By Hans Landin, group VP at Timken
When it comes to the equipment inside wind turbines, performance and reliability can’t be compromised. Turbines are often in remote locations like mountaintops and offshore outposts. They must be built to withstand very harsh and dynamic operating conditions. They’re relentlessly pounded with weather extremes including oppressive heat, freezing cold, hail, rain, snow and the very wind they’re designed to harness. It’s up to operators to maintain turbine performance against all odds, and one way to do that is by ensuring proper lubrication.
Lubrication keeps turbines in motion
There’s a lot to be said for lubrication in the right amount, at the right time, applied consistently over the life of a machine. Bearings and other components simply last longer. Grease collars form to keep dirt and moisture out. Blown-out seals are less likely. Lubrication not only protects the system – it keeps it in motion and helps reduce waste caused by over-lubrication along the way.
According to the Global Wind Energy Council, global wind power capacity grew 275% from 2010 to 2020 and is projected to grow another 63% by 2025. One factor driving that growth is that the cost per kilowatt-hour of wind power has steadily dropped. To maintain this positive momentum and remain competitive, wind turbine operators today must rely on solutions to reduce friction, increase energy output and minimize maintenance costs.
Turbines of any size require significant maintenance to keep them performing to their fullest potential. That’s where automatic lubrication systems come in. For any turbine larger than 2 MW, a lubricating system is becoming standard, and it’s a must-have for anything offshore.
Four reasons to invest in automatic lubrication
Automatic lubrication options have changed the game for wind farm operators. Here are a few ways automatic lubrication systems prove they’re worth the upfront investment.
- Improved safety. Manually lubricating turbines can be a hazardous task. A turbine’s most important internal components are situated where winds are strongest – as high as 400 ft. Offshore units present additional challenges if maintenance crews encounter rough seas. Today, automatic lubrication pumps and systems take human beings out of risky situations by automatically dispensing precise amounts of grease at regular intervals to reduce up-tower labor compared to periodic manual greasing.
- Reduction in downtime. Manual lubrication can be dangerous and tedious. Using a grease gun to lubricate each moving part in the turbine is a time-consuming job. Turbines operate 24/7, and stopping them to allow service technicians to lubricate bearings and other components interrupts the power supply they produce. With an automatic system, lubricant is applied while the system remains in motion. It also removes human factors, such as under- and over-lubricating or, even worse, completely neglecting lubrication.
- Maximized turbine life. Automatic systems can also improve the performance and extend the life of pitch, yaw, mainshaft and generator bearings. Further, moisture inside a turbine gearbox can be a significant issue, leading to corrosion. However, component failures due to mixing and contamination of grease with dirt and water are reduced with automatic lubrication systems in place. This leads to fewer maintenance issues, which is especially helpful for reducing the number of times offshore operators have to ship out a vessel to make repairs.
- Material savings and efficiency. Investment in a system vs. manual lubrication not only reduces labor costs, cuts risk and extends equipment life, but it can also ease waste and environmental challenges due to greater precision. Less grease reduces the environmental impact from grease waste. Grease spreads better across the surface while the moving parts are in operation, a further advantage of the automatic system. The increased efficiency and quality of application allows the system to use a smaller and more precise volume of lubricant at each maintenance interval.
The future of wind turbine maintenance
Thanks to innovations like automatic lubrication systems, wind power has become more reliable and more affordable than ever. American Clean Power reports that wind power was the No. 1 choice of utility-scale power generation in 2020, and together with solar delivers nearly 11% of the nation’s electricity. Additionally, per American Clean Power, wind costs are 70% lower since 2009 – thanks to considerable investment in improvements by all members of the wind power industry. Still, it’s a young industry with tremendous upside. As demand continues to rise for renewable energy sources, automatic lubrication systems will become even more vital.
Hans Landin is group vice president and an officer of The Timken Company, a global industrial leader in engineered bearings and power transmission products. Hans leads the successful integration and growth of business units that engineer, manufacture and sell lubrication systems, linear motion products, industrial belts, chain, couplings, clutches and brakes. With its Groeneveld and BEKA brands, Timken is the world’s second-largest producer of automatic lubrication systems for industrial applications.
In the early 2000s, Timken made a strategic decision to focus on problems occurring in the field. As wind turbines grew larger, bearing failures increased, sending ownership costs sky high. Turbines built to last 20 years needed major component rebuilds in as few as seven years, which can be very costly over the life of the turbine. By engaging power producers, OEMs and industry collaborators worldwide, Timken acquired and developed a powerful portfolio of products that’s now helping to move wind power forward.
Filed Under: Featured, Lubricants