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If you are considering the purchase of a small wind system, you should know that small wind systems require at least annual maintenance. Maintenance needs increase with the number of moving parts on the turbine, higher average wind speed, and/or turbulence. This factsheet provides an overview of operation and maintenance considerations, but you will need information specific to your wind system in order to complete actual maintenance. Your owner’s manual should provide most of the information you need to maintain your system properly.
Careful assembly of parts and high-quality installation will help to prevent many maintenance issues. Proper installation of a system includes appropriate bolt torque, especially when installing the blades, rotor, and tower. Electrical wiring practices should include wire gauge sizing, proper grounding and crimping, and ensuring wiring meets electrical code standards. Lubrication should be completed to the manufacturer’s specifications. Other factors may include the sequence of assembly and installation, proper initial tower installation or setup of guy wire tensions, and appropriate pouring of the foundation.
The amount of maintenance (and money) your system will require will vary by the turbine, site, wind speed and turbulence and by your access to parts and services. Here are a few things to consider:
Consider the work that will need to be done on your small wind turbine. Ask the question, “If not you, then who?” This question is important for two primary reasons: 1) Even people who are technically competent to perform maintenance may need to sub-contract the work. If you become ill or injured, who will maintain your system? Are you willing to spend time maintaining the system? It is easy to defer maintenance because you are busy, the weather is cold, or you would rather spend your free time doing other activities. You may find that hiring service work makes more sense. 2) It may take some time to locate a qualified technician in your area. In some cases, installers are willing to provide maintenance services on a fee-basis and some turbines come with service contracts. Depending on your area, however, access to qualified technicians may vary. If technicians will have to travel to reach your site, you will need to consider mileage expenses as part of your budget.
A great source of information for the type of maintenance recommended for your turbine is the owner’s manual. Most manufacturers provide an overview of the maintenance requirements and recommendations for part replacement. The following information is not a thorough maintenance guide. It intends only to give you an overview of the components of the turbine you will need to inspect:
Safety should be a primary concern and never discounted or overlooked when performing any turbine maintenance. Be aware of the safety recommendations for your system. Safety concerns include falls, electrocution, and multiple pinch points. Maintenance may include manipulating heavy objects with winches and lifts, which generates thousands of pounds of force. Remember that much of the maintenance work will be performed well above the ground. Maintenance work performed on the tower will require climbing equipment and careful attention to detail. The wind speed will increase and the temperature will likely be cooler as you reach the top of the tower.
There are steps that you can take to mitigate hazards. You can ensure electrical disconnects are in place and functional to protect you from back-feed. Check for functioning rotor brakes. Pay attention to the location of overhead electrical lines and trees. Wearing protective eyewear, gloves, hardhat, clothing, and safety equipment can help to protect you while you work. Be informed, and preferably trained, on wind turbine maintenance and safety.
In short, you should consider the need to maintain a small wind system before purchase. Like automobiles, those that are well cared for can provide years of service. Those that are not well maintained will show the lack of care through loss of energy production, catastrophic system failures and shortened life expectancy. Be sure to have frank discussions regarding maintenance with your installer to ensure you accurately understand the maintenance requirements of your system before you commit to a small wind turbine.
Sagrillo, M. (n.d.). Renew Wisconsin Small Wind Toolbox. Retrieved December 2010, from Operating and Maintenance Expenses: http://www.renewwisconsin.org/wind/Toolbox-Homeowners/Operation%20and%20maintenance%20costs.pdf
Woofenden, I. (2009, Dec/Jan). Learning the Ropes: A Beginner’s Guide to Tower Climbing Saftey. Home Power Magazine, pp. 66-70.
Woofenden, R. B. (2010, Feb/March). Wind Electric System Maintenance. Home Power Magazine, pp. 98-103.