Dancing in the wind

I have discussed in other post the phenomenal growth of the dimensions of wind turbines in the last 2 decades. Bigger rotors, taller towers and more MW has been the industry trend year after year.

There is some evidence that we are reaching the limit – blades of more than 50m length pose significant logistic challenges, while steel tower more than 100 meters tall can be subject to strong vibrations and dangerous oscillations under certain circumstances.

Such vibrations can be induced by several external sources such as an unbalanced rotor, an earthquake or the wind itself.

They are dangerous because they can damage the turbine due to fatigue loading (the weakening of materials due to cyclical loads). Some type of foundation can also partially lose stiffness – for instance monopile foundations.

Additionally, these vibrations can also trigger resonance phenomenons in the tower – you can follow this link to see of how “soft soft” and “stiff” tower are designed based on the blade passing frequency.

You can see a good full scale example of this problem in the video above and read here more about wind turbine vibrations.

There are several technical solutions currently being studied to dampen the tower reducing the vibrations.

Among the most interesting concept that I have seen I would mention tuned mass dampers – basically an auxiliary mass connected to the structure with spring and dashpots (viscous friction dampers), friction plates or similar energy dissipating elements.

These dumpers are called “tuned” because they have been designed keeping in mind the natural oscillation frequencies of the structure they have to protect. The two main parameters are the spring constant and the damping ratio: by varying them it is possible to damp harmonic vibrations.

I do not know if tuned mass dampers that can work with the first fundamental frequency of  industrial size wind turbines (below 1 Hz) are currently available – however I have found quite a lot of  studies on the topic.

A similar technological solution is the tuned liquid column damper. In this case a liquid inside an U shaped tank. By varying the geometry of the tank and the depth of the liquid different damping frequencies can be achieved.

The main benefits of this solution are the geometrical flexibility (you have to put the dumper somewhere inside the tower or the nacelle – I can assure you that the space there is very reduces) and low cost.

Another variant is the pendulum damper. In this solution, the length of the pendulum is calculated to match the fundamental frequency of the WTG.

Mass Damper (a) and Pendulum Damper (b)
Copyright O. Altay, C. Butenweg, S. Klinkel, F. Taddei
Vibration Mitigation of Wind Turbine Towers by Tuned Liquid Column Dampers
Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Structural Dynamics, EURODYN 2014

Blades repair – how to fix it

I have discussed in other posts why wind turbines blades are prone to different type of damages and how to detect them.

But what happen when a problem is identified?

Changing the blade is usually the “last recourse” option: in addition to the cost of the blade itself there are the transportation costs plus the need to fine a main crane for the job (and it is not easy to find a free slot for a crane: due to their cost owners try to keep them busy 100% of the time).

Therefore efforts will be made to repair the damaged blade with a short downtime - ideally one or two days.

The technique used to fix the blade will depend on numerous parameters such as the entity of the damage (cosmetic, structural or affecting the efficiency of the blade), the region of the blades that suffered the damage (some areas such as the leading edge are more critical) are and the type of problem (cracks, debonding, impact damage, etc.).

Among the repair techniques currently used it is worth mentioning:

  • Filling and sealing (also called "dill & fill"). With this solution small superficial cracks, delamination and other similar non-structural problems can be repaired injecting the appropriate material (usually resin, or special fillers or gel). To do it injection holes going to the depth of the defect are created. Often the resin is pre-heated before being injected with manual guns or pneaumatic tools using compressed air. The material injected can have a curing time of several hours or even a day. Curing can be at ambient temperature or at a higher temperature depending on the chemical properties of the substances used. In case higher temperatures are needed heating blankets or similar tools such as ultraviolet lamps (UV) are used.


  • Coatings, tapes or shields. These solutions are especially designed for leading edge erosion repair and protection – a classic and frequent problem. Basically the idea is to use an additional layer to protect the leading edge.


  • Plug/patch and scarf repair for major damages. This solution involve removing the damaged region, leaving a straight, stepped or, if possible, tapered hole. Subsequently the patch is applied to close the hole. There are different alternatives for the patch: it can for instance be formed from a pre-impregnated composite fibre tape cut to shape, applied in layers using intermediate layers of adhesive or preformed to the correct shape and subsequently bonded.

Wind turbne blades repair patch. Image from Report on Repair Techniques for composite parts of Wind Turbine blades
(D. Lekou)

The adhesive used in blades repair is usually especially designed for this type of application. It has to be resistant to fatigue and cracks and have a short curing time (although for wind turbines located in extremely hot environments a slow curing adhesive can sometimes be a better choice). Two-component adhesive are frequent (basically the blade repair technician mix the two different components of the adhesive, activating the reaction).

Different repair works may be needed if the damage has be caused by lightning (a frequent occurrence) or if the problem is with the ancillary elements of the blade (like the vortex generators).

Where have all the wind turbine gone? Foldable towers

Perima foldable wind turbine tower - folded. Copyright Pantano et al., Springer

In previous post some years ago I have described two alternative solution for the wind turbine tower that should help solving the problem of the huge cranes that are currently needed for the erection of the wind turbines components.

One is the self-lifting precast tower developed by Esteyco, a Spanish engineering company that developed several interesting technical solution.

The other is the Nabrawind solution – again, a Spanish company that developed a self-erecting tower. They also have another interesting product, modular blades that can be assembled.

Some days ago, I have discovered another technical solution that share some similarities with these two concept but with an interesting twist: a group of Italian engineers has developed a “retractable” tower, basically a telescopic mechanism that can be folded bringing the blades down to the ground without using cranes or other equipment.

Theoretically it could be operated from a remote location, even if I guess that some kind of supervision during the operation is advisable.

Why should you want to make your wind turbine disappear?

The authors mention several reasons, for instance minimization of the visual impact (you can make your WTG almost invisible during the day and having it work at night).

I can also think at other uses – minimization of bird impact (folding the tower during the migration period) or increased safety during extreme wind (for instance during the monsoon season in south east Asia).

The idea is not only a concept –a working prototype has already been built in southern Italy.

Perima foldable wind turbine tower - erected. Copyright Pantano et al., Springer

It is a small wind turbine (55 kW), at least for what is today the standard in utility scale projects (3 to 5 MW). Additionally it has only 2 blades, which I think can help when you retract the tower.

However the hub height is 30 meters, quite a reasonable figure.

It is interesting to observe that this technical solution needs a deep foundation, basically with a depth equivalent to the hub height.

It is mentioned the possibility to modify the concept to use the foundation hole as a well to extract water. Quite an interesting side benefit I would say.

The authors are not sharing the cost of the tower and the ancillary elements, although I suspect they could be several time the cost of the standard, non-retractile  tubular steel tower.

Finally, it would be interesting to know the applicability of this solution to WTGs in the MW class.

The authors mention a dimensioning bending moment of around 300 kNm. Such value is two orders of magnitude lower of the values that are common in industrial size turbines, so it is not immediately evident that the idea can be scaled without major modification.

An additional problem would be the length of the foundation pit.  Reaching depths of 50 meters and below, although not impossible, introduce new issues – for instance the need of very specialized drilling equipment.

Perima foldable wind turbine tower - technical details. Copyright Pantano et al., Springer