An ongoing partnership between Wichita State University and Westar Energy recently resulted in the implementation of a new technology aimed at protecting wind turbine blades from lightning strikes.
The technology, which minimizes the damages and costs involved with lightning strikes, was developed by Billy Martin, director and senior research scientist in the Environmental Test Lab at WSU's National Institute for Aviation Research. With help from WSU Ventures, Martin partnered with California-based Lightning Diversion Systems, a Ducommun Company, to refine the technology for commercialization.
“Developing technology in the wind energy industry is a point of emphasis,” said Rob Gerlach, WSU director of technology transfer. “Given our aviation expertise, we have the ability to innovate in unique ways that can disrupt the industry.”
Recently, when Westar Energy was performing maintenance on turbines at their Flat Ridge Wind Farm in Nashville, Kansas, Wichita State was invited to apply the technology for testing purposes.
The technology enhances the lightning protection system of existing blades, ensuring that the lightning current is properly transferred to the grounding connection. This minimizes (and in some cases eliminates) the damage done to underlying blade surfaces and sensitive electrical components, resulting in a reduction of repairs and allowing the wind turbines to operate uninterrupted for longer periods of time.
WSU Ventures and Lightning Diversion Systems will work with Westar Energy to monitor the covering's performance throughout the year and make improvements as needed.
Lightning strikes are a destructive force in the wind energy industry. They are the root cause of damage to blade structures, control systems and electrical components. Average costs to repair or replace a gearbox component or a damaged turbine blade can be as high as $380,000 and $240,000, respectively. Although wind turbines have existing lightning protection systems, these systems are often unable to safely and effectively transfer lightning current to ground.