight”.

Earlier in 2011, it was revealed that for at least 38 days every year wind turbines would be shut off as they struggled to cope with drastic power surges caused by influxes in wind levels. Raising concerns caused by this necessity, Martin Livermore, Director of Scientific Alliance, said: “What we should be worried about is the fact these wind turbines cannot generate electricity when the wind is too strong so a lot of the time, they are not actually saving any fossil fuels.”

Last night 60,000 Scottish homes were without power. For those with dependencies on wind turbines this winter, an all too familiar return to fossil fuel energy may be forthcoming. With government proposals aiming to see the creation of a further 32,000 new turbines, adding to the current 3,500 already in place, wind turbines look set to become an increasingly common feature across the British landscape.

Tom Aston
Editorial

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