Wind turbine generator maintenance is challenging, particularly offshore
How to keep tabs on (ever so many) things1 January 2008
A curiously interesting 64-page tabloid-newspaper-sized ‘briefing’ document has come my way. A page of ‘credits’ states that the publication† has been produced with the support of the UK government’s Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which you may be relieved to learn is also, and less breathlessly, called BERR.
The briefing is about a subject that has been fluttering in and out of spotlights for many decades; its history is traceable to the transponder and the early days of radar.†† Known for short as radio-frequency identification, or for even shorter as RFID, its centre of attention is a kind of unobtrusive identity tag that can be interrogated at a distance by radio.
RFID is an extraordinarily versatile technique, at least conceptually, and has been employed for the tracking of all sorts of things during their processing, manufacture, storage, sale, transit, use, consumption, disposal and so on, seemingly ad infinitum. Ramifications include keeping livestock under surveillance, ticketing passengers for conveyance by public transport, and generally controlling the access (or otherwise) of the living and the robotic to defined places (stationary or mobile).
The vast scope of application, potential as well as actual, is indicated in the briefing’s foreword, which has been contributed from BERR by Stephen Timms, a Member of Parliament and
the Department’s Minister for State for Competitiveness and Consumer Affairs. Timms claims that considerable benefits have been obtained in various cases by the application of RFID and he touches on some of the examples that are presented in the briefing. However, he does not single out one of them that rather caught my fancy.
In an article on industrial applications for logistics systems, toward the end of the briefing, a possible niche market is envisaged in wind farming. Wind turbine generator maintenance, particularly offshore, is recognised as a challenging task. Downtime has to be avoided. The replacement of damaged generators or gearboxes calls for expensive effort. The reliability of all components, in fact, is important, and they must be accurately and systematically tracked for maintenance to be efficient. Given RFID tags to identify the components, it is argued, wind power engineers can not only deal with failures when they occur but also take the opportunity to replace nearby components that are approaching the ends of their working lives.
I found all this rather pleasing and satisfying, but in the end it also brought me a certain relief. I confess that I had felt the tiniest frisson of foreboding when the subject of wind power and other renewably sourced generation was introduced:
I was by some imp prompted to think of those electrotechnical entrepreneurs who have offered, for sale to electricity consumers, devices for identifying the different components of current in a commercial supply.
By means of these devices, consumers have been assured, the nuclear–sourced fraction of the supply can be identified and separated to prevent contamination of a devotedly antinuclear consumer’s electrical appliances by current from a nuclear power station.††† I imagine that the most up-to-date merchants of such hardware, if they still exist, are also claiming for their wares an ability to strain out electricity generated by plant that emits climate-changing gases.
But how could anyone – even your wayward columnist – in the merest microsecond of some fantastic reverie – conceive of support for such notions by a government minister?
Please rest assured that this ministerially endorsed briefing says nothing suspicious about the tagging of electrons or climate-changing gas molecules.