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A Wind Turbine Burns Down – Did it Have to Happen?

Reliable Technology Protects Against Irreparable Damage

– Michael Kopp, Manager Sales & Marketing Distribution, Vishay ESTA Division

There are many wind turbines installed throughout the world already, and experience has shown that they are prone to severe damage. In fact, it is not unusual for wind turbines to catch fire. Once this happens, a flaming, 30-m long rotor blade may crash to the ground from a height of 100 m. In extreme cases, the towers threaten to break or topple over. In many countries the fire department cannot extinguish fires at such a height. Instead, they can only cordon off the area and let the system burn in a controlled manner. As a result, the damage can quickly reach into the millions of dollars under certain circumstances, depending on the size of the turbine. This raises the question: how can we make wind turbines safer?

To answer this question, manufacturers have defined key areas to eliminate every source of error in advance. This is why Vishay investigated the connection of capacitors in particular. It was possible to trace some of the faults causing fires to defective electrical connections. The most important requirements placed on an electrical connection include contact pressure that is adequate over the long term and a low contact resistance. If the contact pressure is too low or if the contact resistance is too high such as happens in an intermittent contact, the power dissipation, converted to heat, increases when current flows at the connection point. As electrical connections are made of metal, the resistance increases with increasing temperature and may generate temperatures of up to 600°C at the defective connection point depending on the magnitude of the contact resistance and of the current flowing (P = R * I²). A technician considers a power dissipation of 50 watts or more combustible. Processes that change the current load can increase a contact resistance that is already too high even further because they subject the electrical connection to expansion and contraction due to pronounced thermal stress. This results in a further degradation of the contact pressure. In addition, the thermal stress usually causes a further degradation in the conductivity of the conducting material leading to even higher contact resistance. Aggravating factors also include the following: It is almost impossible to detect defective electrical connections with a contact resistance that is too high all the time even using regular, comprehensive inspections. This is because the resistance of these connections can change depending on the operating state of the turbine. These conditions may also develop slowly over years.

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