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Futureproofing wind energy with approved cabling systems

Wind power generation is proving to be one of the fastest growing renewable energy sources, offering many advantages. Across the world, wind energy is a cost-effective alternative to the conventional power supply. The demand for reliable, affordable clean energy continues growing and becoming increasingly important in the drive for decarbonisation. Rapid transformations in power generation systems enable local, faster and energy supply to more than meet the demand. As a sustainable energy source, wind produces little to no Co₂ or greenhouse gas emissions, reducing pollution and slowing climate change's effects.

According to the Global Wind Energy Council, over 60 GW of new wind power generation plants were installed worldwide in 2019. With wind readily available for conversion to useable energy and new installs planned over the coming years – the aim is that by 2030 wind energy will offset 2.5 billion tons of carbon per year as it has already proven to be a highly dependable source of energy.

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Wind cable applications:

1. Transmission from remote locations

Wind farms tend to be located in remote areas, which may appear advantageous, but this can present challenges in the logistics involved with construction and energy transmission. Alongside the plant, transmission lines must be built to transport generated power from the wind farm to consumers. Many wind plant owners are pre-empting expansion and futureproofing the transmission lines to handle greater capacities over time.

Unlike traditional cabling infrastructures, wind energy cables often utilise aluminium conductor designs, offering lighter weights and lower costs than copper conductors. Assessment of cabling systems is crucial to proving long-distance transmission capabilities, efficiency and performance within harsh outdoor environments, including their ability to continue operating in the rain, high wind and varying temperature environments.

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2. Energy conversion process

Energy generated from a wind turbine is transported to a transmission substation. From here, in an extremely high voltage (EHV) form, it is readied for onward transmission to the grid. Energy grids often comprise of a series of power lines which link to regional or local power centres. Once the energy reaches the centres, it is converted to lower voltages, and from here, it is fed into the local distribution grids for consumer usage.

The journey from plant to consumer involves a range of voltage capabilities and, thus, a need for differing cable considerations. For example, the material components used in cable design can often be dictated by electrical demands and the cable’s ability to maximise conductivity and insulation resistance. The cable construction may also influence reactance, impedance and capacitance. Therefore, higher voltage cables from the grid to demand centres may require additional protective component layers to ensure safe and efficient performance.

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3. Fire threats in wind turbines

Wind turbines catch fire for the same reasons as other heavy machinery: components fail, overheating occurs, or sparks ignite flammable material. Measures can be implemented to protect and reduce the likelihood of severe wind turbine fires. Opting for non-combustible insulating materials helps suppress the early stages of a potential fire. Realtime monitoring systems can be installed to continuously monitor the condition of machinery, recording data and insights so that action can be taken and operations paused before a severe fire situation develops. With remote operations, particularly those offshore or not easily accessible, systems such as these safeguard operations.

A turbine fire can cost the sector up to $4.5 million, a GCube report from 2015 claims. Poor quality cable can play a significant role in starting and spreading a fire down towers and to surrounding areas. Reaction to fire classification testing offers a solution to assess fire performance in terms of spread, smoke, acid gas emissions and volume of flaming droplets, allowing plant owners to know how cabling systems in operation could impact the risk and severity of the fire.

Wind energy is a huge contributor to achieving a global reduction in carbon footprints, it also plays an important role in the move to greater reliance on renewable energy sources.

As the sector grows and more wind generation plants are installed, performance and safety considerations for the complete plant and the cabling infrastructure should be at the forefront of plant owners’ minds. Cable efficiency is fundamental to ensuring continued and safe operations.

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