To Test or Not to Test: That is the Question

By Clarkson University Blade Test Facility and the Center for Evaluation of Clean Energy Technologies

To test or not to test: that is the question. Is it worthwhile to proactively perform third-party structural testing on wind turbine blades to deliver customers and investors qualified products, or better to perform minimal testing and risk failing to guarantee quality and customer satisfaction?

The people at the Clarkson University Blade Test Facility (BTF) and Center for Evaluation of Clean Energy Technologies (CECET) asked themselves this question recently and they believe the answer is clear. Wind turbine blades have the highest failure rate among all turbine structural and mechanical components. They concluded that certifiable third-party structural testing would inspire investor confidence, demonstrate product reliability, and enhance marketability to consumers; thereby maximizing market penetration for wind turbine manufacturers.

Manufacturers around the world are striving to provide customers with products with quantified and demonstrated reliability. They have a need to prove that their technologies have met rigorous standards. They can do this by performing third-party testing in laboratories that test to current and continuously evolving standards being adopted internationally.

Third-party testing possesses the hidden benefit of avoiding any inherent conflicts of interest by providing test data and analysis to both the manufacturer and the certifier. The independent labs also provide additional services such as design analysis, material characterization and product improvement recommendations to the manufacturer, as part of the test program. The test data and detailed analysis allow manufacturers to validate and refine their design models and processes, and locate design and manufacturing process improvements.

The CECET BTF is operated by Clarkson University in cooperation with Intertek, a company that specializes in inspection, product testing and certification. The facility also works with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, government agencies, national and international universities and testing equipment suppliers. Intertek certifies turbines to all current test standards, including IEC, AWEA and MCS. This unique state-of-the-art facility was created to address the market need for independent structural testing services. Conceived by NYSERDA (NY State Energy Research and Development Authority), which funded its development, the BTF is now open for business and has accepted customers since the fourth quarter of 2013. As U.S. wind turbine manufacturers are signing up for testing, customers from overseas are also looking into testing in the small and medium wind turbine testing laboratory. The BTF can rapidly perform a variety of tests, including modal analysis to evaluate natural frequencies, damping, and mode shapes, static testing in any direction by applying loads at multiple locations, fatigue testing in two directions simultaneously, post-fatigue residual strength testing, and testing to ultimate loading. Because they are part of an academic institution, the BTF’s costs are more affordable, and remain cost-competitive with European testing facilities, even including the cost of shipping a blade overseas.

Testing and certification can be used by manufacturers to market the benefits of their products, as well as improve product standards and quality. To appeal to customers and manufacturers, NYSERDA offers end-user incentives through a combination of collaborative partnership, technical expertise, and financial support designed to help New Yorkers explore wind power as a cost-effective, clean and green alternative to replace some or all of their purchased electricity. Commercially available wind turbines with a proven record for power performance, reliability, safety and acoustics are considered for funding.

As a member of the Distributed Wind Energy Association (DWEA), CECET’s BTF is at the leading edge of certification standard implementation, enabling manufacturers to have confidence that products tested will enjoy certification which meets all current and foreseeable certification requirements in markets worldwide, and are tested to standards that all potential customers and investors can have confidence in.

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The answer is clear, as we move toward a highly competitive market requiring the most qualified and reliable products – third- party structural testing is moving rapidly from a “nice to have” to a “must have!”

Source: Clarkson University Blade Test Facility and the Center for Evaluation of Clean Energy Technologies

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