Bearings: The Achilles Heel of Wind Turbines

Story by Eric Worrall -

wind_turbine_bearings[1]A few years ago, I used to know a senior wind turbine engineer. One evening, over a few beers, he told me the dirty secret of his profession:

“The problem is the bearings. If we make the bearings bigger, the bearings last longer, but making the bearings larger increases friction, which kills turbine efficiency. But we can’t keep using the current bearings – replacing them is sending us broke. What we need is a quantum leap in bearing technology – bearing materials which are at least ten times tougher than current materials.”

At the time there was very little corroborating online material available to support this intriguing comment – but evidence seems to be accumulating that bearings are a serious problem for the wind industry.

Siemens citing bearing failures as part of the reason for a substantial fall in profit;
http://www.offshorewind.biz/2014/05/07/siemens-energy-division-profit-down-54-pct/

In the announcement of the opening of a new Siemens research facility;
http://www.greenoptimistic.com/2013/03/19/siemens-wind-turbine-research/
“… The Brande test center would evaluate the main parts of their wind turbines such as main bearings …”

http://www.geartechnology.com/newsletter/0112/drives.htm (an attempt to make direct drive turbines, to reduce bearing wear)
“… More accurately, it is typically the bearings within the gearbox that fail, in turn gumming up the gearbox, but that’s a story for another time. …”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burbo_Bank_Offshore_Wind_Farm
“… During summer 2010 Siemens decided to change the blade bearings on all 25 turbines as a pre-emptive measure after corrosion was found in blade bearings found on other sites. …”

Of course, there is the occasional video of catastrophic turbine failure;

Suggestions the industry is trying to conceal the scale of the turbine fire problem;
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2695266/Wind-turbine-fire-risk-Number-catch-alight-year-ten-times-higher-industry-admits.html

All of which creates an interesting question – just how much of our money is the government prepared to waste, to keep their wind dream afloat? If the costs are far greater than the industry admits, how long is the wind industry going to carry that additional hidden cost, before they try to push the costs onto taxpayers, or abandon wind technology altogether?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2116877/Is-future-Britains-wind-rush.html

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260 thoughts on “Bearings: The Achilles Heel of Wind Turbines

  1. Maintenance and repair costs are always an integral part of sound investment analysis. A much shorter than anticipated lifetime of rotor blades, gearbox and generator would definitely have a negative impact on net present value.

  2. We have a mob in Australia-Beyond Zero Emissions that reckons it is viable to build a high speed rail link Brisbane-Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne powered by wind and solar. Looks like their power supply will be a bit more expensive than they thought. As it is, their figures were idiotically optimistic. I did my own calculations- no way it could be built for 84 billion, especially as a conventional rail system in Sydney completed recently that goes about 1/5 the way across the whole city cost 8.4 billion. The high speed rail cost per km is considerably higher ( turning circle, security to prevent anything entering the track precinct-bit messy being hit at 300mph) so they are deluded. If they are off by as little as 20%, the thing can NEVER pay itself off-just get deeper and deeper in to debt.Honestly, since when did any major infrastructure project actually run on budget? Then again, estimates of efficiency and total power output of wind power are grossly overestimated.

    • If they’re anything like the environmentalists here in the states they are probably planning on mounting wind turbines on each car of the train to power it.

    • Cost for high speed (“commercial speed” 320 km/h) railroads in France: 15 millions € per km (rail only, no station building). It can get higher when many bridges are needed. Most high speed railroads will never cover their cost.

      Normal railroad “just” only 1 million per km.

  3. In an honest free market industry, one would hope that ball bearing failure would have been forseen by those engineering the systems. But, since this is essentially a fake industry propped up by government and ultimately taxpayers and ratepayers, not so much.

  4. Post ruined by the last paragraph and linking to The Daily Mail *twice*. Linking to the Daily Mail is a credibility killer, and for good reason.

    Even if you are not an AGW believer, I don’t understand why you would be against developing renewables. All energy production technology has technological limitations to be overcome. Internal combustion engines have been constantly improved since their inception simply to overcome known limitations of their design. Gearboxes, carburators and different engine geometries and mechanisms (2-stroke, 4-stroke etc) were early examples of leaps in technology to overcome existing issues.

    Similarly, wind turbines have issues that need to be addressed to unleash the potential that lies in the technology. The major one, as is the case with a lot of technological development right now, is in energy storage. As a non-constant producer of energy, ways of storing excess energy production will be required over time. This is coming. This post highlights another issue, the bearings, that perhaps has not received enough (public) attention until now. That is a good thing. Dismissing the entire technology on the basis of one technological limitation – one that isn’t even of fatal importance, even – is not a good thing.

    In the end, limiting ourselves to single venues of energy production is just a way to set us up for failure – particularly if that single venue is based on finite resources. This does not mean we should not use those finite resources; it simply means we should use more than that.

    I mean, the current uptick in renewable energy production is just market forces at work. The public wants renewables, and the market is in a place where it obviously pays. And before you object by means of invoking subsidies, I will rebut that with the fact that pretty much all energy production is subsidised – and the fossil fuel industry is *massively* subsidised. Subsidies, government or not, are entirely valid market-based mechanisms for steering developments in desirable directions – and they do work.

    • No, the “public” doesn’t want high cost renewables. They want low cost power. There is well heeled “portion” of the public that want to assuage their guilt for existing by buying “green” with no clue as to what “green” is and how many companies claim to be “green” that are not “green” at all. No links. Look it up. I like my diesel in my tractor and I like riding my horses not walking behind them with a plough.

      The roads, the sewers, the water system, the gas, the electricity that you use in your home are ALL subsidized in one way or another. I have worked on them all and part of the calculations of the economics ALWAYS involved looking at what money came from where. Subsidies of one sort or another float through the whole of the North American Economy..

    • “As a non-constant producer of energy, ways of storing excess energy production will be required over time. This is coming.”

      Sure it is. It has been coming for the last 100 years, and probably will be coming for the next century as well. There is no practical technology for large-scale energy storage except pumped hydropower that even exists as a concept.

    • Stop with the propaganda. The fossil fuel industry is not subsidized. The amount the industry pays in taxes far exceeds any tax breaks they get. They get zero in checks from the Feds, yet pay massively to the Feds and States.

      • When people say the oil industry is subsidized they think it’s a big tax break, which it is not.
        Here are the main examples in the US:
        – topping up the oil reserve
        – energy subsidies for low income households
        – manufacturer tax breaks on the cost of doing business (available to all manufacturers).
        These add up to approx $4B. The taxes they pay are many times more.
        So when some greenie ecotard says the oil industry is heavily subsidized, they are full of it.

      • What they call subsidies in the US are in fact:
        – topping up the oil reserve (national security)
        – energy subsidies to low in come households (Federal Assistance)
        – manufacturers tax break (available to all manufacturers)
        These total approx $4B which is far less than the taxes they pay.
        When supporters of renewables go on about oil subsidies they are trying to defect from the fact that renewables wouldn’t exist with tax dollars, period.

    • You state that renewable success is being driven by market forces, but fossil fuels are massively subsidized.

      That is delusional on a spectacular scale. Shouting entirely absurd lies does not make you credible.

    • “I don’t understand why you would be against developing renewables. ”

      Straw man argument. Is anyone here actually against developing renewables? I didn’t think so.

    • BJ Hanssen (@BJHanssen) @August 26, 2014 at 3:54 am

      … I don’t understand why you would be against developing renewables.

      You mean, like the Elwha River hydroelectric dams?

    • The rest of your post losses credibility when you state that the fossil fuel industry is subsidized. Its a lie and you know it. Where does the subsidies come from in Saudi Arabia ? The sale of sand ? All the petroleum and gas producing countries and regions are prosperous beyond their wildest dreams.

    • Disinformation. EROEI Energy Return On Energy Invested. The science there is also against you. http://bravenewclimate.com/2014/08/22/catch-22-of-energy-storage/

      The money quote; “Several recent analyses of the inputs to our energy systems indicate that, against expectations, energy storage cannot solve the problem of intermittency of wind or solar power.  Not for reasons of technical performance, cost, or storage capacity, but for something more intractable: there is not enough surplus energy left over after construction of the generators and the storage system to power our present civilization.”.

  5. A few days ago in Weymouth (UK) I heard that one boat in the harbour had a full time job taking diesel out to the local wind farm to keep the blades spinning to stop the gear boxes from seizing.

    • This wind farm in Hawaii only produces power 45% of the time. The other 55% of the time, power is produced by diesel generators that back up the wind farm’s turbines. Yeah, so much for “green power”:

      –The Waimea Generating Station is located only a few hundred yards from my house. It is owned and operated by Hawaii Electric Light Company, Inc. (HELCO). The plant consists of three 2.5 MW diesel engine generators that are fired on Number 2 fuel oil with a maximum sulfur content of 0.5 percent by weight. Every time I notice that its calm on my morning run, I can always find the smoke rising from these generators. They come on when the wind turbines aren’t spinning–.

      http://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Wind-Power/When-the-Wind-Doesnt-Blow.html

  6. BJ Hanssen stated
    “I mean, the current uptick in renewable energy production is just market forces at work. ”

    The huge subsidies being pumped into renewables is not “market forces”. Most people are here are not against renewables but their inefficiencies and their massive subsidies! Without long term sudsidies they was remain a minor blip in world energy production.

  7. Every time I drive by one of those giant spinning propellers, I wonder what would happen if one of them broke and a giant, cartwheeling piece of it headed toward the road. Those things are obviously dangerous. That they are also a more expensive source of power just underlines how stupid their use is.

    You cannot buy a household electric fan without a safety cage, but these giant propellers are supposedly fit to operate anywhere without anything similar to protect the public…

  8. BJ Hanssen

    No, Linking to ‘The Guardian’ is a credibility killer. In this small crowded country (Britain) wind factories really jar as they are often placed on our finest uplands. You don’t save the environment by trashing the countryside.

    I believe in energy horses for courses and in the UK’s position both wind and solar are bad ideas for a variety of reasons, aesthetic, technological and monetary.. However, nowhere here is further than 70 miles from the sea so the development of ocean based energy sources seem the obvious way forward for us.
    tonyb

  9. @ D. Cohen August 26, 2014 at 4:13 am

    The guard around your household electric fan is to stop it amputating your fingers, not contain a flying fragment of fanblade should it fragment.

    • A cage would not hold any part of one of those 7 ton blades anyhow. But they build them closer to homes than blade throw distances, or even the manufacturers safety setbacks. So irresponsible!

      • Not only that, some wind turbines are close to chemical units:

        “Oui, il y a un risque avec les éoliennes”, estime Jan Bens. “On est en train de remplir le port d’Anvers d’éoliennes, alors qu’il y a des industries chimiques juste à côté. Si un accident se produit, via un bris de pale, ce sera une guillotine. Et si elle transperce une conduite de chlore, c’est un problème d’un autre ordre que ce qui peut se passer à Doel. Les éoliennes sont plus dangereuses que les centrales nucléaires.”

        my translation:

        “Yes, there is a risk with wind turbines”, says Jan Bens. “We are putting wind turbines in Antwerp port, but there are chemical industries nearby. In case of an accident, with a broken blade, it will be a guillotine. And if it breaks a piping of chlorine, it will be a problem of a different order than what can happen in Doel. Wind turbines are more dangerous than nuclear power plants. ”

        Source: http://www.7sur7.be/7s7/fr/2765/Environnement/article/detail/1635455/2013/05/18/Les-eoliennes-plus-dangereuses-que-les-centrales-nucleaires.dhtml

  10. BJ
    Your response is a political statement about a decades old industry, that has very real engineering problems on many fronts that it has not been able to resolve. Your understanding of the economic and public demand for this technology is also suspect. Sorry to be rude but your post is nothing more than elegantly worded Cool-aide.

  11. “I don’t understand why you would be against developing renewables”

    Who is against developing renewables? I doubt you will find anyone, or at least a significant number, of people here who are against developing anything. The issue most people here seem to have is with deploying a technology that is not developed to the point of viability

    ” one that isn’t even of fatal importance”

    So lying about the costs of operating wind turbines isn’t of fatal importance? How can you compare different energy sources without real truthful information about the total costs?

    If the bearing issue is severe enough it turns an investment in wind turbines from a profitable venture into a black hole of debt.

    I agree that all technologies have issues and are improved over time. But if wind turbines have not reached a point where they can succesfully provide power at a reasonable cost then the solution is not to keep building and promoting them as a currently viable technology. the solution is to continue with research into improving the technology to the point of viability and not pouring vast quantities of money (much of it public money) into a currently non-viable venture.

    “I mean, the current uptick in renewable energy production is just market forces at work.”

    When the government provides FITs and rebates and tax advantages it is not ‘market forces at work’. It is politics forcing a technology onto the public for political reasons.

  12. Hi,

    The vague term “bearing failure due to corrosion” from one of the reports quoted is disingenuous!

    A major cause of bearing failure is a result of “Brinelling” (the flattening of the ball or the indentation of the bearing track, due to pressure of weight of turbine shaft and armature). Do a Google search on brinelling.

    The flat spot on the ball will cause the ball to skid and not to rotate, thus creating heat and premature failure.

    The need to avoid brinelling can be seen in all large roting machinery, in that a “cogging” motor is fitted to keep the shaft constantly slowly turning when the device is unoperational.

    This is the reason that you will see wind turbine blades slowly rotating even on a windless day. They are taking power from the grid to drive their cogging motors.

    Failure of the grid supply to a wind turbine, or a fault condition that results in the blades being locked, will soon cause problems.

    Changing bearings high in the air on top of a wind turbine tower is not a job for the faint hearted!

    One of the worst environments for turbines is the use of gas turbines in naval vessels. The large naval marine turbines have to be cogged constantly in harbour, as any chop or pounding will increase the bearing degredation.

    My father in law, was a charted mechanical engineer, who worked the design on aircraft engines all his life. He would never purchase a newv car that had been delivered on a transporter. He used to claim that the bumping and shock on the axles of the stationary cars on the transporter during its journey would cause brinelling of the car’s wheel bearings, shortening the bearing life. He always tried to buy cars delivered under their own power, by a delivery driver, not by transporter.

  13. and the fossil fuel industry is *massively* subsidised.

    Then depends on what you think of as a subsidy.

    Here in the UK, VAT on domestic energy bills (gas and electric) is set at 5% instead of 20%. The billions not raised as revenue is considered to be a subsidy to the fossil fuel industry.

    Oil and gas companies pay 50% Petroleum Revenue Tax (PRT) and 32% Supplementary Charge (SC). Additionally, they have the Ring Fence Corporation Tax (RFCT) which prevents them from offsetting profits in one part with losses in another. When an oil field runs low the SC is reduced This is also considered to be a subsidy.

    Much is being made of the UK governments decision to give fracking tax breaks. What they are actually doing is reducing the SC and relaxing the RFCT so costs can be offset against profits. As usual, this is also considered a subsidy despite the fact that any fracking company will still be paying tax at more than twice the rate of any wind farm.

    The so called fossil fuel subsidies don’t exist.

    • Yes, and OECD is guilty of these manipulations! They have this list of fossil subsidies for many countries, and as usual with any “information” I read, I compared the “information” with things I already know about, that is the subsidies and taxes here in France. And OECD lists diesel fuel as being subsided in France, just because it is taxed (heavily), but less than classical (non-diesel, I don’t know the correct word) car fuel. I don’t care about what they writes about other countries, given that they couldn’t get a very simple fact right about France, a country where the tax rules are documented and easily available.

      So I know this OECD fossil subsidies list is a load of crap. Now I will question anything green- or “sustainable-” related OECD publishes.

      • As usual, the question is ‘When will there be a loud, repeating voice in the main stream media that will counter all the watermelon bafflegab?’.

  14. Yours truly is a design engineer and regognises this bearing issue as just another bit of engineering reality that loads up the capex and the repair and maintenance costs of this hair brained technology and its submerged cousin, wave power.

    The basic problem is, once you steel yourself and put aside the intermittent and fluctuating nature of the FREE ENERGY!! supply, including all that FREE ENERGY !! that rips past in a storm, the devices have to be engineered for the expectation that extreme weather events will occur that will obliterate the device unless it is engineered to resist 5 to 10 times its normal FREE ENERGY !! harvesting capacity.

    What other devices have to have such load factors? Not many and nothing at the core of primary community infrastructure.

    FREE ENERGY!! is an advertising slogan that belongs down some supermarket aisle, the one with the chocolates, potato crisps and other junk food.

  15. Anybody seen an FMEA for these freaking things? And of course selling this junk to just one bunch of dumb customers solves all maintenance costs. And we are so lucky with the deal(s) the first five service years is free of maintenance charges I believe?

    I had the brinelling failure on a car gearbox input shaft bearing after 21k miles…Mazda. Had to write to Hiroshima to get the manufacturer to kick the UK local agents ar*e. Very awkward b*stards so gaining BMW another sale.

  16. BJ Hanssen (@BJHanssen):

    “I mean, the current uptick in renewable energy production is just market forces at work. The public wants renewables, and the market is in a place where it obviously pays. ”

    Give me a break. There are no market forces in favor of wind energy. During low demand times (especially spring runoff) in western Canada/USA, mandated, extremely expensive wind power is forced onto the grid, driving grid prices down into negative territory. That’s right, it’s cheaper to waste energy at those times. As a result, dams shut down their turbines and water is allowed to spill over the spillways, because it’s more cost effective.

    Do you get that? During those low demand periods, every bit of expensive renewable energy is simply wasted by being spilled over a dam. Result: Truckloads of money are taken directly from ratepayers and given to corporations, with no net gain in renewable energy production during those times.

  17. BJ Hanssen said

    “Post ruined by the last paragraph and linking to The Daily Mail *twice*. Linking to the Daily Mail is a credibility killer, and for good reason.

    Even if you are not an AGW believer, I don’t understand why you would be against developing renewables.”

    I have absolutely nothing against *developing* renewables. As an engineer and taxpayer I do have real problems with large scale implementation of a technology that requires massive subsidy. You raised the canard that fossil fuels are heavily subsidised. This is true in a handful of developing countries but in the EU, USA, Canada and Australia fossil fuels are taxed, sometimes very heavily. The ‘subsidies’ so often quoted are tax breaks which simply means the government in question levies LESS of a tax than otherwise would happen. Take the UK situation

    Tax revenue from Fuel 2009 £33.8 billion
    Subsidy for renewables 2009 £1.1 billion

    Note the bulk of the cost of renewables is recovered by a levy on domestic electricity prices which of course hits the poor disproportionately hard.

  18. BJHanssen commented as if wind technology was new and the issues will be sorted like issues with internal combustion engines.

    This ignores the fact that wind energy is a very old technology – 14th century perhaps. It was abandoned in the 19th century in Holland for pumping water in favor of fossil fuels. I don’t believe the Dutch are reverting to windmills for land drainage.

    Modern materials might improve wind energy slightly but will not overcome the fundamental faults – low energy density and variable wind speeds. This article highlights the difficulties of making massive windmills. Unless the design of windmills changes fundamentally it is difficult to see how it could ever become cost effective. I expect that by the time fossil fuels become scarce and rise in price improvements in nuclear energy (thorium, fusion?) and possibly solar will cause them to be preferred to wind.

  19. In Dixville NH the “Granite Reliable” wind project went online in December 2011 with 33 Vestas V-90 turbines, each with 3 MW output (on a good day). The original plan was to shrink the access road to return some of the land to a semi-natural state, but after one mainshaft bearing failed and others may follow, the operator has petitioned the state to leave it at the 16 foot width and “promises to make amends elsewhere on the mountain by planting more trees” per http://nhpr.org/post/public-counsel-hearings-widening-road-wind-turbines-should-be-held-coos

    I think bearing failure rates in the field have been much higher than manufacturers anticipated. Steam turbines at large conventional power plants last a long time, or at least get replaced with little fuss.

    Wind shear (different speeds at different heights) and turbulence may be putting much greater forces on the blades and hence on to the main shaft than anticipated. High power turbines such as those at Granite Reliable (who chose that name, anyway?) with their longer blades (lever arms) seem to have a shorter lifetime.

    From second hand information, snowmobilers last winter reported the turbines were a lot louder last winter than the winter before. I don’t know if it’s just due to wind speed differences, but it certainly could be a sign of bearing wear. Twenty year lifetime? ‘fraid not.

  20. M Seward
    August 26, 2014 at 4:33 am
    Yours truly is a design engineer and regognises this bearing issue as just another bit of engineering reality that loads up the capex and the repair and maintenance costs of this hair brained technology and its submerged cousin, wave power.

    The answer to all this nonsense is economics. If it can’t be paid for then don’t try to buy it, or else you go broke. If you do ‘buy’ it you begin to send everyone else broke and are back asking for a bailout. If there is a much cheaper tech then use it. The idea everyone is forced to use a bankrupting technology, suppresses the economy and financial resources that could be used for other things, and raises all power bills thus draining disposable incomes of all, due to the lame old CO2 global warming excuse, is completely bonkers.

    It would be cheaper to cut all the wind farms adrift, let them sink or swim on merit, like every other economic entity, no one needs them and most people don’t seem to want them, and when they fail, and the ‘business’ is no more, who will have to fork out again to have these clapped-out windmills removed?

    Oh, just the people who ran profitable businesses and didn’t have any subsidy supports to do it. What happens when national economic advice and energy policy formulation comes from the gurus of greenism.

    “… 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? 29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, 30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. …”

  21. It seems like what you’d want to do is lay the windmill flat on the ground and use magnets so there’s no friction, like the monorail at Disneyworld, and no need for bearings… and then somehow funnel the wind down through the turbine.

  22. M Seward
    August 26, 2014 at 4:33 am

    > The basic problem is, once you steel yourself and put aside the intermittent and fluctuating nature of the FREE ENERGY!!

    In some sense, all energy is free, however the cost of converting it to something useful is expensive.

    People pay for coal brought to the power plant (and to pay the lease on the land). People pay for wind by bringing the collector, turbine, and power grid to the mountain ridge (and pay for the lease on the land).

  23. Actually, BJ has missed the entire point.

    “Wind” and other “renewables” are far more than simple technology challenges. They had significant money put into them in the 70s during the Energy Crisis, and were found to be useless. Today, they are more useless, but this time it’s the government that is stuck paying for the uselessness.

    Internal combustion engines, diesel, hydro, turbines, and all other portions of the current energy mix (except some parts of Nuclear) were created and refined with private money and not governments. As long as governments keep throwing more money into the deep, dark, failure hole of “renewables” and other climate related scams, I will be against them.

    If you want to support “renewables” and waste your own private money, go ahead. Leave me out of it.

  24. “But there do exist drawbacks to direct drive; for one, the uncertainty over the cost and availability of rare earth elements, a necessity for direct drive permanent magnets.”

    So more Chinese miners and peasants die as part of the lifecycle cost of these green beauties.

    Still, they are not middle class activists, so no probs!

  25. BJ Hansen, nobody is against you spending your own money to develop alternative energy sources, what we object to is the desire of you and people like you to spend our money developing such sources.
    You seem to be offended that we dare to point out that wind energy is not cost effective and that those who have been pushing it have continued to hide it’s true costs.
    Shouldn’t you be upset with those who have been lying to us, rather than fuming at those who have exposed the lie?
    BTW, the general method is to demonstrate that a source is faulty, merely declaring it to be so is insufficient.

  26. At 3:54 AM on 26 August, BJ Hanssen perpetrates argumentum ad hominem

    Post ruined by the last paragraph and linking to The Daily Mail *twice*. Linking to the Daily Mail is a credibility killer, and for good reason.

    …and then goes on to give us Real Soon Now:

    Similarly, wind turbines have issues that need to be addressed to unleash the potential that lies in the technology. The major one, as is the case with a lot of technological development right now, is in energy storage. As a non-constant producer of energy, ways of storing excess energy production will be required over time. This is coming.

    Er, well, uh….

    Okay. So until whatever “is coming” actually comes, why build those bird-munching bat-mangling, fireball-detonating screeching pedestal-mounted boondoggles?

  27. Maybe instead of a single overhung bearing, they need to go to a double-bearing — a bearing on both sides of the rotor-hub.

    • Another bearing or a larger bearings increases friction and kills overall efficiency, what is needed is a better material to make the bearings out of which is likely to be prohibitively expensive.

  28. To answer some of the commenters who seem to think that technical evolution will make wind farms ‘viable’.

    This will _never_ be the case, given the original energy source, i.e. wind, is so unpredictable and variable; the law of economics will weigh so heavily against wind that it will never be picked as an energy source compared to more reliable or ‘on demand’ energy sources.

    The only reason wind turbines are being put up is the subsidy to be collected. Without that wind turbine projects are quickly abandoned. This is therefore not about saving the planet, its all about collecting the monies.. Especially given the short life of wind turbines and their net ineffectiveness of energy production – any full cycle cost benefit analysis would mean they never get beyond the evaluation stage.

    Also the act of subsidising to such a degree is a deterrent to real investments in R&D; it removes the whole market signal reward to encourage competition and real innovation. Why waste your profit margin when your risks & costs are so well covered?

    • Correct, ecoG.
      Wind “farms” would be more accurately called subsidy “farms”. It is only the subsidies that give the wind companies any value at all.

  29. BJ Hanssen (@BJHanssen)

    August 26, 2014 at 3:54 am

    You show a completelack of understanding of the problem which would take too long to explain to one whose thought processes lack the speed.

    Think : suitable technology to invest in right now: Cost to the economies of the west while the east are gaining : Damage to the quality of life for all western countries and poor countries, etc.

    I am not against renewables I’m against stupidity !!

  30. People pay for coal brought to the power plant (and to pay the lease on the land). People pay for wind by bringing the collector, turbine, and power grid to the mountain ridge (and pay for the lease on the land).

    Ric Werne: Don’t forget the pognon (french)

  31. Watching the video is interesting because, here in Sw France, the gov want to put wind turbines in the middle of the forests. Did you see those flares coming away from the turbine ? Oh, and as in the US, the thurbine crimes are ignored. Normally, you must replant all the trees to cut down or cause to be cut down on a sperate piece of conserved land but that has been waved for the turbine companies.

  32. So the technology is not production ready and taxpayers and energy consumers are subsidising the testing to destruction of expensive hardware.

    Seems fair /sarc

  33. There are tens of thousands of these machines out there, having a few with issues seems appropriate given the size and complexity. As far as the cost, pretty much EVERY technology required government to assist it getting started. When gas natural prices are higher wind actually starts to make economic sense. The EROI shows wind as one of the more competitive approaches. I also believe that they are under estimating the life of these machines, the typical life could probably be doubled or more, thus the EROI would be even more competitive.

    Any issues typically only require a year or two to work out, I see no reason these machines would be any different than automobiles, which sometimes have new approaches that require some time to work out the bugs.

  34. Brinelling is the tip of the wind turbine iceberg that could be helped if they could find a lubricant able to avoid it being squeezed out at the lowest point of the arc when the shaft bearing stops rotating. As it stands there is no lubricant available now or likely to be available in the future because the load is immense the fluid technology just does not exist.

    More critically as of now there are about 100,000 wind turbines across the planet which generate about 2% of the total global electricity demand and this has taken about 25+ years to achieve. As they only last about 20 years by the time another 100,000 are installed the first 100,000 will become obsolete, beyond repair or just flailing in the wind so will we ever get past wind ever generating more than 2%, I think not but for Siemens the pretence that we need more will keep them in business seemingly forever, the question is can culpable politicians continue to promote the myth laden propaganda whilst temperatures flat line and may even fall just one more harsh winter in Europe with frozen turbines across Germany may be enough to start the rot.

    Germany burns the same volume of coal now as in 1970 in spite of spending Euros 600 billion on wind and solar, if they cant make it work then who can?

    • How many of the “100,000 wind turbines across the planet” are actually operational? The one thing I’ve noticed when driving through the Altamont Pass is how many of the multitudes of wind turbines are no longer operational. For the amount of power wind turbines generate I’ll bet we’ll find they require a lot more maintenance than than conventional means of generating power, and that maintenance costs a lot more, too.

  35. A grille round each rotor might stop birds being killed?

    [url]http://dailycaller.com/2014/05/01/bird-enthusiasts-to-sue-feds-for-allowing-wind-turbines-to-kill-eagles-for-30-years/[/url]

  36. BJ Hanssen (@BJHanssen) August 26, 2014 at 3:54 am

    All energy production technology has technological limitations to be overcome. Internal combustion engines have been constantly improved since their inception simply to overcome known limitations of their design. Gearboxes, carburators and different engine geometries and mechanisms (2-stroke, 4-stroke etc) were early examples of leaps in technology to overcome existing issues.
    ==========================

    BJ– You’re making a false equivalency. All new technologies improve through innovation, but throughout their life cycle, the technology is still superior to the alternative of not using it…

    Wind/Solar are not viable technologies because other alternatives are far superior in every respect.

    In a free-market economy, wind/solar would not exist except for specialized niche applications.

    The only reason wind/solar are wastefully utilized at current levels is because of the $billions in government subsidies. Without these market distorting subsidies, wind/solar would be just be very niche-market technologies.

  37. Persistent problem: Axial cracking

    Despite all the recent improvements, one major cause of gearbox-bearing failures is axial cracking, sometimes called white-etch cracking for the irregular white areas that appear when affected bearing surfaces are chemically etched and examined under micrographs. Axial bearing cracking consists of lengthwise cracks on the bearing’s inner ring along the roller path. The cracks form in gearboxes from all manufacturers, on turbines in disparate installations. For reasons that remain unclear, axial-cracking failures usually arise in bearings that support gears of the intermediate and high-speed stages.

    In contrast, axial-cracking failures have only been observed for the last 20 or so years in just a few industries, so they aren’t fully understood — and GL calculations don’t factor for their effects. But axial-cracking failure is common. It happens at stress levels much lower than those that cause rolling-contact fatigue. Plus, it typically happens within the first couple years of turbine operation.

    http://machinedesign.com/mechanical-drives/bearing-failures-cause-serious-problems-wind-turbines-there-are-solutions

  38. ulickstafford

    Your very good post at August 26, 2014 at 5:11 am says in total

    BJHanssen commented as if wind technology was new and the issues will be sorted like issues with internal combustion engines.

    This ignores the fact that wind energy is a very old technology – 14th century perhaps. It was abandoned in the 19th century in Holland for pumping water in favor of fossil fuels. I don’t believe the Dutch are reverting to windmills for land drainage.

    Modern materials might improve wind energy slightly but will not overcome the fundamental faults – low energy density and variable wind speeds. This article highlights the difficulties of making massive windmills. Unless the design of windmills changes fundamentally it is difficult to see how it could ever become cost effective. I expect that by the time fossil fuels become scarce and rise in price improvements in nuclear energy (thorium, fusion?) and possibly solar will cause them to be preferred to wind.

    Wind power is much older than you suggest.

    Wind energy powered most of the world’s shipping for thousands of years. Primitive wind turbines powered pumps (notably in the Netherlands and England) and mills throughout Europe for centuries.

    There are a number of types of wind turbines
    They are divided into Vertical-Axis and Horizontal-Axis types.

    Vertical-axis windmills to mill corn were first developed by the Persians around 1500BC, and they were still in use in the 1970’s in the Zahedan region. Sails were mounted on a boom attached to a shaft that turned vertically.

    The technology had spread to Northern Africa and Spain by 500 BC.

    Low-speed, vertical-axis windmills are still popular in Finland because they operate without adjustment when the direction of the wind changes. These inefficient Finnish wind turbines are usually made from a 200 litre oil drum split in half and are used to pump water and to aerate land.

    Low speed vertical-axis windmills for water pumping and air compressing are commercially available.

    The horizontal-axis wind turbine was invented in Egypt and Greece around 300 BC. It had 8 to 10 wooden beams rigged with sails, and a rotor which turned perpendicular to the wind direction.

    This type of wind turbine later became popular in Portugal and Greece.

    Around 1200 AD, the crusaders built and developed the post-mill for milling grain. The turbine was mounted on a vertical post and could be rotated on top the post to keep the turbine facing the wind. This post-mill technology was first adopted for electricity generation in Denmark in the late 1800’s.

    The technology soon spread to the U.S. where it was used to pump water and to irrigate crops across the Great Plains.

    During World War I, some American farmers rigged wind turbines to each generate 1 kW of DC current. Such wind turbines were mounted on buildings and towers.

    On western farms and railroad stations, wind turbines for pumping water were between 6 and 16m high and had 2 to 3m diameter. With 15kmh wind speed, a 2m-diameter turbine operating a 60cm diameter pump cylinder could lift 200 litres of water per hour to a height of 12m. A 4m diameter turbine could lift 250 litres per hour to a height of 38m.

    Clearly, there are niche markets for wind turbines in some remote locations to this day where e.g. water needs to be pumped. But wind turbines were abandoned for most uses when the greater energy intensity in fossil fuels became available to do work by use of the steam engine.

    Wind turbines are ancient technology which originated 1500 years before Christ, was developed for electricity generation in the 1800s, but was generally abandoned in favour of the superior steam engine.

    Richard

    • I’m looking out my back door and across the paddock at the moment at a metal windmill (8-10 m high) that is used to pump water into a cattle trough. Perhaps out of nostalgia, but more likely frugality, the grazier rescued and refurbished the windmill from another property where, until recently, there was no alternative and affordable source of power. It has 20 blades each about 2m long and other than greasing the bearings (a somewhat difficult and dangerous job), seems to need no maintenance. I doubt that the windmill new would be cost effective compared to a diesel or electric pump, but it is certainly less noisy and hasn’t killed a single bird as far as I can tell.

    • Wind turbines are ancient technology which originated 1500 years before Christ, was developed for electricity generation in the 1800s, but was generally abandoned in favour of the superior steam engine.

      Richard, you are close. But your words are more accurately
      Wind turbines are ancient technology which originated 1500 years before Christ, were adapted for low voltage, low amperage, single-farm, single-family, simple-circuit electricity generation in the early 1900-1920’s, and were immediately and completely abandoned in favour of the superior steam engine and central power generation as soon as the power lines could be brought to each farm.

      Windmills can pump water from shallow depths, can generate a little bit of electricity over limited periods of time. They DO work, and ARE a good idea IF – and ONLY IF – you have no other choice. Condemning the world’s poor and hungry to wind turbines because elite liberal over-educated whites living in protected cities under air conditioning and heating from cenralpower plants with centrally-pumped purified and sterilized water running in steel pipes from electrically-driven pumps is merely condemning those poor to an early death.

      So the liberal over-educated but guilty elites can “feel better” about climate change.

  39. http://evolution.skf.com/premature-bearing-failures-in-wind-gearboxes-and-white-etching-cracks-wec/

    Much premature wind gearbox bearing damage results in a failure mode that is not caused by the classic rolling contact fatigue (RCF) mechanisms (fig. 2). While these classic mechanisms are sub-surface initiated fatigue as well as surface initiated fatigue and can be predicted by standard bearing-life calculation methods (refer to ISO 281 and ISO/TR 1281-2), premature crack failures are not covered by these methods.

  40. @ BJ Hanssen

    Whilst the Daily Mail is (rightly) lampooned for some of their shoddy reporting, they do cover many aspects of subjects such as this which other papers do not. Perhaps that is the reason you don’t like it?

    As for the stresses large wind turbines are subjected to – I wonder how much attention is paid to the the changes in wind speed & direction present at low levels? As a (former) pilot I have first hand experience of this. With the size of machines now typical, I suggest that in many situations each blade can be subjected to considerable variations during each rotation. I regularly used to encounter inversions whilst climbing after take off, and again when descending to land. These often occurred between 3-700 ft above ground – exactly the range the blade tips are now operating in.

    Then you have to consider the general turbulence created by trees & buildings, to say nothing of adjacent turbines! It’s little wonder that failures occur…

  41. The wind turbine industry is superb in just a couple of fields, that of chopping up bats, birds and OPM in very large amounts and very inefficiently and thats about it!.

    When those British entrepreneurs who created the Great Industrial Revolution which is ongoing to this day and now creates a better life for at least 90% of the global population, finally got their hands on those first, extremely dangerous, grossly inefficient steam engines in the very late 1600′,s they got to hell out of that 3000 year old wind power with all it’s known technology just as fast as they could and for darn good reasons.
    Steam gave them a steady reliable controllable power source compared to wind, power, a reliable controllable source of power that was desperately needed to power the new spinning jennys and weaving looms that were so dependent for their operation and their potential efficiencies on such a steady reliable, predictable source of power..

    Now the greens and associated eco- loons want to try and force our 24 hours a day, seven days a week, fifty two weeks a year civilisation which is entirely built on that cheap reliable power source and totally reliant on it to now return to the totally unrliable, unpredictable, immensly costly and inefficient, rural peoples health, bird and bat destroying, 24% efficiency wind turbines that those first industrialists after some 2000 or 3000 years of accumulated experience with wind power, abandoned at the very first opportunity..

    The wind scammers want to force us to return to the Dark Ages in the most literal sense imaginable. .

    [ OPM = Other Peoples Money ]

  42. I see we have wind energy trolls and shills spewing the usual lies about wind energy. The truth is that it is probably the dumbest, least cost-effective, and environmentally-damaging of all the “renewables”, none of which are economically viable.

  43. @ BJ Hannsen
    “The public wants renewables…”
    Really? I was always under the impression that the public and society at large want cheap reliable power. Frankly, there is nothing wrong/unethical or undesirable about that. It may be inconvenient for those with ‘agendas’ based on marginal political ideals but until there is conclusive evidence that these magical renewables prove to be both cheap and reliable then any politically imposed mandate on their adoption is detrimental to the public good.

  44. BJ Hanssen
    “…the fossil fuel industry is *massively* subsidised.”

    ————————————–

    No they are not, so you ar either using the term “subsidized” *massively* [loosely], are ignorant, or you are dishonest. Whatever the case that one statement forces me to ignore the rest of our comment.

  45. BJHanssen says: “I mean, the current uptick in renewable energy production is just market forces at work. The public wants renewables, and the market is in a place where it obviously pays.”
    ==============

    It is not market forces at work. When states pass laws saying there must be 20 or more per cent of the energy use in the state from renewables that is not a market force. And as for people wanting renewables they only want them because of the lies being told about CO2 and how good renewables are. Lies are not market forces either.

    Lets undo all the laws first and tell people there is no reason to restrict or reduce fossil fuel use then we will see real market forces and find out if people still want them.

  46. On BBC ‘Costing the Earth’ a few weeks ago the head engineer of Siemens stated that the next generation of windmills will have 640 magnets – instead of the current 2. Guess that will solve the bearings problem. But ‘surprisingly’ the enviro journalist omitted to ask him the crucial question.
    Won’t this massively increase the environmental pollution from rare earth mining in China?

    Which is ironic really as the theme of the programme was the Chinese incredibly poor environmental standards from such extraction and processing. Basically they just take the top off a mountain, dissolve it in acid in lagoons, use other chemicals to remove the material they need and walk away without any clean up at all.

  47. This item in The Times today highlights the way loony green interventionism can so easily bring the energy component of an advanced Industrialised economy to its knees:

    ‘the mood among Big Six (UK energy companies) has turned to wearied resignation and they welcomed the investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority as a chance to “clear the air”.

    The truth is that investment dried up months before the CMA was even a glint in the eye of Ed Davey, the energy secretary. Power generators were already struggling to respond to increasing intervention from the state.

    Most gas plants are loss-making because of a slump in wholesale electricity prices. The rapid expansion in heavily subsidised wind and solar farms means that gas plants operate only at night, or when the wind does not blow.

    Despite warnings from Ofgem (UK energy regulator) that in the winter of 2015 Britain’s total generating capacity could only be 2 per cent above peak demand, it is uneconomic to build new gas plants. Under the government’s green energy reforms, virtually every type of generator will receive subsidies funded by levies on consumer bills — a system that makes a mockery of the concept of a freely functioning market.

    “The industry is at a series of crossroads. Renewables are eating the lunch of fossil fuel plants. The government’s reforms are massive state interference that effectively treats the private sector as the delivery body for the state,” Peter Atherton, an analyst from Liberum Capital, said.
    Given the extent of intervention which exists, an investigation by the CMA is not such a big leap.

    Ho Hum……..

  48. Pssst. Find out what energy source they use to manufacture the turbines and bearings (hint: it’s not wind)…and use that for everything.

    Energy sources don’t need to be renewable or sustainable. Nothing is for keeps, nothing ever peaks. Something is good for a while, then something else comes along – which is why your should never have stocked up on mast timbers and whale oil.

    Coal too shall pass. In the meantime, use this critical resource with care, respect and thrift. Modernise and improve coal power gen. Conserve coal. Don’t waste it by leaving it the ground or by burning it in old clunkers. You’ll need coal to help dismantle and cart away renewables – just like you needed it to manufacture and supplement renewables.

  49. beng
    August 26, 2014 at 5:37 am

    > Maybe instead of a single overhung bearing, they need to go to a double-bearing — a bearing on both sides of the rotor-hub.

    I.e. mount the rotor on something like an upside-down bicycle fork? Then you have two vertical supports to interfere with the wind and wake. I suspect it will cause big problems with infrasonics, which are already disastrous, and will mean significant redesign of the yaw mechanism due to the much longer moment arm.

    The tradeoffs may be necessary though.

  50. It would appear that axial cracking is one of the main problems, and that it is not covered by standard engineering design methods, because it is a relatively new problem. for reasons not well understood the problem is limited to just a few industries, and wind turbines gearboxes appear to be one of the worst affected.

    this suggests it is not simply a bearing problem, but a combination of factors. perhaps a new industrial process was introduced 20 years ago to build/install/operate bearings, which is causing a previously unknown mode of failure in specific applications.

  51. A reader above asked about road closure/public access closure due to failing blades flailing in the breeze: Yes, the links in the main story lead directly to a UTube video of the roads in California’s Tehachapi Pass being closed “regularly” because (older) wind turbines have lost their brakes. In that story, the TV news reader claims “newer” models rotate (yaw) out of the wind to prevent blade destruction, but fails to mentions the extreme cost of dismantling the thousands of old turbines.

    Wind turbine lifetimes of 20 years? BS. 2–4 years with poor maintenance, 3-8 years then a complete rebuild with good maintenance. (The rebuild does NOT require replacing the tower, but DOES require changing out all of the tower and housing internals … 300 feet up in the air.

    Additional wind turbine failure examples: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppLh5pGX3qQ#t=13

  52. Re my comment earlier it was a BBC World Service science programme ‘Elements’ 19 March 2014.
    Listen from 16.20 minutes in. If you have an interest in wind turbines well worth a listen.

  53. In buidling enterprise business systems, there is a concept called “total cost of ownership”, which includes the cost of building the system, and very importantly the cost of maintaining it annually. The term renewable is based on the idea that the sun and wind are infinite and fossil fuels finite. Well nothing is infinite and we really do not know if 5 centuries from now what it’s all going to be, maybe we find a way to use fossil fuels 1000% more effciently, or a metorite the size of bus hits the earth and wipes out most of civilization. Who knows, what we do know is that the components harnessing sun and wind are not renewable, just replaceable at a cost.

    This is true of all systems nucleur, fossil, renewable, and the like. Making cost of energy comparisons without taking “total cost of ownership” into account is foolish.

  54. They are using the wrong material for the bearings. Where are the engineers these days? Sometimes having balls of steel just isn’t good enough.

  55. A double bearing only partly solves the issue. Yes, it works for the cantilevered moment issue (the over-hung mass of the blades placing angular loading on the bearing) however it doesn’t fix the pure side load especially during non-rotating idle time. These probably aren’t ‘ball’ bearings anyway, heavier loads are more likely supported by ‘needle’ bearings where the spherical balls are replaced by rotating shafts/rods. these provide a much larger load-bearing surface.

  56. Hanssen said – well doesn’t matter, TL;DR.

    If we were being asked to fund ONE pilot windmill so they can experiment with bearings, I’d grumble and say “why doesn’t GE fund their pilot plant.” But I MIGHT acknowledge a potential public interest in funding research.

    Why was the 2nd uneconomic, dysfunctional windmill ever built in a country then? Were the people told that $1bn a day was being spent on things that didn’t work properly? Why didn’t we just wait for these great technological breakthroughs before buying the ones with bearings made of unobtainium?

  57. I thought some turbines were motored when there was no wind for prolonged periods, as I have seen several turbines tuning very slowly when there was not a breath of wind. Doing this does mean they probably use more power than they ever generate but we won’t talk about that!
    I heard someone the other day saying “they’er not green they’re white! I have never seen a green wind turbine”

    James Bull

  58. The thing that keeps the wind mills working is not so much the bearings but the “re-election grease” that keeps these tax payer fraud wind mills turning.

    They spin, and push the power along power lines but mean old man resistance just uses most of the power up before it gets to a air conditioner. The electricty speeds along at the speed of light, but all that speed does upset the little bitty atoms who resist no matter what the payoff is to the fraud operations in the U.S. Congress.

  59. @BJ Hanssen:

    The subsidy claim was debunked in the comments following these comments:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/08/17/nobody-expects-the-spanish-solar-inquisition/#comment-1710983

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/08/25/big-winds-latest-deceitful-ad-campaign/#comment-1717360

    Here’s a balanced and worthwhile extract from the Daily Mail article:

    So how many windmills have been abandoned across the U.S.? It is an intensely sensitive subject for wind enthusiasts, who will quibble that it depends on how you define ‘abandoned’.

    They wouldn’t, for instance, count ones that are working again today, even if they were switched off for years. They also argue that many of those that were left to rust were technologically outdated and set for the scrapheap anyway.

    Wind power sceptics estimate 14,000 turbines across the U.S. have become derelict since the Eighties, while there are around 38,000 in operation across the country.

    Paul Gipe claims the number abandoned in his state of California is around 4,500, of which 500 are still standing.

  60. From the original post:”Suggestions the industry is trying to conceal the scale of the turbine fire problem” (citation omitted)

    The article cited says there are 120 wind turbine fires annually out of 200,000 turbines worldwide. One fire per every 1,666 turbines. If the expected life of a turbine is 10 years, that means a 0.6% chance that sometime in its life it will catch fire. That does not seem to be a rate that is of cataclysmic importance to the industry.

    Every time one of these articles comes out, the opponents all decry every technical problem as being cataclysmic and impossible to overcome. Extra bearing maintenance is just another technical problem. All equipment has to be maintained. Maintenance is part of the cost of the project, known in advance. In the scale of investment in these projects, maintenance is not a large fraction of the initial present worth of the project. An increase in maintenance cost will not be of great importance.

    All the technical problems can be overcome. They are overcome every day. It’s unfortunate that subsides skew the evaluation of the economic evaluation but it remains that wind power is a technically viable energy source.

  61. BJHanson says “I mean, the current uptick in renewable energy production is just market forces at work. The public wants renewables, and the market is in a place where it obviously pays.”
    In my state the local power company is REQUIRED to provide some percentage of “green” power. To meet this they recently purchased a couple broken down wind farms that were all put up with subsidies. Now I have to pay for your cause, instead of YOU paying for your own cause. Right out of the liberal playbook, nothing to with science, finance, or good ideas. Please use your own money for your own great ideas, thanks.

  62. Life cycle costs rule – bearings are critical
    Extremely high durability bearings HAVE been developed. – by Pratt & Whitney – for a $> 1 billion RD&D investment.
    The Billion-Dollar Bet On Jet Tech That’s Making Flying More Efficient

    While UTC’s Connecticut archrival, General Electric, went with higher combustion temperatures, Chênevert, at Pratt at the time, backed a seemingly riskier solution of putting a gearbox on the front of the engine to slow down the turbine shaft and drive the fan. If it worked the new engines would cut fuel burn by more than 15% compared with competing turbojets and produce half the noise, allowing airlines to push more flights through urban airports. . . .
    The addition of the Fan Drive Gear System added only seven moving parts, but the 18-inch-diameter gearbox had to be engineered to withstand thousands of high-stress takeoffs and landings without maintenance. . . .
    With 3,000 orders in the 24 months since the PurePower Geared Turbofan engine was unveiled, it is proving to be one of the most successful launches in the history of the aircraft business, expected to double Pratt’s jet engine revenues–about $12.2 billion in 2010–by 2020.

    Wind turbine companies need to persuade Pratt to license its ultra reliable bearing technology.

    • I think the problem is going to be cost, not that Pratt won’t license the technology. Pratt probably farmed out bearing development to a subcontractor here in CT, more than likely, New Balance or whatever they are calling themselves now. I interviewed there a long time ago and they were doing amazing things with carbide coated balls then.

  63. Total Cost of Ownership is a key component of calculating the true business case (Net Present Value) of any initiative. The other trick is identifying “incremental” value over current options (fossil fuels) because they are the default option in this case. Most people fail at one or more of those three concepts (TCO, NPV, identifying “incremental” from “absolute”).

    The only benefit of government subsidized renewables with negative business cases is that it does spur the development of these technologies such that problems with TCO such as the one identified in this article can perhaps be overcome in shorter timeframe. That being said, one could argue that subsidies undermine the incentive to solve some problems as well by propping the technologies up artificially.

  64. Turns out that energy ignorance is apparently epidemic amongst U.S. Senate Democrats – years ago Max Baucus (who, unbelievably, was chairman of the Senate Energy committee) claimed that wind turbines would put OPEC out of business, not realizing that, even back then, virtually no electricity was being produced using oil based fuels. The other day, Chuck Schumer gave the same reason as one of the benefits of wind power.
    Hawaii would seem the perfect spot for wind turbines, not only because of the tradewinds, but because Hawaii has to import the oil and coal to run her power plants and the costs produces the highest rates in the United States, at 38 cents per kilowatthour, three times the national average, and more than twice as much as the next most expensive U.S. electric rates.

    • When my wife and I did a vacation on the Big Island a few years ago, we were struck by the large number of rusting, abandoned wind farms we saw while driving around the island. I guess the subsidies gave out.

  65. @ BJ Hanssen (@BJHanssen)
    Upi ask a reasonable question:
    “Why not support the development of renewables?”
    Here are some perspectives to answer this question.
    – “Renewable energy” is a misnomer, all energy costs a lot. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch (TANSTAAFL).
    – Wind and solar have become rent seeking, if not moral hazard, based industries.
    – If wind is to be viable, it must be developed privately. government subsidy distorts the r&d cycle, as we see, and leaves it vulnerable to government financial changes. Think of Spain sumping solar.
    – The wind industry in particular has been deceptive in its claims of safety, enviro impact (birds, etc. ), stated capacity vs. actual output, financials and economics.

  66. These windmills are used to mark the position of subsidy farms their investors have no interest in the provision of energy, only in harvesting subsidies which currently provide an unrivaled government guaranteed return on investment, any energy output is just a byproduct of the subsidy farming. As soon as the subsidies start to reduce or the government guarantees go the way of all such guarantees, the investors will move their money to another area where there are guaranteed returns on investment. With no money invested the life-cycle costs become unsustainable, the company running the subsidy farm declares bankruptcy and the dead and corroding windmills will remain as towering monuments to political stupidity.

  67. “Maybe instead of a single overhung bearing, they need to go to a double-bearing — a bearing on both sides of the rotor-hub.”

    That would nearly double the friction, reducing efficiency greatly.

  68. Chris4692 technically viable maybe but at what cost? Economically viable certainly not especially when you consider that coal, gas and nuclear can function 24/7. Of course wind and solar could function without backup if you are prepared to accept that as in Germany during winter 2012/13 when for three months I believe all of their wind and solar failed to generate just one MW of electricity, exactly how do essential services function under that regime? Take just one example exactly how do you run a hospital 24/7 on an interruptible supply of electricity without fossil fuel backup and if you have access to fossil fuel why have wind turbines when all they do is add to the cost, why run two systems in tandem, exactly what is the purpose, tell me why when as in the case of Germany their Co2 continues to rise simply because of the excessive ramping necessary to ensure the viability of wind and solar. Effectively German home owners are paying an excessive price for electricity just to promote the myth that being green is viable when without backup from 16,000 Czechoslovakian and thousands of German brown coal miners German industry the pillar of its thriving economy would die the same day. Why would you want to overcome the technical idiocies of wind turbines presumably to protect the jobs of Siemens workers at the cost of Czech workers I presume.

  69. Andrew said on August 26, 2014 at 7:05 am

    “If we were being asked to fund ONE pilot windmill so they can experiment with bearings, I’d grumble and say “why doesn’t GE fund their pilot plant.” But I MIGHT acknowledge a potential public interest in funding research.”

    And this is precisely the point that the greens do not want to admit: most green technologies are not yet proven to the point that life-cycle costs are known. Yet they want to place unproven technologies into mass production anyway.

    I will once again restate to obvious (to anyone who has a rudimentary education and an open mind). If the present value of the energy generated (less the present value of all costs, including maintenance, transmission, buffering and backup) is less than the present value of all future energy derived, then any such project amounts to a destruction of wealth.

    Without vastly increasing the price of energy, almost all solar and wind projects fall under this category. Given that fact, perhaps prototypes and testing may be justified, but wholesale production amounts to nothing less than the steady institutionalized deconstruction of a society that took generations of hard work and sacrifice to build.

  70. This story fits well with the nuclear industry cost overruns with rate payers as the patsies and long-term waste handling costs of nuclear with and without the Yucca Mountain disposal site. Have they checked the O-rings?

  71. @ Chris4692 –

    Picture the wailing and gnashing of teeth that would result from one out of every 1,666 cars on the road catching fire in its lifetime. We’d have every news outlet and opportunist politician calling for their immediate destruction.

  72. @David L. Hagen
    Well, sure, if the wind towers get the monitoring and maintenance cycle of a jet. When you look at the operating hours TBO & to mandatory retirement vs the Windmill required life cycle, and the additions to an already absurd cost benefit ratio for wind. it, pardon the expression, won’t fly.

    Jets – High technology – high cost – high value – intensive use – profitable.
    Windmills ? – ? – ? – ? – ?

    When stuff only works when you abandon common business practice & common sense, then only politicians and zealots will support it.

    Like so many proposed magin machines, everything will work perfectly if it can be made of unobtanium.

  73. Having designed a heck of a lot of things with bearings in them over several decades I feel for the guys trying to solve this one. Just to help place the problem in context, here are few general problems with bearings:

    They have far less resistance to impact/loading when they are not turning. This is not the lubrication problem mentioned above, that is additional. A gust of wind, especially on part of the blade, is a terrible thing to cope with even when turning.

    The shafts are being twisted sideways and the comments about wind shear and inversions of direction are relevant (because the diameter is so large relative to the centre height). If the main shaft has a constantly higher torque ‘back’ at the top compared with the bottom, it bends the main shaft down in the centre enough to stress the bearings ‘sideways’, even though the average load is apparently within limits. Everything bends. A huge stationary gas turbine main shaft will bend permanently if it left sitting still for more than a month.

    Usually the wind is speediest higher off the ground. The blades reach the top one by one and have maximum torque at that point (only) so the power delivered is far from smooth. It is three-jerks-per-turn with the peak torque applied when the tip is at the top. This is very similar to the problem faced by Darius Rotor designers. The torque applied to the main shaft goes from zero to massive to zero in 90 degrees, followed by a second burst, both from one blade (assuming there are two) while the other coasts. Then the other blade does the same things as it rotates into the wind. The stresses on the root of the blade are huge and early ‘egg beaters’ flew to pieces, broken at the root of the blade. The Canadian NRC tried diagonal bracing as can be seen in the 4 MW versions from the 70’s in Miquelon. My point is that gear-up boxes and bearings hate being pulsed. The pattern of wear shows up in the outer race as sort-of-dents (waves) which then start hammering the balls or rollers to death. Given the number of blades, the gear ratios and the bearing dimensions, you can calculate how many dents there will be in the circumference of the bearing.

    The lower blade passes the tower and there is always a disturbance in The Force when it does because the tower disrupts airflow. This adds a beat frequency to the main shaft. It happens when the effect at the top is not taking place. Egad, it is a mess.

    I think the axial fracturing is plain overloading while running. It creates a loose bar through the centre of the rollers.

    These things are just too big for the materials available. Small mills work fine for decades. Basically they are saying that if they put in bearings big enough to work properly, they absorb too much energy. How much energy is ‘absorbed’ by each failure? The technology is being rolled out before it has been perfected and it is going to kill the industry. I happen to like wind generators – they have a place, like islands – but this is stupid.

  74. Part of the bearing problem, is blade fatigue and failure. I noticed a small wind farm yesterday, with three partly bladeless turbines (birdstrikes, hail, general fatigue??). But if turbines are shedding bits of blade, that puts a huge stress on the bearing, until the thing can be feathered and braked to a halt.

    Do turbines stop automatically, if they detect too much vibration, or does it have to be done manually? If the latter, then a great deal of mechanical damage will be done before the thing is brought to a halt.

    Ralph

  75. Question for BJ Hanssen :

    What are these “oil company subsidies” you speak of? How can an industry that is hugely taxed, be also subsidized to a meaningful degree?

    I tried searching the web for descriptions of these “subsidies” and all I found was lists of nonsense saying that oil companies are subsidized because?:
    – They are allowed to use public roads
    – They are taxed on net profit, rather than gross?
    They are allowed to deduct business expenses before paying taxes? every other business does that, you know.
    – the “externalities” – but since everyone benefits from the use of fuels, WE are the cause of those “externalities”, not the oil company.

    The amounts claimed to be subsidized are pretty ridiculous, “Oil co. subsidies” are an often used argument in favor of subsidized stupidity, it would seem like someone would publish a credible list?</b?

  76. I’ve been hearing of ceramic bearings replacing steel in some applications – high end bicycle wheels for example. I wonder why this is not a problem in things like steam generators? Is it the weight of the blades on the wind turbin?

  77. Chris 4692 says ..”but it remains that wind power is a technically viable energy source.” This I am sorry to say is not a very useful statement. Everything is technically viable at a cost unless there is an attempt to break the physical laws of nature which means it simply cannot be done. Viability is a function of context and in our world that includes economics.

  78. @ Jim G –

    Any engineer worth his salt could indeed predict this.

    The problem is that the engineer would get overruled by the manager who is only concerned with the subsidies padding the bottom line for long enough for him to grab the cash and get away.

  79. Dave Ward mentioned the problems of vibration and this seems to be what is killing wind turbine bearings.
    Not only are the aerodynamic stresses of changing wind speeds and directions large but its now becoming apparent that damage to the rotor leading edges in service cause not only a loss of efficiency but out of balance forces that can quickly become very damaging. In large turbines we are talking about long (100m) wings that are very lightweight and slender. All it takes is a small nick in the aerofoil to produce less lift in one blade. That can cause heavy vibrations in the bearing and lead to premature failure. Such nicks are hard to spot and treat being tens of metres off the ground.Icing can also cause such problems especially when the blades start shedding ice.

    These vibrations are also often the source of the complaints of noise and disturbed sleep patterns from people near large turbine installations

  80. Fact is, if the wind farm industry had to do a real EIS, they wouldn’t be allowed to build.

  81. BJ Hanssen (@BJHanssen) August 26, 2014 at 3:54 am
    Even if you are not an AGW believer, I don’t understand why you would be against developing renewables.
    _________________________

    Because they do not work, and their intermittency will bring any nation to its knees. You cannot run a 24/7 society in intermittent power, and there is no feasible storage system, without using fossil fuel backup on spinning reserve. See this analysis, written in 2004.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/05/25/renewable-energy-–-our-downfall

    If you want to destroy the economy of a nation, and thereby destroy the wealth and living standards of its people, then please do campaign for renewables. But if you have the slightest concern and regard for the future of your children, then I might suggest you look at nuclear fusion and/or nuclear LFTR.

    Ralph

  82. @ Tilo –

    The problem is the sheer size of the components involved. When you’re talking about a bicycle wheel bearing with a shaft diameter of maybe a centimeter, it’s a completely different animal than a wind turbine with a shaft maybe 200 times bigger. The production methods just don’t scale.

  83. Ric Werme August 26, 2014 at 5:20 am
    In some sense, all energy is free, however the cost of converting it to something useful is expensive.
    _________________________________

    So is petrol ‘free’ it is just sitting there in the ground. But I seem to have to pay a great deal for it.
    So is water ‘free’ it just falls from the sky. But I seem to have to pay a great deal for it.
    So are fish ‘free’ they are just swimming around. But I seem to have to pay a great deal for them.
    So is nuclear power ‘free’ the raw material is just sitting there in the ground. But I seem to have to pay a great deal for it.

    Ralph

  84. ConfusedPhoton

    The huge subsidies being pumped into renewables is not “market forces”. Most people are here are not against renewables but their inefficiencies and their massive subsidies! Without long term sudsidies they was remain a minor blip in world energy production.

    Even with these subsidies they are hardly an impressive method of power generation. Also wind power isn’t “new” it is literally “prehistoric”. Could be a better idea to use the money for nuclear research.

  85. Worked for the local Electric Uitlity for almost 20 years. 7 years into working there, they knuckled under to the enviros and “co-financed” (i.e., paid part and thru the rest on the tax-payers, SUCKERS!!) 100, 1 mega watt Wind Turbines. They put them up IN A LINE (making even more costly maintenance) along 7 to 10 miles of a “ridge” on the western side of the state.

    Problem is, all us engineering types had access to the “over all system operations” log book (active and historical) on our PC’s. By the time I left, there was 11 years out of 14 year of operation logged, including the total (average) output.

    That was 8.7 MW out of 100 MW capacity. Now to be fair, the windiest days had 45 to 58 MW, so we think the devices were over rated.

    BUT titularily the “capacity factor” was 8.7%. And with the 100 million PLUS (Installed cost also…more like 150 million) the end result with standard “amortization”, would be a cost of about $1.25 per KWHr. Raising a $100 a month electric bill to $1500 a month.

    OUCH! Can we say massive economic fraud???

  86. Tilo asked

    ” I wonder why this is not a problem in things like steam generators? Is it the weight of the blades on the wind turbin?”

    Steam turbines have several advantages over Wind Turbines.

    1) Weight is not a problem, The tteam turbine can have massive bearings with a complex lubrication and filtering system.

    2) The diameter of the turbine rotor is a couple of orders of magnitude smaller than that of a large wind turbine.

    3) The steam turbine typically operates at a fixed speed in a controlled environment

    4) The steam turbine has been in use for around 120 years and is a mature technology.

    That said if a turbine does have aproblem the results can be dramatic and even lethal.
    usually casualties are confined to the power station itself but the failure of one early turbine in London killed a man on a passing bus.

  87. LeeHarvey
    August 26, 2014 at 7:52 am

    @ Chris4692 –

    Picture the wailing and gnashing of teeth that would result from one out of every 1,666 cars on the road catching fire in its lifetime. We’d have every news outlet and opportunist politician calling for their immediate destruction.

    But wind turbines are not automobiles. They normally operate with no one around, with little risk of injury or death due to its failure. A catastrophic failure rate of 0.06 percent adds an expected cost of $6,000 per million dollars invested. That is not a large cost in a large project.

  88. David L. Hagen August 26, 2014 at 7:27 am
    The Billion-Dollar Bet On Jet Tech That’s Making Flying More Efficient.
    _______________________________

    The geared fan concept for jet engines….

    Alternatively, you could buy a Rolls Royce Trent. Rolls have been making a twin-shaft aero-engine design for decades, which more accurately match the fan-speed with turbine-speed.

    Nevertheless a fully geared fan, with a much larger fan-size, can indeed give additional fuel efficiencies. But if you make such a design, you will need to give it a catchy name. Let’s think, what could we call it??

    I know – a turboprop……. ;-)

    Ralph

  89. Spin all you like but very, very little wind made electricty gets to the meters, all used up getting down the lines but not to a metered use ever, in fact they keep workers doing busy work on them when the real electric power grid needs the work done as it carries the real metered load total.

  90. @jeff at 8:02 am
    I tried searching the web for descriptions of these “subsidies”…. it would seem like someone would publish a credible list?

    Here is a link to a post of mine on ClimateEct, (Rasey: 10/22/12 11:14am It is a summary of a comment thread to a Wall Street Journal piece, The Energy Subsidy Tally, WSJ Aug. 17, 2012

    Of the claim that $4 billion/yr subsidies go to the oil companies, from government documents it breaks down as:
    – 65% is in ethanol blending subsidy to refiners to PAY them to blend ethanol into gasoline.
    – – – (is this an a) oil subsidy, b) agricultural subsidy, c) green energy subsidy, d) other, e) a combination of any or all the above?)
    – 30% is in the difference between percentage and cost depletion
    – – – (a fiction. If you eliminated percentage depletion, you would financially force mineral rights holders to sell their rights to people who can then take cost depletion. TANSTAAFL).
    – 1 % tax loss carry forward.
    – 4 % US DOE research programs.

  91. nargun
    August 26, 2014 at 6:59 am

    > I don’t know why they are still using blade technology when the barrel system is more efficient

    No, it usually isn’t, especially as you scale up. Some aspects of last HAWT (Horizontal Axis…) machines are much easier to deal with, e.g. blade pitch which is how they rotate at constant speed and do most of the braking when they need to stop. Many of the VAWT designs can’t do pitch control, or have to continuously change it like a helicopter.

    http://barnardonwind.com/2013/02/23/why-arent-vertical-axis-wind-turbines-more-popular/ has some really good points.

  92. Many others have taken @BJ Hanssen to task with his post. I agree with his critics. I add my three cents.

    as is the case with a lot of technological development right now, is in energy storage. As a non-constant producer of energy, ways of storing excess energy production will be required over time. This is coming.

    Poppycock. You will sooner reach the “End of the Rainbow”. Batteries are old technology. Their chemistry is not only well known, but has been known for over a century. Manufacturing development is in making batteries more portable or more powerful, not cheaper. The materials requirements to store one day’s worth of the USA’s electricity needs is mindboggling and every environmentalist worth the label would object to the mining necessary. The cheapest and most efficient way of storing a GigaWatt-day of dispatachable electricity today will still be the cheapest a century from now: A unit-train of Black-Thunder Coal.

    Dismissing the entire technology on the basis of one technological limitation – one that isn’t even of fatal importance, even – is not a good thing.

    Oh! were that it was only ONE thing! There are few technological matters that doesn’t limit wind power!

    1. They are bird killers – a death rate unacceptable to any other industry.
    2. Non-dispatchable with no foreseeable means of storage.
    3. A Decentralized Maintenance headache.
    4. What are the death rates of workers per GWhr produced?
    5. Optimistic operational life times, particularly offshore.
    6. Subsidies, Subsidies, Subsidies!
    7. Uneven, non-constant power from wind farms makes all other power sources run at less efficient levels.
    8. Optimistic maintenance estimates.
    9. Eye-sores, blights on the landscape even when they are working. Are you looking forward to the days they are rusting hulks on the horizon when operators go bankrupt?
    10. Noise, especially ultra low frequency, unsuitable for urban or residential areas.
    11. Visual scrubbing of sunlight, unsuitable for urban or residential areas.
    12. Safety. Shrapnel hazard. (Google: Houston Discovery Tower.) unsuitable for urban or residential areas.
    13. Economics. The full life cost in $/MWhr is high even before you put in storage and backup power.

    I’ll give wind power one advantage over solar — it works at night (sometimes).

    In the end, limiting ourselves to single venues of energy production is just a way to set us up for failure

    Tell it to the EPA with it’s War on Coal, regulatory torture of the Nuclear, and endangerment of the Hydroelectric industries. The “All of the Above” energy policy that our current government supports is really an “All of the Above-Ground” policy. The EPA is openly hostile to Below Ground or In-Ground Energy sources. The EPA is setting the country up for failure.

  93. The arguments for wind power remind me of the laughs I get when someone tells me he rides a motorcycle to save money. The little money you save in gas goes down the tubes in the chains, sprockets and carburetors.

  94. David Wells
    August 26, 2014 at 7:43 am

    Chris4692 technically viable maybe but at what cost? Economically viable certainly not especially when you consider that coal, gas and nuclear can function 24/7. Of course wind and solar could function without backup if you are prepared to accept that as in Germany during winter 2012/13 when for three months I believe all of their wind and solar failed to generate just one MW of electricity, exactly how do essential services function under that regime? Take just one example exactly how do you run a hospital 24/7 on an interruptible supply of electricity without fossil fuel backup and if you have access to fossil fuel why have wind turbines when all they do is add to the cost, why run two systems in tandem, exactly what is the purpose, tell me why when as in the case of Germany their Co2 continues to rise simply because of the excessive ramping necessary to ensure the viability of wind and solar. Effectively German home owners are paying an excessive price for electricity just to promote the myth that being green is viable when without backup from 16,000 Czechoslovakian and thousands of German brown coal miners German industry the pillar of its thriving economy would die the same day. Why would you want to overcome the technical idiocies of wind turbines presumably to protect the jobs of Siemens workers at the cost of Czech workers I presume.

    What cost? For an extra $0.023 per kw-hr above wholesale price for the first 10 years, we know that it can be done very profitably. (Here that is on the order of 25% of the retail price). Through his holdings in Mid-American Energy, Mr Buffet is developing all the wind power he can. It is undoubted that the economic viability is skewed by that subsidy. Someone else would have to do the analysis as to whether it would be economically feasible without it. I suspect Mid-American already has a good idea but I doubt they’ll say.

    Why have coal plus natural gas plus nuclear plus hydro? Why not just choose one? Each one has to be taken down for days or weeks for repairs. Nuclear can be out of service for months at the seeming whim of the NRC. I wonder how hydro on the west coast is faring in the drought there? Each plant of whatever type of fuel has to be backed up somehow. That wind has to be backed up is not of major importance.

    Every utility has to have extra capacity available. When it doesn’t, the next expansion better be under way or it is already in trouble. Back up is not a particular plant: back up is somewhere in the system. When the wind varies, it is the system that responds, not one particular plant, all plants. Matching a varying demand 24/7 is something that is done every day by every electric utility.

    I do not advocate Germany’s approach, putting all their eggs in one basket, nor do I care at all about their CO2 emissions. I don’t particularly care about wind energy, but as an engineering problem it is well in the realm of industrial design and economic analysis that is done all the time. There is nothing particularly daunting about it’s technical issues.

  95. @Edward Richardson 8/26 8:46 am
    Is 10 Gigawatts of power “very little?”

    “how often you get it.”

    Read my link.
    Especially the part that says:

    “Wind power comprised 9.9 percent of the total energy used in the ERCOT region in 2013, compared to 9.2 percent in 2012.”

  96. fobdangerclose
    August 26, 2014 at 9:08 am
    ..
    Did you read the part of my link that said”

    “At the time the new record was set, wind generation was providing nearly 29 percent of the 35,768 MW of electricity being used on the ERCOT grid”

    29% !!! The wind turbines were carrying almost a third of the total load.

  97. “All the technical problems can be overcome.”

    No they can’t, some technical problems are impossible to overcome. Others can be overcome but at a cost that makes the technology non-viable.

    “Maintenance is part of the cost of the project, known in advance.”

    Well unless they lie about the failure rate or there are failure modes that don’t show up until the system starts operating or failure modes that turn out to be much worse than projected, then the actual maintenance costs can make the project non-profitable.

    “An increase in maintenance cost will not be of great importance.”

    Depends on how much the increase is and what the profit margin is. With a large increase in cost and/or a slim profit margin, an increase in any cost can quickly drive the project to bankruptcy.

    “The article cited says there are 120 wind turbine fires annually”

    And of course lets ignore the bearing failure issue that is the main point of the article. What is the bearing failure rate Chris4692?

    “A catastrophic failure rate of 0.06 percent adds an expected cost of $6,000 per million dollars invested. That is not a large cost in a large project.”

    But that is a catastrophic FIRE failure rate. What about all the other potential failure modes? If the only failure mode I analysed for my car was a catastrophic fire then my maintenance cost would be microscopic. But unfortunately there are lots of other failure modes.

    I appreciate that cherry-picking one failure mode and acting like it is the only one makes the numbers seem to support wind turbines, but in the real world there isn’t just the one mode.

  98. Edward Richardson says:

    The wind turbines were carrying almost a third of the total load.

    When the wind is blowing at the right velocity, those turbines are churning out power and chopping up raptors.

    The end justifies the means, no?

  99. “Each plant of whatever type of fuel has to be backed up somehow.”

    Yes it does, but not 100% like the case with wind.

    If there were 20 1000MW coal plants, there is not a need for 20,000MW of back-up because the probablity of all of them being offline at once is so small as to effectively be zero. But if there were 1000 20MW wind turbines, there is a need for 20,000MW of back-up because there is a fair probablity of the wind being too slow or too fast at all (or most) of the turbines.

  100. Every working metal part has a “productive” lifespan. I remember trying to switch a bearing from heat treatment to chemical treatment and the engineers insisted it had to be tested to 4000 hours productive life before possibly failing and the product was fitted to a dump truck. It worked and we saved some money. There is basically not a problem with the bearing as such but with the costing of the product. If the bearing technology currently available cannot support the costs even when subsidies are included, the product is not “fit for purpose”. The logical thing would be to increase the size (if different heat treatment and/or metal composition is not available) but it is a failure of the product if this reduces efficiency below a profitable level. It should be withdrawn until the problem has been resolved. I would suggest until the energy storage problem is resolved as well to get away from the peaks that unsettle the grid and a need for costly back-up from conventional sources.

  101. I need to correct myself.

    In a small system wind would need essentially 100% back-up. But in a larger system spread over a wider area and with other baseload plants, wind would not need to be 100% backed-up. But it would require a much higher rate of back-up than coal, hydro, nuclear or gas.

    So although my earlier example isn’t realistic, the basic situation is correct. Wind requires more back-up than just about any other system. This cost needs to be factored into the economics of wind power.

  102. Stephen Rasey August 26, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Below is a link to ERCOT, 24 hour Forecast and Actual wind power production.
    As of 8/26/14 10:20 am CDT, actual power = 0.482 GW. (about 0.300 GW less than forecast)
    Peak rate in the past 24 hours was 3.4 GW at 8/26 03:00.

    http://www.ercot.com/content/cdr/html/CURRENT_DAYCOP_HSL.html

    Peak Rate at 3:00 AM in the morning? By noon the power generated by wind had dropped to 600 MW, meanwhile the actual demand is forecasted to be 55,000 MW.

    http://www.ercot.com/content/cdr/html/loadForecastVsActualCurrentDay.html

    What’s your point exactly? That wind is poorly suited to actual on-time demand?

  103. In regard to BJ’s As a non-constant producer of energy, ways of storing excess energy production will be required over time. This is coming.
    Read the post and thread: “Getting Energy From The Energy Store” Eschenbach, WUWT, June 29, 2013.

    – How Edison found 50 ways NOT to make a battery.
    – Cost of Batteries per kWhr stored. If you amortize the cost of the battery per 1000 recharge cycles, you wind up paying $1 per kWhr stored. This translates to an energy equivalent gasoline cost of $33.7 / gallon.
    – “Hiroshimas” as a unit of energy = 60 TeraJoules = 18 GWhr. = 3.5 hr supply for New York City.
    – – – when a battery stores that much energy shorts out, you get a Hiroshima release of energy (before the battery itself starts burning!)
    – Pumped Storage, now little it get’s you.
    – Ice Storage Air Conditioning, a version of pumped storage equivalent to raising water 34,000 m into the sky.

  104. So it’s the design of the bearings that are the issue?

    Then redesign the wind turbine so that the blades are horizontal rather than vertical.

    If the forces in the bearings are differently arranged I am sure the wear issue can be mitigated.

    It’s odd that they are not designed that way already. No need to rotate the blades into the wind if they are horizontal so that should make the design less complex with fewer moving parts.

  105. ralfellis August 26, 2014 at 8:35 am

    David L. Hagen August 26, 2014 at 7:27 am
    The Billion-Dollar Bet On Jet Tech That’s Making Flying More Efficient.
    _______________________________

    The geared fan concept for jet engines….

    Alternatively, you could buy a Rolls Royce Trent. Rolls have been making a twin-shaft aero-engine design for decades, which more accurately match the fan-speed with turbine-speed.

    First to David – All good points but you also need to include loading factors. In our senior design class, talking about ‘Safety Factors’, we were informed that a car jack could often have component SF = 6, whereas a jet plane could have component SF=2. Because loads were weighted and maximum loads controlled on the plane and unknown on the car jack.

    Ralfellis – Are they back?
    Fan blades for the RB211-22B were of ‘Hyfil’, a carbon fibre reinforced epoxy. The blades were of a new wide-chord design pioneered by the company to reduce the number of blades necessary, and hence cut noise.

    Unfortunately, Rolls-Royce had problems with the RB211, a number of these being associated with the composite blades, which lacked, in particular, adequate bird strike resistance and manufacturing repeatability. Engineers had perhaps placed too much confidence in the use of a material which, at that time, was unproven for major rotating parts and, while they had a sound understanding of the material’s properties at laminate level, this did not extend into the highly dynamic environment of a fast-rotating component. The problem could not be solved in the time available and Rolls-Royce had to switch back to titanium blades. The RB211’s troubles contributed to the 1973 bankruptcy of the company.

    One of my other professors worked on this engine, so we heard the stories.

  106. ddpalmer
    August 26, 2014 at 9:22 am

    “All the technical problems can be overcome.”

    No they can’t, some technical problems are impossible to overcome. Others can be overcome but at a cost that makes the technology non-viable.

    “Maintenance is part of the cost of the project, known in advance.”

    Well unless they lie about the failure rate or there are failure modes that don’t show up until the system starts operating or failure modes that turn out to be much worse than projected, then the actual maintenance costs can make the project non-profitable.

    “An increase in maintenance cost will not be of great importance.”

    Depends on how much the increase is and what the profit margin is. With a large increase in cost and/or a slim profit margin, an increase in any cost can quickly drive the project to bankruptcy.

    “The article cited says there are 120 wind turbine fires annually”

    And of course lets ignore the bearing failure issue that is the main point of the article. What is the bearing failure rate Chris4692?

    “A catastrophic failure rate of 0.06 percent adds an expected cost of $6,000 per million dollars invested. That is not a large cost in a large project.”

    But that is a catastrophic FIRE failure rate. What about all the other potential failure modes? If the only failure mode I analysed for my car was a catastrophic fire then my maintenance cost would be microscopic. But unfortunately there are lots of other failure modes.

    I appreciate that cherry-picking one failure mode and acting like it is the only one makes the numbers seem to support wind turbines, but in the real world there isn’t just the one mode.

    Considering that the article displayed a wind tower burning, that is a major point in the article despite the headline. The relative frequency as a cause of failure is of some import to the article: why else would the author highlight that particular hazard – by implication a result of bearing failures?

    Wind turbines have been around for thirty years. I was inside one around twenty years ago. Though they have gotten more common the last ten years, wind turbines are not a new technology. With 200,000 turbines operating in the world (according to the article cited below the video), maintenance requirements would be well known to the industry and is therefore included in the anticipated costs associated with a wind energy project. This experience includes the costs associated with bearing failure, since bearings have been part of the wind turbine since the first.

  107. Chris4692 – your comment is a lovely piece of mis-direction or faulty logic; I can’t decide which. The point under discussion is -bearing failure-, or speaking more broadly, wind turbine failure rates. Your attempt to equate failure with ‘catching on fire’ is, either disingenuous, or stupid. Your call.

    Perhaps this statement will make the flaw clear for you:

    Very few people catch on fire and die, so it’s obvious that very few people die.

  108. Current wind energy in the Wash-Oregon area went to near zero yesterday morning and remains there:

    http://transmission.bpa.gov/Business/Operations/Wind/baltwg.aspx

    Very light winds expected for another 24 hours.

    ———————————————————
    Ric Werme August 26, 2014 at 8:50 am
    Regarding the link you provided:
    Thanks for that, very interesting.

    When we arrived at our current home in 1989 there was an abandoned vertical-axis machine (about 80 feet tall) on a hill about 20 miles west of us. Note the word abandoned. It is still there. Now, many modern wind towers are nearby. I need to take some photos.
    Another item:
    About 1990 a college student I knew built a “simple drag vertical-axis wind turbine” that was about a meter high. He mounted it on a fence corner and ran a wire inside to his apartment. I don’t remember using the correct name (as above) – I think he called it a barrel generator. With a nice wind the contraption lit a small light inside that reminded me of the small gas light my Great Aunt had on her wall in the late 1940s. Her gas light made the wall paper dirty and at spring cleaning my sister and I could help with the pink putty like material (Absorene) to clean it off. In contrast, my friend’s barrel generator made light without the soot. It also made noise and vibrated itself to death.
    In contrast, my hydro-powered all electric house has none of these problems.

  109. CodeTech

    “Wind” and other “renewables” are far more than simple technology challenges. They had significant money put into them in the 70s during the Energy Crisis, and were found to be useless.

    IIRC wind to generate electricity was first tried in the late 19th century. Even though steam engines had long replaced wind as the prefered form of mechanical power.

    Steam turbines are a vital part of electricity generation today.
    Together with the internal combustion engines which have replaced steam engines, especially for vehicles.

  110. Chris4692 August 26, 2014 at 9:07 am
    That wind has to be backed up is not of major importance
    _______________________________

    The greatest fantasy and delusion ever sold. Actually, intermittency is the greatest problem that (nearly) all renewables have.

    Yes, fossil and nuclear power plants do have down-time. But downtime normally represents 5 or perhaps 10% of operating capacity, and it is normally scheduled 3 months in advance. And the schedule is devised so that only one generating set (out of perhaps 5 sets) is down at any one time in any one plant. In which case, there is no intermittency in conventional base-load power generation – that is why it is called base-load.

    In comparison, wind can and will go off-line three times a day. And even with modern weather forecasting, we don’t have a clue when the next off-line period will be. And in total, these turbines will be off-line 75% of the time. And perhaps more importantly, they all go off together. If a large anticyclone sets up over the UK, all the wind turbines in NW Europe all go off-line together.

    This is why wind power is so ‘f’ useless, and will bring entire nations and continents to their knees.
    We cannot run industry or society, when the power goes off-line five days a week. And the only way to prevent that happening, is to have fossil or nuclear power on 24hr spinning standby. So what is the ‘f’ point in having wind power? It merely jacks up the price we pay five-fold, and threatens brownouts and blackouts as the grid tries to balance wind energy with the spinning-standby backup.

    Renewable energy is the biggest confidence trick in the history of man, and I do hope the exponents of this con pay a severe legal penalty in future years and decades.

    Ralph

  111. RCM
    August 26, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Chris4692 – your comment is a lovely piece of mis-direction or faulty logic; I can’t decide which. The point under discussion is -bearing failure-, or speaking more broadly, wind turbine failure rates. Your attempt to equate failure with ‘catching on fire’ is, either disingenuous, or stupid. Your call.

    Perhaps this statement will make the flaw clear for you:

    Very few people catch on fire and die, so it’s obvious that very few people die.

    Fire is apparently an important point to the author of the original piece otherwise it would not have been included so prominently. If there is misdirection or faulty logic, it is in the original post.

  112. just so many issues with the drivetrains on these.
    when no wind they suck energy from grid to rotate them to prevent bearing flat spots.
    when rotating (generating) they have to make sure blade tips stay below supersonic or the vibrations cause blade and shaft issues. this also leads to bearing issues.
    when really hot they need to be stopped, suck energy from grid to rotate due to lubrication issues.
    when really cold they need to be stopped, suck energy from grid to rotate due to lubrication issues.
    granted these 2 temp extremes are rare.
    when wind direction changes the side loads on bearings and shafts are enormous and wind shears are worse.
    when running they need a backup source online to take load when wind drops.

    yeah…they are the future…

  113. And here I was thinking that once we built these big eggbeaters we would be harvesting the wind free forever.

    Gosh, who woulda thunk there are regular maintenance costs? Next thing we’re gonna find out is there is a service life on the turbines, the blades, the control systems, the electrical transmission wires, the transmission towers and the transformers. Jeepers, makes you think there might be service life and ROI considerations that maybe haven’t been publicly discussed?

    BTW: /sarc

  114. Yeah, you can always do something a bit technologically unbelievable & economically indefensible, if it is important enough to work out the challenges and meet the cost & hassle – if it puts a nice-enough feather in yer hat.

    Submarines, fer instance, and then nuclear plants to run them. The tech is a pain (and the money is ridiculous), but the asset pushes us over the top, on a higher plane. Even economically justifiable choices are subject to similar philosophical calculus: Jet airliners … so important to ‘what we are’ (on that all-important “higher plane”) that serious actors insist we should leave ourselves open to a glaring Ebola-transmission vector, in order to keep them going.

    Wind power should ‘obviously’ be approached as we do with hydroelectric: Create a structure that allows you to capture and corral the ‘wild’ energy phenomenon, and then direct a controlled amount of it through a throttling mechanism. To be reliable & economical, all machines must be designed & built to deal with a predictable, controllable range of forces, power & energy. Windmills don’t have dams, reservoirs or inlet controls.

    You really need to build a fabulous, incredible “scoop” that catches a wide swath of wind to some designated altitude over, say, the Thames Estuary. The scoop needs louvers in front, so that powerful wild wind-storms can be mostly-blocked.

    If we had a global electric power transmission grid with very high efficiency, if we had industrial superconductive systems that could also carry very high power, then in a globally-integrated network windmills would work ‘better’. However, long-range, high-efficiency transmission would also make several kinds of conventional electrical generation that can’t quite pencil out today, much more competitive … ie, cheaper.

  115. richardscourtney

    Clearly, there are niche markets for wind turbines in some remote locations to this day where e.g. water needs to be pumped.

    Water pumping not be that time critical. It may well not matter if it takes 1 or 5 hours to fill a cistern. But electricity available a minute before or after it is needed can be useless.

  116. Edward Richardson,

    Try this turn off all the other power generators and disconnect from the national grid.

    Then see how much of the wind made electricty gets to the meters.

  117. Alx

    In buidling enterprise business systems, there is a concept called “total cost of ownership”, which includes the cost of building the system, and very importantly the cost of maintaining it annually.

    At least that’s the idea. In practice it’s easy to wind up with all sorts of politcial “fudge factors” or components where cost estimages vary by orders of magnitude.

  118. @Chris4692

    If wind power is economically viable, nobody would be forced to buy it or subsidize it.

  119. Mark

    At August 26, 2014 at 10:53 am you say in total

    richardscourtney

    Clearly, there are niche markets for wind turbines in some remote locations to this day where e.g. water needs to be pumped.

    Water pumping not be that time critical. It may well not matter if it takes 1 or 5 hours to fill a cistern. But electricity available a minute before or after it is needed can be useless.

    Your selective quotation from my post at August 26, 2014 at 6:14 am is misleading. In fact, my post concluded by saying

    Clearly, there are niche markets for wind turbines in some remote locations to this day where e.g. water needs to be pumped. But wind turbines were abandoned for most uses when the greater energy intensity in fossil fuels became available to do work by use of the steam engine.

    Wind turbines are ancient technology which originated 1500 years before Christ, was developed for electricity generation in the 1800s, but was generally abandoned in favour of the superior steam engine.

    If you want a full explanation of my views on these matters then please read this.

    Richard

  120. Sciguy54 said:
    “And this is precisely the point that the greens do not want to admit: most green technologies are not yet proven to the point that life-cycle costs are known. Yet they want to place unproven technologies into mass production anyway.”

    You nailed it. My favorite comment of the day.

    When a government has the authority to direct resources at unproven endeavors and continues to do so without regard to results or accountability, that country is doomed.

  121. Richard Ilfeld

    Well, sure, if the wind towers get the monitoring and maintenance cycle of a jet. When you look at the operating hours TBO & to mandatory retirement vs the Windmill required life cycle, and the additions to an already absurd cost benefit ratio for wind. it, pardon the expression, won’t fly.

    It’s quite possible that a wind turbine is subjected to a greater range of forces than a gas turbine engine. (Even on something like a V22.)
    Also no pilot would repeatedly cycle between idle and TOGA. Which could correspond to gusty wind conditions.
    There’s a good chance that a pilot would just refuse to fly a plane if the engine instrument readings were abnomal. (Even without an EICAS alert.)

  122. No matter, the rate of change of solar cost reductions will leave them in a pile of bad bearings and other overhaul expenses soon enough.

  123. Current “green” technologies are just as real as the hockey stick graph that made these “green” fraud operations possible in the first place.

    A “cart load of dung” not in need of a horse.

  124. “just how much of our money is the government prepared to waste, to keep their wind dream afloat?”

    All of it.

  125. DD More August 26, 2014 at 10:02 am
    Ralfellis – Are they back?
    The problem could not be solved in the time available and Rolls-Royce had to switch back to titanium blades. The RB211’s troubles contributed to the 1973 bankruptcy of the company.
    _______________________________

    Rolls are now the second largest aero-engine manufacturer in the world.

    Yes, the carbon blades were a failure, but the backup titanium blades were the company’s salvation, because they proved to be a world-beating design and are now (semi) copied be most other companies. Interestingly, these huge blades are made flat, and then heated and blown up like a balloon. Its a very secret technique.

    And in a correction to my last, the Rolls Trent engine is a 3-shaft engine. The inner shaft rotates at 10,000 rpm, the intermediate shaft at 7,500 rpm and the outer fan-shaft at 3,300 rpm.

    And this is what happens when a blade falls off:

    And this is what happens with a wind turbine has a blade failure:

    And this is what happens when they catch fire:

    And they chop birds too:

    And this is how little force you need, to pull one down (bit of a worry):

    Ralph

  126. ralfellis
    August 26, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    This is what happens to jet engines when they “chop birds”
    ..

  127. David L. Hagen
    August 26, 2014 at 7:27 am
    Life cycle costs rule – bearings are critical
    Extremely high durability bearings HAVE been developed. – by Pratt & Whitney – for a $> 1 billion RD&D investment.
    The Billion-Dollar Bet On Jet Tech That’s Making Flying More Efficient

    David,
    Very interesting!
    Thanks,
    Mac

  128. They should probably switch to hydrostatic bearings, and could also simplify things by having the main shaft run a hydraulic pump which in then drives a hydraulic motor connected to the generator, and by running the hydraulic lines down the tower, the generator can be on the ground.

  129. In polite conversation, I raise the contention that wind turbines are merely a way of turning bald eagles into kilowatt-hours. It should be easy to figure out the conversion ratio. Are bald eagles a renewable resource? If so, we can then revert to burning whale oil.

  130. ralfellis August 26, 2014 at 7:59 am Part of the bearing problem, is blade fatigue and failure. I noticed a small wind farm yesterday, with three partly bladeless turbines (birdstrikes, hail, general fatigue??). But if turbines are shedding bits of blade, that puts a huge stress on the bearing, until the thing can be feathered and braked to a halt.

    Is it possible that a bird strike imposes a direct transient load on the bearings while the strike is occurring, if the bird is large enough?

    Or is it simply more likely that events such as sudden strong wind gusts impose multi-directional loads which cannot be easily accounted for without making the bearings so large that their friction reduction efficiencies are affected?

  131. Well then the “green” thing to do is to put these things out in the deep blue sea and add salt water, worse weather, and for sure gum up the bearings, thats the ticket.

  132. George Turner August 26, 2014 at 12:34 pm They should probably switch to hydrostatic bearings, and could also simplify things by having the main shaft run a hydraulic pump which in then drives a hydraulic motor connected to the generator, and by running the hydraulic lines down the tower, the generator can be on the ground.

    It is my understanding that significant transmission efficiency losses are associated using hydraulic motors and hydraulic lines as power transmission coupling devices, with the energy losses appearing as heat in the transmission fluid. The last time I checked — twenty years ago admittedly — these contraptions don’t have a very good record for reliability because of leaks, seal deterioration problems, etc.

  133. The term oil subsidies is another one of these political terms that are designed to elicit an emotional response from the general population. Very few of us are in favor of giving tax dollars to the oil companies. They don’t need it. When you start to look for what the subsidies are, it is hard to find them. I found a good description from Forbes http://www.forbes.com/sites/energysource/2012/04/25/the-surprising-reason-that-oil-subsidies-persist-even-liberals-love-them/ . The largest subsidy, over $1B, is for the strategic Petroleum Reserve. The second $1B goes to farmers as a fuel tax exemption because why pay road taxes when tractors hardly ever use the roads. The third largest subsidy, $570m, is for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
    There are other tax credits that are not Oil Company specific. Companies like Microsoft and Apple also use them. They are designed to keep jobs in the US.

    • None of those are subsidies. The government is not “giving” money to the oil companies in any of those situations.

      #1 – The government is BUYING a product
      #2 – The government is NOT CHARGING farmers (Oil companies get no benefit out of a tax exemption for farmers)
      #3 – The government is GIVING money to poor people, not the oil companies.

      You are right that it is a political mess. A subsidy is when money is given to a person or company. “Not taking money” is not giving. A robber who leaves you $20 is not “giving” you $20.

  134. I wonder if any kind of bearing on these things could work. A roller bearing can support a significant load, at least compared to a ball bearing, since the weight is spread over a larger (although still admittedly small) area. However, a roller bearing doesn’t like any kind of whipping motion in the shaft it supports. For that you need a ball bearing which doesn’t object to a whipping motion. I’ll bet that on these wind turbines the bearings are subjected to both: extremely heavy weight from the massive blades; and a bending or whipping motion imparted on the shaft since it’s unlikely the wind force is going to be equal across three blades of that size. Ah, but there’s another problem: the shaft is loaded both perpendicular to its rotation and also parallel to its rotation – the wind that’s rotating the blades also wants to pull that shaft out of the housing. And, then there’s the gearbox: what was claimed to be the original problem before bearings were mentioned. The gearbox steps the 17rpm rotational speed of the blades up to 1,500rpm; almost a 100:1 gearing. Ultimately the problem with a wind turbine is probably a problem of scale against concept. To be (somewhat) feasible they have to be huge. But the basic concept, on a huge scale, is likely an affront to sound engineering. And, for a flawed concept to then be pursued we must not point the finger at engineering. We must point it at politics.

  135. tom & keith ….others
    you guys have a pretty good slant on this thing however I would like to point out that seawater (and that includes salt air) is in actuality a very mild acid. it takes a very different metalurigical technology (read EXPENSIVE) to survive in the maritime environment than on land a couple of hundred miles from the coast. one of the most important things is to wash the stuff down with fresh water occasionally (say every couple of days) for a start.

    next the alloys that have any chance of surviving in this environment are EXPENSIVE. just exactly what the “investor types” will want to stay away from. now every time I heard a European sales representative making a pitch they included phrases like “the best materials available” and “laboratory tested in the finest laboratories on the continent” which made me wonder if there was rampant fraud in the metals dealing industry. in that end of the world.

    now you have to keep in mind one thing. Siemens is a German outfit. German to the core and past. every thing they make is super precise. however it might be just a bit to precise for this service. these windmills might just need room to flop around a bit to survive. on occasion I saw ships winches that were built just a little too “sweet” that had to have a file taken to them to get them to work. ships do bend and twist a bit at sea you know.

    there is a condition in finely finished machinery whereby under load (vibration) at the microscopic level a high point in the finish will pierce the oil film between two elements and destroy the corrosion resistance imparted by the oil film itself. instantly a tiny speck of corrosion will form and flush away leaving a tiny pit. in the seawater world the rush of water flushes this away and exposes an new area for another cycle. this continues on until the mechanical element fails. it is called “fretting corrosion”. it is the reason that when machine tools are shipped they are very heavily clamped between their slides and the sliding components. this also happens in ball, roller, and tapered roller bearings.

    which leads us to: JUST WHERE IN THE HE)) ARE THE BEARING SEALS. you know those rings etc. that keep the oil in and the water out. no one has mentioned those in this discussion or have the continental smart guys managed to head fake the need for those.

    I have been looking at the internal layout and machinery in the upper pods of these things for several years now and I have gotten the feeling that the drawings were drawn by teenagers that spoke one language and checked by pre teens that spoke another. and that was for the good stuff.

    in other words THESE THINGS ARE MADE TO RUN TIL THE CHECK CLEARS THE BANK, THEN ………….

    PK

  136. BJ Hanssen (@BJHanssen) on August 26, 2014 at 3:54 am

    Post ruined by the last paragraph and linking to The Daily Mail *twice*. Linking to the Daily Mail is a credibility killer, and for good reason.

    Even if you are not an AGW believer, I don’t understand why you would be against developing renewables. 

    Not far from where I live in Belgium is a company called Hanssen who make gears for wind turbines. Any connection?

  137. This wind generation fiasco is going to end in a way that is ugly but at the same time beautiful.

  138. Reblogged this on gottadobetterthanthis and commented:
    There is a simple rule with rotating machinery, build it big and massive compared to the load on it. Such is not possible in windmill applications. Keep the rotating machines well lubed, and they will last a while. That proves very impractical on top of a tall tower. Accordingly, without adequate mass, without adequate maintenance, and without adequate lubrication, what goes around, stops, especially in marine environments.

    Windmills do not work, and they will never work. Just can’t.

    How much pain will we take before we wise up?

    • Lonnie –

      You are correct about building machine stuff big and massive. Not nearly so true with rotating mechanisms, because it costs money to speed up and bigger brakes to slow it down or stop it. It’s best to size it per application. Trust me also: You don’t WANT a big massive rotating arm or disc or blades spinning around, not if you don’t have to. Anything moving is best kept to the minimum weight possible. Unless it is a flywheel, which needs to be heavy.

      You are much more correct on the importance of lubrication. But the bearings being way up on top of a 200-260 foot tower isn’t necessarily a terribly difficult thing to deal with. It just takes good engineering. You just have to have a lubrication system that pumps the lube into the bearings. Preferably doing it so that it pushes out the lube already there and carries grit with it out of the bearing. Yes, the system has to lift the lube up. Best to have a reservoir up there for the final pumping into the bearings, and have a way of refilling the reservoir from down below. Most plants I’ve worked in lube like once a month or so. If the reservoir holds a good deal more than 12 shots of lube, then the maintenance person only has to come buy once a year.

      But one would also have a vibration sensor on each bearing and thermocouples, too. Vibration and heat are the two signs of impending failure. Either one can signal to the maintenance crew that that turbine needs to be attended to. With millions at stake (the darn things have been known to tear themselves apart.)

      If the lube schedule is kept up (it should be automated) the darn thing should last decades, especially at only 22 RPM max. Bearings are designed for like 90 million revs. Using 22 rpms (at about 30 mph wind, which they avoid operating in, I believe), and running 3/4 of the time, 90% of turbine bearings should last for about 10 years. 80% should last 20 years, and 70% should last 30 years – more or less.

      BTW, Here is what one of the leading US Bearing makers has as a Rule of Thumb:

      Doubling load reduces life to one tenth. Reducing load by one half increases life by ten,
      • Doubling speed reduces life by one half. Reducing speed by one half doubles life.

      Nothing can be done about the weight of the blade assembly. That is what it is – about 72,000 pounds (33,000 kg) for the biggest ones. So using the other rule, even a little bit slower can help a LOT. And if the wind averages only 15 mph, the life span should be 20 years for 90% of the bearings, etc. . .

      ALL quality bearings are designed to have similar life spans, that 90 million or thereabouts. And YET, they are not lasting – which means that some factor has not been DEALT WITH (i.e, designed for). If that is so, the dsigners should hang their heads in shame a bit, because that isn’t supposed to happen. But when you do that on something that has thousands upon thousands made, and all of them have the same flaw – it’s time for the engineer guillotine.

  139. in the style of the famous irishism, ‘If I wanted to get to sustainable energy, I wouldn’t start with windmills’

    Th bearing problem is massive.

    You have the worst case possible.

    A cantilever shaft with a massive blade assembly on one end, so the bearings are taking massive side thrust.
    Situations of low or zero wind in which the blades stop for considerable periods of time, making the actual flattening of balls/rollers and indentation of cages not possible, but likely.
    Operation in an area of inevitable wind shear as blade tips approach ground level so that cyclic thrust and torsional load variations will inevitably happen.
    Massive subsonic thumps as the blade wake crosses the tower causing torque thumps to be transmitted back to the blades and gearbox.
    Tip speeds approaching 200mph where the possibility of occasional transonic flows off the tips will give additional hard vibration through the blades and shaft.
    Massive gyroscopic effects if the head assembly needs to be slewed through azimuth to meet the actual wind direction when operating. Those transmit increased side loads onto the bearings.
    Operation in inimical regimes of water and air mixtures and often a string magnetic field and salt spray, leading to rapid corrosion both mechanical and electro chemical .
    Asymmetric build up of dust, dirt, ice and other contaminants and wear from contact with dust and dirt and other airborne abrasives on the blades leading to out of balance lateral and vertical bearing loads.

    It is a miracle that the mean time between failures on the average turbine is as high as it is – 6 weeks is about standard expected period in which something will need to be attended to.

    We really should consign this technology to a museum. Its a totally useless way to generate minuscule amounts of electricity at massive costs.

    NO one needs it and if they knew as much about it as engineers do, they sure wouldn’t want it.

    • THIS IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE, FOLKS.

      This litany of woe is, well it’s kind of funny, the way you try to make this single rotational device sound like it’s as hard to do as the Hubble telescope.

      Speaking as a senior mechanical design engineer with 40 years under my belt:

      “massive side thrust.” – It is called “radial load” and it is the first thing you look at in designing these. You SIZE the bearing based primarily on its radial load.

      “the blades stop” – And? So what? You design for this. It is straightforward engineering.

      “wind shear as blade tips approach ground level” – And? SO what? The rotor is only going max 22 rpm.

      “that cyclic thrust and torsional load variations will inevitably happen.” – this is driven by a max wind speed of 34 mph. Whoop de doo.

      There is next to no rotational resistance. These 35 meter blades have ALL the mechanical advantage”, if you have any idea what that is.

      “Tip speeds approaching 200mph” – Maximum tip speed for propellers and fans is 122m/sec. I find the max tip speed for wind turbines is only 15m/sec (234 mph), less than 13% of maximum. The limiting factor is the propeller material, with a sufficient safety factor. But this application isn’t even REMOTELY close to the material limitations.

      Massive subsonic thumps as the blade wake crosses the tower causing torque thumps to be transmitted back to the blades and gearbox.” – So, if it is not tearing the blades apart, what is the problem. The bearing if properly designed into the mechanism should be able to take all that and much more. It is a problem for the blades, not for the bearing. Bearings are not delicate little flowers that crush at the first breeze. All bearings are built for some level of shock and radial load and axial load. They ARE after all used in industrial applications.

      Massive gyroscopic effects” – WTF? Now you are stroking everyone, right? Hoping we don’t know sh** from shinola? At 22 rpm max, WHAT Gyroscopic effect? The bearing hardly even knows it is turning. You have centrifugal force and angular momentum. But gyroscopic effects? Color me very very doubtful.

      Operation in inimical regimes of water and air mixtures and often a string magnetic field and salt spray, leading to rapid corrosion both mechanical and electro chemical.” – The typical wind turbine is not in a sea spray environment. Any or all of these that apply to the BEARINGS can and ARE dealt with via shields and seals, which will keep all of those”inimicals” out.. This basically has nothing to do with the bearings, which is the topic under discussion. If anything the bearings are normally at most exposed to rain, snow, and perhaps fine dust particles – and all of those happen only very intermittently.

      Asymmetric build up of dust, dirt, ice and other contaminants and wear from contact with dust and dirt and other airborne abrasives on the blades leading to out of balance lateral and vertical bearing loads.” – Oh, Gawd, now you are just being silly. VERY LARGE fans going at 450-600 RPMs and pushing REALLY dirty air don’t have this imagined problem to the point where the violins are need, so we can feel sorry for the sweet, little wind turbine blades – going at their ridiculously SLOW 22 RPMs. No, dust collecting on them should not be a problem for the propeller undertaker.

      “It is a miracle that the mean time between failures on the average turbine is as high as it is – 6 weeks” – Bull. Bullsheit. The senior wind turbine engineer said that 10% failed in the first THREE YEARS. If they only lasted 6 weeks “between failures”, there wouldn’t BE any wind turbines out there. Everyone would have thrown up their hands and gone home.

      With all of your “THE SKY IS FALLING ROUTINE HERE” are you sure you are not a global warming altar boy?

      Literally, from a design mechanical engineer’s POV, basically everything you said here is nonsense.

      What? Did you think you could snow all of us here?

  140. Lots of potential problems have been discussed re the main shaft bearings…. some of them quite severe.

    But keep in mind that these are but cousins to aircraft propellers. In the aircraft propeller the most problematic bearings are usually not in the crankshaft or gearbox, but the bearings which retain the propeller blades to the hub yet still allow the blades to change pitch. After more than 50 years in the business, well-respected makers of aircraft propellers still have a very difficult time building examples which do not fail in this area, as the forces can be huge, cyclical, and often unpredictable.

    And the failure modes are nearly instantaneous and very destructive. Talk to an airplane owner about the potential costs if their propeller becomes subject to recurring inspections because the type develops a history of service problems.

  141. A question was asked further up on how much power a wind turbine consumes to maintain it’s systems and to regularly rotate the composite fibre blades to prevent blade distortion and creep during idling periods.

    The grid power usage of idle wind turbines seems to be one of those bits of information kept under close wraps by the turbine manufacturers and the wind turbine industry as to admit that they are withdrawing considerable amounts of power from the fossil fueled grid would be tantamount to admitting a further gross inefficiency in having to rely on grid power when they were not producing their own power.

    Whether the turbine industry actually ever pays for their idling power use is another question that is never revealed so the answer is probably, they don’t!.
    Any usage of grid power by the turbines should be deducted from their total supposed and claimed power generation output but never are as that use is never revealed.

    Obviously the amounts of grid power consumed by an individual turbine or farms of turbines depends on a large number of factors and is highly variable, increasing in percentage terms as the turbines age and become increasingly inefficient which according to UK data, is by about 15 years old. The turbines by then are becoming a very marginal economic investment due to blade deformation, mechanical induced drop off in performance and rapidly increasing maintenance requirements and this despite massive publicly funded subsidies.

    This usage of grid power by the wind turbine industry has been looked at and assessed here ;

    Wind Power Realities; http://windfarmrealities.org/u-minn-and-vestas-reality-check/

    To quote the relevant and rather surprising amounts of grid power usage by a Danish located Vestas V82 1.65 mw turbine .
    _________

    “finally, we have a measurement of just how much electricity they consume! 50 kw is quite a bit higher than my previous findings, which originated in industry statements and cash flow calculations. Recall that the average Danish turbine produces about 376 kw (1650 * .228). So a V82 operating in Denmark consumes roughly 13% of what it produces. No wonder they want to keep this quiet”.
    [ / ]

    So it seems that in some cases, perhaps most cases, wind turbines consume as much as the equivalent of 13% of their total output in [ fossil fueled ] grid energy to maintain their systems when they are not generating and / or are idle.

  142. I wonder if anybody has given a thought to bearing lubrication.

    Maybe it’s something that only occurs to a person who has had to deal with boat trailers, but– bearing lubrication is what makes the little beasties hold up for long periods of time. Keep the things lubed, and just maybe you won’t have to replace them so often.

    Well, it’s a thought anyway.

  143. My profession is FAA/EASA certification of electronic hardware for commercial aircraft. My specialization is Electromagnetic interference and indirect effects of lighting strikes. A few years ago I did some consulting for a major wind turbine manufacturer. It seems as though the generators are being damaged by lightning strikes.

    The blades are the highest point around and the bases are well grounded. There are perhaps thousands of generators installed that are not adequately protected from the effects of lighting strikes.

  144. Late to the thread but a simple search for “abandond wind farms” should give anyone “clear optics”

  145. Any engineers or other knowledgeable people reading this that know how the very large hydro power generator(?)/alternator(?) turbines solve the bearing problem?

    These devices are huge and the bearing load must be quite large. How do they do it? One doesn’t hear of them having catastrophic failures very often.

  146. My experience with bearings comes from kilowatt sized machinery and power tools. My first reaction to this post is ” Where are the bearings manufactured?”

  147. As an old engineer I think that the bearing problems will be found to be harmonic in nature. They need to do some serious thinking. My thoughts would be abandon the useless things and forget the engineering problems.

  148. F. Ross
    August 26, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    Any engineers or other knowledgeable people reading this that know how the very large hydro power generator(?)/alternator(?) turbines solve the bearing problem?

    These devices are huge and the bearing load must be quite large. How do they do it? One doesn’t hear of them having catastrophic failures very often.

    Power plant turbines are routinely operated for 40 and 60 years continuously.

    Large foundations in a very large building that is NOT moving wildly 300 feet up in the air.

    Large bearings aligned to 1 mil radially and axially with vibration aligned out down the entire shaft by laser and tight-wire tools before and after every outage. Wind turbines are slung around moving several feet sideways, and are pitched and yawed every second, with irregular thrusts hitting the bearing from 3 cantilevered 100 meter propellers every rotation. High thrust (forces) while on top in relatively undisturbed air, low and irregular gusts creating low and unpredictable thrusts and vibrations down low, and a quick pulse every time they cross the wind turbine tower.

    Regular outages fully opening and inspecting and correcting problems every 3 years, and short inspections every 18 months. Wind turbines are “looked at” every 18 months, but not torn apart and refurbished. Ever.

    Power plant bearings are sized and lubricated to fit around 24 and 36 inch diameter shafts rotating at 3600 rpm for 50 and 60 years. Wind turbines are built to generate profits by getting sold to investers who HAVE TO BUY them to meet “greed” (er, green) energy specifications and to receive greed energy rebates and tax credits and loan guarantees. Wind turbines are designed to get erected. Not to run.

  149. @RACookPE1978
    August 26, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    From your description of the problems with wind turbines, it would seem then that there is no valid long term solution if the present design philosphy is continued.

    Sounds like a good reason to cut losses.

  150. ralfellis
    August 26, 2014 at 12:10 pm
    Rolls are now the second largest aero-engine manufacturer in the world.
    Yes, the carbon blades were a failure, but the backup titanium blades were the company’s salvation, because they proved to be a world-beating design and are now (semi) copied be most other companies. Interestingly, these huge blades are made flat, and then heated and blown up like a balloon. Its a very secret technique.

    ralfellis,
    Super Plastic Forming (SPF) and Diffusion Bonding (DB) of titanium alloys is not ‘super secret’. SPF and DB of Ti-6Al-4V alloy sheet has been in existence since the the 60’s and used in fighter aircraft since the first F-15 flew.back in 1972. Certain materials can be roll processsed to have a uniformly fine and equiaxed alpha phase grain size with small amounts of transformed beta phase at the grain boundarys in sheet product form. This sheet product can then be pressure ‘blow formed’ or ‘super plastic formed’ into high temperature dies at 1650F, using inert argon as the pressure and shielding gas.

    Diffusion bonding can also be achieved with titanium at 1650F, provided the surfaces of the titanium components are held in intimate contact in an inert argon gas atmosphere at high temperatures. Titanium is one of a few elements that reduce their own surface oxides at temperatures like 1650F, making metallurgical diffusion bonding achievable.

    The process parameters for SPF of titanium are so similar to DB that the two processes are ‘a marriage made in argon pressurized hot presses’. SPF/DB is routinely performed in 2 sheet, 3 sheet, and 4 sheet ‘packs’.

    Here’s a backgrounder on turbine blade fabrication:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924013699003775

    Applications of superplastic forming and diffusion bonding to hollow engine blades

    • Mac the Knife August 26, 2014 at 9:31 pm
      Super Plastic Forming (SPF) and Diffusion Bonding (DB) of titanium alloys is not ‘super secret’.
      _______________________

      Did I say it was?

      The secret component is Roll’s ‘three sheet’ diffusion bonding and inflation process, which saves a great of weight. Unless you can show me otherwise, Rolls is the only manufacturer to use this advanced ‘three sheet’ process.

      And regards the bearings, it is much easier for an aero-engine designer, who deals with predictable mono-directional airflows. A wind turbine has all kinds of forces to deal with, from turbulence, to tower vibration, to tip vortices, to blade vibration, to tower interference, to gyroscopic forces.

      Designing a viable rotor bearing for such a structure must be a nightmare. And even aero-engine makers get it wrong sometimes. A few years ago there was a general recall of all main fan bearings in some CMF jet engines. But it was all done out of the public eye, and nobody noticed.

      R

      • You seem to make this sound like rocket science. It’s not. All those are merely forces to design for. I flat out guarantee you that aero-engine design is a LOT closer to rocket science than these simple things. All that stuff you listed is fairly easy to deal with from a designer’s POV. (I have 40 years under my belt, using bearings of all kinds in all kinds of harsh industrial environments and heavy shock loading, so this thing sounds like a big baby in a cradle.) I see people crying about the awful shock form the wind coming around the tower and causing some chatter. At like 22 rpm max, and with a 34 mph wind, like, wow, that honestly can’t be diddly squat. It’s not like the wind is totally blocked, either.

        Seriously, all I hear is crying, “Oh, isn’t it HARD?” I’ve designed a number of double-width 144″ industrial airfoil fans with steel rotors probably as heavy as these wind turbines, going at 600 rpm and moving MASSIVE amounts of air. This with 22 rpms sounds like a piece of cake.

        They seem to have been over their heads about bearing applications and how to design for protection against the elements. If that bearing in the image above is what they have been using, then they don’t know much.

  151. Nah, the Achilles heel is that the dominating design can only work most efficiently if the wind comes from one direction. Why not a wheel design that to states on its side that can take wind from any direction?

    • I was thinking of that. I was not sure they would be acceptable because of the desire/need for low friction. I used to design very large industrial fans (up to 16 feet diameter, and used “sleeve-oil bearings”. No rollers at all, no balls at all. We’d have grooves in them and often positive lube pumping, periodically. In theory, no metal ever touches metal, which one almost always tries to avoid. The oil gap is designed so that the shaft rides on a film of oil. It’s a very old technology, actually. One end should be a fixed housing bearing, and the other should float, so that the two bearings are not fighting each other.

  152. For high loading, plain bearings have proven to be far superior than roller bearings. They have many times the bearing surface and the force is much more evenly spread out. You can’t find roller bearings in an engine any more. Really surprising to hear they are using roller bearings.

    • Actually, that is not true at all. Roller bearings are SPECIFICALLY designed for high loads. Ball bearings intrinsically have less load capacity, because of the higher unit stress (Look it up) on the point contact of balls versos rollers. Rollers have more surface area, so they can take more load.

      As to roller bearings, your car’s wheels have them – tapered roller bearings – and they are used BECAUSE of the high impact loads that wheel bearings are subjected to. Such as potholes and bumpy roads.

  153. The bearing problem is due to an intrinsic problem with horizontal-shaft wind turbines. Each time a fan blade passes in front of the pylon the airflow around it changes abruptly, causing a large asymmetric force on the shaft. So for every revolution the shaft (and the bearings) get three big sideways kicks. This beats the hell out of the bearings.
    Note that large jet engines have restrictions on how fast the aircraft can change direction (e. g. when rotating on the take-off run) to protect the main bearings. And that doesn’t happen every few seconds.

    • Sorry. That sounds like normal wear and tear on equipment. Nearly every piece of equipment out in the world has some difficulty with SOMETHING going in – overhung load, vibrations, heat, high surges. It is the engineer’s job to anticipate and properly design for those environmental factors.

      What we are hearing in this is that these engineers were not up to snuff. Hey, that happens. Not every designer know how to deal with every condition, and then they try something and it doesn’t work. That is the difference between good design engineers and bad ones. My professional guess is that these guys came out of college with one CAD class and a sheepskin that said they were engineers. And because they were going into the saving the world world of renewables, they were ll starry-eyed and eager. Well, that sheepskin and 20 years – under someone who really knows WTF he is doing – will make them a REAL senior engineer (which I am). In the meantime, they cost their bosses a lot of grief.

      Everything I am reading about this screams that the were over their head and overlooked stuff that any experienced designer would have known to do.

      Hahaha – This is the kind of hard-headed world that design engineers live in, and it is unforgiving. And when they screw it up, and the world sees the problems, someone will come and rub their nose in it. Right now, I guess I am that guy.

      • At 8:54 AM on 29 August, Steve Garcia had observed:

        What we are hearing in this is that these engineers were not up to snuff.
        [...]
        Everything I am reading about this screams that the were over their head and overlooked stuff that any experienced designer would have known to do.

        On the face of it, that doesn’t seem possible.

        The information presented in this article and the comments appended thereunto appear to indicate that the phenomena under discussion are pervasive in the wind power generation industry, and show up in these Brobdingnagian bat-manglers bloody everywhere they’re boondoggle’d into installation. Is this impression correct?

        If so, then – ceteris paribus – experienced, ingenious, skillful engineers have been dragged into the design process all along, and all of them have been fretting over this issue for decades, along with metallurgists and other strength-of-materials experts, uniformly staggering into frustration and failure. It’s not for want of proper brainpower that this problem plagues a whole industry, or that it hasn’t been recognized, even if recognition is being thought-blocked by the government thugs pushing it, the K Street commandos greasing their palms, and the Democrat Party Audiovisual Club making up the legacy media.

        It may be – most probably it is – simply that wind power generation is intrinsically and utterly unsuited to the needs of an industrial civilization, and there are no engineering breakthroughs within the reach of established or even anticipated materials technologies that can make it either reliable or cost-efficient.

        Geoffrey’s Laws of Engineering

        4. In engineering, you can never ignore the laws of physics. In human endeavors, you can never ignore the laws of economics.

        – Geoffrey A. Landis, “Rules of Engineering Projects,” Analog, April 2004

  154. Ever take a good look at the wheel bearings on a big truck? Specifically the ones on the “steer axle”? Go take a good look someday. They operate in an oil-bath environment, and last for quite a long time that way. The driver gives a visual inspection— either by looking through the sight-glass to see the oil level, or if necessary he pulls the rubber fill-plug and looks that way– probably doesn’t add any oil or if he does he doesn’t add much because they don’t use much–and then drives without worrying about the bearings. Several hundred thousand miles can be had out of a set of front-wheel bearings operating in an oil-bath, and think of the loads imposed by front wheels on a 40-ton rig on those bearings.

    Yeah, lubrication is kind of important, and those wind-turbine bearings are the “lubed for life” kind that you just install and forget. They’re not going to last long, they simply can’t.

    • Yeah, you are basically totally right. Except lube is not “kind of important” – it is all important. NO bearing is going to last without proper levels of lube and a proper system to freshen up the lube. These should NOT be lubed-for-life bearings. They should have a positive lube system built in for the bearings, and it should be designed so that new lube pumped in pushes old lube out, in such a way as to carry out grit. And it should do that pumping on a weekly or monthly schedule.

      And look at the bearings shown above – no seals, no shields. Akkkkkkk!!!! They CANNOT possibly be using open bearings like that!!!

  155. Xcel Energy said it cost $360,000 per turbine in 2012 to replace the gear boxes on their GE 1.5 MW turbines at their Grand Meadow wind facility. The failure rate was 10% in the first 3 years of operation. Xcel said in public filings with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission that they anticipated this would continue since the other folks they talked with said this is “normal”. This was after the underground cables burned up in the first year of operation.

    • F-ing keerist, these things sound like they were designed by the Marx Brothers or Three Stooges. That is my professional opinion as a Sr Mech Design Engineer (retired). This all seems like one big screw-up. Only three years? Heck, the darned things don’t even run full time.

      And WTF are they doing, taking someone else’s word for something being “normal”. Ay yi yi.

  156. Nowhere is this actual vs. claimed cost difference more monumental than in Germany with $1.4 trillion on the line for wind power and needed transmission lines. In addition, servicing a bad turbine part offshore is probably much higher than land-based. The solar sector has similar issues with inefficiencies rated based on ideal temperatures, not rooftops and summer temps. These respective cost adjustments are not so hard for competitive cost investment selection processes but subsidies and political policy objectives undermine clear headed thinking to come up with totally different answers sometimes. See Solyndra and various solar CSP projects as examples.

  157. Part of our end of summer drive was along US 50.
    In Garden City, Kansas, south side of the road, there is an immense distribution center (?plant) for wind turbines. The inventory was impressive. Along side the road was a mile long train of rail cars each holding a turbine blade. Business looks good.
    Google Earth coordinates: 37°57’27″N 100°49’32″W

    Flicker image from 2012.

    • Yowch! I hadn’t thought about it before, but having bolt-on blades sounds like a REALLY bad idea. Dynamic balancing of big rotors is VITAL. In addition, the attachment point being bolted presents challenges for the proper deign, to make sure the entire rotor assembly works as an integrated whole. MUCH better to weld them (it is more complicated than just, though) in the factory and ship them as complete rotor assemblies. If that makes for shipping problems, helicopter them to the site. If that is too expensive, how expensive is it to replace a failed windmill?

      From an engineering standpoint, this all really, REALLY does not sound like a problem that should have come up, if the engineers followed good engineering practice.

      • Balance problems— why didn’t the engineers think of that?

        I sometimes run model power boats, and even in these incredibly small sizes properly balancing the propellers can be — nope make that is– a big issue. An out-of-balance propeller will shake the mountings loose, cause set-screws to loosen and could cause the prop itself to come off of the shaft when the retaining collar loosens and is lost. Now imagine that instead of a prop that is an inch and a quarter in diameter we’re talking a turbine that has blades of ninety feet each– it doesn’t take much of an out-of-balance condition to cause big trouble, and the bearings will feel it first. Next, the mountings will feel it, then the rest of the structure.

  158. The real issue is one of scale. Lots of devices with moving parts scattered all over the place. Even if the bearing issue is addressed in some way, its still a scale issue. With traditional power plants, there are a handful of turbines to produce power. Everything will need overhaul at some point. With wind there are thousands of turbines to produce power. Your maintenance overhead per megawatt is much higher.

  159. So there’s a ubiquitous mechanical problem. Sounds like someone’s opportunity to make a better bearing.

  160. @Bruce Cobb August 26, 2014 at 3:52 am
    “In an honest free market industry, one would hope that ball bearing failure would have been foreseen by those engineering the systems…”

    I have designed industrial equipment for 40 years. Of course you are right. The ONE main thing engineers are required to have is foresight. And mostly we do. I have NO idea why they would put these things out there without a PM (preventive maintenance).

    Can the bearings be designed in so that they last longer? Absofreakinglutely.

    The one thing that kills bearings is heat. You deal with heat by preventing its buildup. Yes, better bearings is good. But also by properly SIZING them in the first place. The LAST thing you do is play games, riding on thin ice with weak, undersized bearings, or going cheapo cheapo. Not when the damned things are 300 feet in the air in the middle of nowhere.

    There are ways of positively cooling the bearings. I mean, every minute they are working there is power available to pump lubricants. Also the lubricants can – and SHOULD BE – be COOLED as they cycle around through the pump.

    Another thing is to use the best synthetic lubricants available. I honestly recommend one called Amsoil. I’ve used it in applications going up to 500°F and the stuff is great. Best for cars, too. If you can find it. Normal organic lubricants are not up to snuff.

    My guess is that the manufacturers balanced costs profits and they went the cheap route, even if only a little bit. And that includes the costs of maintaining the bearings – swapping them out before they go out. THAT is the main part of the PM plan. But it COSTS money. That has to be figured in.

    Another thing they could have done is to design the dynamo packages so that they could be lowered easily, making preventive maintenance that much easier.

    Last point: I may be dumb on this one, but I see the normal loading on the bearings as being pretty balanced. The rotors balance it (mostly) because they are balanced angularly. The overhung load (the rotors hanging on one end) is a negative, but not terribly. You just have to deign for it.

    Perhaps the best thing they could do is mount rotors on BOTH ends of the dynamo/generator shaft. That way the weight load is balanced. They might also get away with shorter blades then. I think it would get a little complex with the way the wind loads hit the front or back rotors, but good engineers should be able to deal with that, with perhaps a little it of R&D. Perhaps the front (windward) blades would have a slightly different warp to them. Or have an automated pitch adjustment, based on feedback from the blade force.

    All of these things are possible, but they cost money. They would have to decided which is more important – up front profits or long term profits and respect.

    All this means nothings, of course. The things are monstrosities and have no place on our farmland. If they could take over all of our energy needs, fine; I’d shut up about them. But they can’t. Not enough overall energy in the winds. Not enough energy density. Especially when the old wind just ain’t blowin’.

    • Steve,
      I’ve little doubt that the improvements you recommend would extend the bearing life, but every one of your suggestions will reduce the rated output of the mill by diverting power to maintenance tasks.

      I’m guessing that the “rated output” is an absolutely central metric to the politicians and regulators who are already freaked out by the uneconomic nature of these beasts. Lower output, even more expensive designs would be unsaleable, even to them.

      • TYoke- Anybody who thinks that they are going to get by WITHOUT maintenance is a village idiot. It’s like hoping to invent a perpetual motion machine – bozo thinking.

        There are trade-offs that sometimes must be accepted. If the cost of PM or better bearings brings the ROI down too far, then screw the whole thing. I am sure I know a bearing salesman who would want to let his engineers at it. Ultra-low friction bearings DO exist, and if necessary manufacturers would be willing to go the extra mile.

        At the same time, others here bring up seals, an it is my guess that it is the seals that are the big drag elements. at the same time, I am sure that in my day (I am retired now) I would have been able to give them seals considerably lower in friction. But I think that even with infinitely small bearings the windmills are never going to deliver. And I LOATHE the bloody monstrosities, so I am not about to help them.

  161. To minimize asymmetric loading on blades, instead of the typical 3-blade design, use 4 blades forming a cross of two straight lines. The opposite blades act like a lever and the shaft is the fulcrum. This will balance the force on the fulcrum and reduce stress on the bearing. Make the blades flexible like an aircraft wing so they can bend. This will reduce the force transmitted to the bearing.

    • The most efficient blade configuration for generating power is one. And some wind turbines have been built that way: A single heavy counterbalance is put on a short blade on the other side of the single long blade. (I-5, north of Vallejo CA for example.) Those models have not been repeated since the late 1980’s, but I do not know what the specific failure mode was. Regardless, as stated, single prop’s have not been built in other that test situations.

      Dual blades can work, and many units are dual bladed. They are more efficient at converting the available wind energy into electric power than three-blade prop’s, but, the industry worldwide has found that 3 blades – each slightly shorter than a two-blade prop, are overall a better configuration.

      Tests show a four-blade prop as you describe offers the worst of 2-blade in terms of vibration, loss of efficiency 9compared to three blades), heavier weights on the nacelle and bearings, and increased vibrational nodes (resonances) as the blades cross the line of the tower. 3-blade props also make installation and maintenance – what little maintenance is actually done that is – slightly easier and safer.

      Wind turbine still kill more people than other energy system. But the greed-industry and their politicians don’t want to talk about that. They’d rather focus on the fear of non-existent deaths in the nuclear industry.

  162. Are we talking bearing made in America or are we talking bearing outsourced to China here? You get what you pay for.

    • You sound like back in the 1960s and talking about “Made in Japan” a being a sign of poor quality then.

      You evidently think it needs to say “MADE IN USA” to be good quality. Actually, made in the USA is as often erratic quality. As a former business owner of a small manufacturing company, I can tell you that American quality is fairly often the worst on the block. Oh, you take your chances in China, too. But we had spur gears made in both places and by FAR the worst were American. At the same time, one Chinese manufacturer got just about everything wrong on some shoulder screws, on a trial run. Like I said, you take your chances. But I assure you that MADE IN USA is no promise of good quality.

  163. I’m completely against what currently exists as the wind energy “industry” (though I reject the bird issue since it would necessitate getting rid of cars, buildings, bridges, trees and everything else birds and bats continuously slam into). But if the bearings need to be 10 times stronger than current materials, if they discover a material that’s economical and 10 or more times stronger, would it make wind practical without subsidies? (Assuming one has either a market for intermittent power supply or an economical storage method.)

  164. Snake Oil Baron asks @August 28, 2014 at 6:50 am;

    … [I]f the bearings need to be 10 times stronger than current materials, if they discover a material that’s economical and 10 or more times stronger, would it make wind practical without subsidies?

    In other words, are the bearings the only hangup? No; bearings are one of several hangups, each of which is individually a potential deal-breaker, show-stopper.

    In the case of bearings (as will also apply with some of the other wind turbine adversities), hypothetical solutions that would improve the competitiveness of wind, will act in similar ways to improve the competitiveness of its competitors, such as petroleum and gas.

    If we did create magic new bearings, everyone would stand to benefit. The conventional oil industry, and coal mining, leading the list.

    And wind would still have several other albatrosses hanging from its neck.

  165. good luck to the wind turbine crowd on developing a bearing material “ten times more durable” ( in the words of the “senior wind turbine engineer” quoted on the post). This is science fiction.

    • Agreed. Professionally speaking, I don’t think the guy is well-versed on bearings, “turbine engineer” or not. I am a retired senior mechanical deign engineer myself, and to be honest, to me this would be a cool project, but nothing very much “out there”. I think the engineers were simply not adequate for the job – him included. He might know lots about blades and power and all, but only years of dealing with bearings in equipment will teach someone how to deal with the forces and the elements .

    • At 7:42 am ON 28 August, mpainter wrote:

      good luck to the wind turbine crowd on developing a bearing material “ten times more durable” ( in the words of the “senior wind turbine engineer” quoted on the post). This is science fiction.

      Nope. It’s fantasy.

      <blockquote“…a handy short definition of almost all science fiction might read: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method.”

      – Robert A. Heinlein, in The Science Fiction Novel: Imagination and Social Criticism. (Advent Publishers, 1959) Conference: Science Fiction: Its Nature, Faults and Virtues at University of Chicago.

  166. David L. Hagen said @August 26, 2014 at 7:27 am;

    Extremely high durability bearings HAVE been developed. – by Pratt & Whitney – for a $> 1 billion RD&D investment.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/danielfisher/2013/01/23/the-billion-dollar-bet-on-jet-tech-thats-making-flying-more-efficient/

    Wind turbine companies need to persuade Pratt to license its ultra reliable bearing technology.

    The cited article does not mention bearings at all. How the necessary durability of the new bypass fan gearbox was achieved, is not discussed here.

    A fancy gearbox needs good bearings, sure … but generally what limits ‘extreme’ gearbox-applications is the gears themselves, rather than the bearings.

    • Having ultra-reliable bearings is not a problem. There are MANY out there, available off-the-shelf. Bearings are rated based on millions and millions of cycles/revs. The thing is to size them right and protect them from the elements and heat. Thus, seals, shields, and automatic lubrication systems.

      I am HIGHLY doubtful that hat spokesman really knows what he is talking about, with his “ten times stronger” line. There is no one-size-fits-all bearing or bearing type. They have to be properly selected. I mean, the RPMs on those things is so low (15?), the total revs per year can’t be that much. MOST bearings are run at speeds of 1800 RPMs, 900 RPMs, even many, many at 3600 RPMs. It is an “overhung load” application, so the front bearings are seeing most of the load. Proper design would be to minimize the loading and “unit stress”. The real experts on that are the bearing manufacturer’s in-house engineers. And they will work with anyone to get the very best.

      But NO bearing is any better than its lubrication system. If they put them up without providing “in-shaft” lube ports and without heat sensors and vibration sensors, they don’t know what they are doing.

    • Sorry, dude. With all due respect, you do not know what you are talking about. You do not plug the wind turbine in to get it to go. They do not USE power; they produce power (even if not enough for the world).

  167. Show off insider knowledge that the bearing problem (ref link) is perhaps one of the largest of a myriad of windmill operations problems.

    Imagine yourself at a large dinner party, and a liberal (of course) makes a comment about how wonderful “green” wind turbines are.
    You can chime in with, “But have they solved the bearing problem?”

    With that one simple question line, you have:
    1) innocently shown that you know more about windmills than the liberal ever will.
    2) disarmed the person from further bolstering claims about the egregiously hideous monstrosities.
    3) made everyone in the conversation happy to not have to slog thru yet another “so yesterday”, “green” energy, bullshit spiel.
    4) educated everyone in earshot that the mother-earth raping, slasher, machines may not be the panacea they have been led to believe.
    5) realized that given the present company, now might be a good time to leave before someone claims guns kill people.

  168. Technical point here:

    If THAT bearing shown is representative of what they are actually using, Mother of GOD, they are idiots. It is no seals ore shield whatsoever, so any grit that gets in is going to play holy hell with the bearings. No wonder they have problems.

    Are they DAFT?

  169. Forty years ago a common approach to bearings in high performance applications, such as aircraft, was to select the best out of a production lot, and sell them under a different part number. (Adding an X suffix was common.)

    One selection method was often rolling them and using a vibration detector, perhaps spelled “microphone”, smoother being better of course.

    Today much better manufacturing precision should be available.

    (Selection was used for brightness variation in tiny light bulbs used in airliner instrument panels – AS15% was Boeing’s criteria (Aged and Selected 15%, effectively burn-in then selection), and for reliability of a tube used in airborne weather radars.

    Of course if the purchaser didn’t insist on and get the selected-best items, they’d get “pot luck” from the rejects.)

    PS: Of course back then aircraft components subject to wearout were life-limited – overall the machinery before it fails. I think that ships and manufacturing plants do similar, and monitoring is available (in helicopters that has been called HUMS, for Health and Usage Monitoring System). Even a pulp mill for example (makes paper) expends great effort to avoid breakdowns – the cost of time out of service of a plant worth hundreds of millions of dollars justifies preventative maintenance. Today sensors and computation are well advanced.

    I suspect the wind industry is learning the hard way about maintaining costly high performance systems.

    • I meant “overhaul” the machinery, of course.

      Disassemble, inspect, repair as necessary, replace parts like bearings, then test against specs.

      Things not subject to wearout were not life limited, perhaps checked at intervals.

      “penny wise – pound foolish” operators liked to do “on condition”, which for things with bearings and such I referred to as “run to failure”. One jerk maintenance manager refused to overhaul a sizeable radar antenna before the aircraft was sent halfway around the world to work for months. Sure enough, several times he incurred the cost of shipping a replacement antenna there, as it is necessary in tropical weather conditions.

  170. If the government was not involved the investors would lose only their own money. The investigation into how the project would make money would have had a higher priority and been rejected if this problem had been highlighted.

  171. I live near the Holtwood hydroelectric station in Pennsylvania. In 1901, they installed the first Kingsbury thrust bearing. It has worked flawlessly since. From Wikipedia : His bearing succeeded this time, and worked flawlessly for the next 25 years. When it was inspected after 25 years, there was so little evidence of wear that it was calculated that the bearing would last 1,300 to 1,700 years.[2] The same bearing is still operating smoothly today.

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