Right on the heels of The New York Times’ gushing piece on the Texas wind bonanza, a video started circulating on the Internet showing a far more dramatic portrait of wind power. The clip, which has already racked up hundreds of thousands of views, shows a wind turbine spinning out of control to the point of explosion.
While the quixotic video was fodder for YouTubers, it has not been so for the turbine manufacturer, Vestas Wind Systems. The self-destructing turbine was in Hornslet, Denmark, and apparently is the second Vestas turbine to go kaput there recently. Now the Danish climate minister, Connie Hedegaard, is investigating, according to The Copenhagen Post.
“We’ve still got about 35,000 wind turbines across the globe that are operating fine,” Peter Wenzel Kruse, Vestas’ spokesperson, told the Post. But there is some cause for concern — two Vestas turbines in the UK collapsed late last year, which prompted the company to issue a press release announcing a joint investigation into the matter with the UK Health and Safety Executive. So that’s two separate federal inquiries in two months in two countries? Something rotten?
Vestas is one of the largest and oldest players in the wind business, with 14,500 employees and 29 years of experience. Vestas’ web site boasts: “We install an average of one wind turbine every five hours, twenty-four hours a day.” With 4,232 MW of turbines in the U.S., the company says its turbines make up about a quarter of the total installed capacity. So these four recent failures represent only .01 percent of Vestas’s installed turbines.
Reliability rates of wind turbines have already been the subject of several research papers. And the Industrial Wind Action Group, which “was formed to counteract the misleading information promulgated by the wind energy industry,” has archived 35 instances of wind turbine failures over the last two years.
As bigger turbines are installed across the globe, and more of them, we’re certainly going to see bigger — and more — wind-powered failures. Startups are busy working on designs with less moving parts and a higher degree of safety, but some degree of faulty turbines are inevitable. And no amount of research and statistics is nearly as spectacular as 40 seconds of destructive YouTube-fodder.