Mike Rowe produces the engaging TV show “Dirty Jobs” rightfully named for the vile work he takes on. Rowe bravely spends the day doing the dangerous to the disgusting, from removing snakes from ponds to cleaning sewers, all for our entertainment.
One not-so-disgusting but eye-opening job had him spend a day as a wind turbine technician. The trip starts with an 80-m climb. The techs almost ran up the ladder while Rowe and his crew climbed at a much slower pace. It looked exhausting, and when in the nacelle, Rowe found it hard to move about its tight confines. By comparison, claustrophobic WWII submarines are absolutely spacious.
Rowe’s first task was cleaning pools of oil that dripped from hydraulic yaw brakes. The crew seemed unperturbed, as if the pools were normal. They cleaned up easily enough with spray soap and rags.
The next step was changing an oil filter. A tech handed Rowe an adjustable wrench and told him to loosen the bolt at the bottom of a filter mounted near the nacelle floor. But Rowe found the task utterly daunting. His usually unflappable demeanor showed genuine irritation. Not willing to admit defeat, he grabbed a small video camera from his crew and pointed it at the difficult-to-see bolt so we could all view the problem on a small screen. The techs were toying with Rowe. A socket-head wrench was the tool needed to turn a bolt at the center of some crenellations. With the right tool, the bolt was soon loose, but getting the end cap off was another matter. It eventually came loose with one of the heftier guys lying on his back grunting with a torque bar.
Then Rowe moved to a forward section of the nacelle, accessed through a small opening. In the close confines, he could not see where he was stepping and had to be guided by another tech already in the space. In this tight enclosed area, they cleaned up a grease spill with brake cleaner, a solvent. Rowe also found a few crickets in the grease, though this was nothing compared to the rattlesnake one tech reportedly encountered. Two fang marks were still visible on his hand. The bite resulted in the tech’s hasty retreat and several days in the hospital. He theorized the snake crawled into the nacelle before it was lifted and then it found the warm generator to its liking.
To most, the show was simply entertainment. To engineers, it was outrageous. Who in their right mind would so badly design equipment for small spaces? Designfor- maintenance, an aspect of design work, seems completely omitted from this turbine and most likely many others. The tight work space in the nacelle is not only irritating, but primed for accidents.
For instance, using a torque arm in a difficult position needs one slip, and boom: a broken tooth. Small access holes beg for slips and falls. Using a solvent in closed quarters is practically praying for a pass-out, and why so much dripping hydraulic oil?
A recent report from Wind Energy Update tells of rising O&M costs and it’s no wonder. The lowest cost-to-build turbine is not the lowest cost overall. More spacious nacelles designed for maintenance will improve working conditions and hopefully, keep turbine maintenance off Dirty Jobs.
Filed Under: Nacelle, News
Dig a little deeper into this for a follow-up article Kathleen. You will find not only tight but very, very dirty nacelles. Most are not only cramped but have many hidden areas impossible to access for a good scrubbing. As a result dirt, oil, wasps, crickets, moths and bodily fluids such as sweat and saliva all build up into a caked mixture sure to turn the most hardened stomachs. Most Chinese restaurant kitchens look like a Trump Hotel lobby compared to the inside of a nacelle. (The outsides are disgusting too.) The other day I went into a sneezing fit followed by a lasting cough from being inside the nacelle of one GE 1.5 for just 30 minutes. Imagine spending 3 hours in one! I still have the cough lingering this morning, two days later!.
Some companies have their maintenance techs do the cleaning while others contract the work out. As OM costs climb you can only imagine what gets neglected first…..you guessed it, the cleaning! Believe me when I tell you that engineers are not under the gun to produce DFM machines but lower and lower cost machines. Especially now, that the tax credit is in jeopardy, you can bet you won’t see any DFM nacells or turbines coming out soon. Too bad for guys and gals in the maintenance (the lowest) level of the industry like me.
I am going to work as hard as I can to become a tech (one level up because they trouble-shoot rather than grunt) so I don’t need to spend so much time up-tower. After all, while high in protein, one does not want to over do it when swallowing oil ladden wasp bodies.
Wind Turbine Maintanance
Kathleen Zipp says
I have to credit my editor Paul Dvorak with this article but great point! I will share with Paul. Thanks for reading!