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CLIPPER WIND TURBINE GEAR FAILURES STOP "STEELWINDS" IN LACKAWANNA , NEW YORK
Submitted by Jeff Buster on Thu, 01/03/2008 - 14:35.
The Buffalo News reports today that the complicated gearboxes on the Clipper wind turbines in Lackawanna, New York have caused the facility to shut down. The photo above was taken in September of 2007 and shows the eight Clipper turbines on the old Bethlehem slag heaps with Buffalo in the left hand background.
The US designed and built Clipper turbines are a radical departure from the direction turbine engineering is headed in Europe.
For the last decade in Europe the goal in wind turbine engineering has been the elimination of any gearbox or gears between the turbine rotor and the generator. The privately held German firm Enercon produces what I believe are the most advanced gearless turbines using a large diameter annular generator. On my visit to the wind energy trade fair in Hamburg, Germany in 2004 large sections of the multiple convention halls were dedicated to gears, gearboxes, gear machining, gear face surface finishing, gear lubrication, gear lubrication heat, noise, and particulates monitoring, gear lubrication cleaning, etc etc about gears. It was clear from the number of gear engineering, gear maintenance and gear service vendors that gears and gearboxes were a big problem in the wind turbine industry. A problem to avoid, not embrace - as Clipper chose to do.
So when Clipper engineers went in the opposite direction and designed a turbine with four generators driven synchronously by a huge gearbox with one low speed input shaft and four high speed out shafts – I was very skeptical.
The present gear problems in Lackawanna were, I believe, predictable. In my April 4, 2007 field report on Clipper’s Lackawanna installation I wrote: “My bet is that this complex gear train will have maintenance issues”. And I do not believe the present Clipper gear problems will be fixed by re-manufacturing specific gears or gear teeth or changing gear surface hardness, gear lubrication, etc, etc.
Unfortunately, this will probably have a negative ripple effect right here in Cleveland where Advanced Manufacturing is machining the gear boxes for Clipper.
Clipper will also be seen as a horse with a broken leg – an injury from which I believe it will be difficult for Clipper to recover.
One expense Clipper will be eating for a while is the cost and maintenance of dozens of sections of new wind turbine towers which have been trucked to a Lackawanna lay-down yard. The photo above was taken from Amtrak in November. Photo of the these tower sections being trucked on interstate 90 can be seen here on Realneo.
Bill Mason, Richard Stuebi and the Cuyahoga County Energy "Task Force" should recognize that their scheme to put "10 wind turbines about 3 miles off of Cleveland in Lake Erie is a much more radical idea than Clipper’s failure prone gearbox. So, why is Cleveland using very scarce tax dollars to toy around with such a hairbrained risk – instead of building a turbine tower manufacturing facility or other more proven wind energy manufacturing process which will bring jobs to NEO?
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