The energy sector has been undergoing a big shift in recent years, with many countries striving to use proportionately more renewable energy, as opposed to that which we get from oil, with an ideal goal to one day in the future be completely reliant on renewable energy.
Of course, renewable energy can generate electricity without the use of winches, this is proven by people powering their homes with solar panels. However, if we’re talking about the use of renewable energy to power homes and buildings on a national scale, a much larger solution is needed.
One of the most effective ways in which renewable energy is produced and utilised is through wind farms, both onshore and offshore. Being a nation that doesn’t receive plentiful sunlight throughout the year, especially in the winter months, solar energy isn’t the most effective way to generate electricity in the UK. Being an island, thus completely surrounded by water, that also has plentiful areas where the terrain is extremely hilly, wind farms are a much more effective alternative.
It is these large scale wind farms that cannot be without winches. Keep reading to learn more about how wind farms work to generate electricity and the vital part winches and other lifting equipment plays in their efficient functioning.
Wind farms, or more specifically wind turbines, work by turning kinetic energy into electricity. Each wind turbine is made with typically 3 blades, which are turned as the wind blows against them; as they turn, this movement generates kinetic energy. This kinetic energy turns a rotator that is connected to a generator, which then generates electricity that is transferred to the national grid.
A single, offshore wind turbine has the capability to supply approximately 15,000 homes with energy (based on the average daily domestic electricity consumption) when operating at its maximum capacity.
So, now that you know the basics of how wind turbines work and what they can provide, where do winches come into the equation? Well, winches play an important role in both the installation, operation and maintenance of wind turbines.
Firstly, in order to install a wind turbine, heavy-duty cranes are needed. The total weight of a singular wind turbine can often easily exceed 100 tonnes, with most reaching 100 metres high and each blade, on average, being anywhere between 15-75 metres long, depending on whether it is being used onshore or offshore.
Due to the sheer size and weight of all the components combined, it comes as no surprise that cranes are needed to assist in their assembly. And what is responsible for the lifting power in cranes? That’s right, a crane winch. If we’re being specific, this is technically what’s known as a hoist, since it uses its power to pull things vertically, whilst winches will pull things horizontally, however the term ‘winch’ has become widely used when referring to a hoist – either way, they are both forms of lifting equipment.
These crane winches (or hoists) work through a large spool of cable being integrated into the crane’s boom and attached to a gear drive unit, which is capable of lifting extremely heavy loads. There is often another winch that is then used to control and position the crane’s boom itself.
Thanks to their lifting power as a result, this makes cranes highly important and effective in putting together the various components of wind turbines, doing so efficiently, which allows for complete wind farms to be made within a feasible time frame.
With offshore wind farms, many miles of subsea (or submarine) inter array and export cabling is required to be taken from each turbine to the offshore substation, which collects the power produced by the wind farm, then exports it onto the coast in order to be connected to the national grid, so that this renewable power can be utilised to sustainably supply electricity across the nation.
Specialist cable pulling winches (such as those provided by Atlas Winch Hire & Hoist Services) are used in tandem with hydraulic power units to pull these cables into each of the wind turbines from the cable reel. Without these cable pulling winches, then, though the turbines and wind farms would be generating significant amounts of electricity, they would be redundant in their purpose if this electricity had no way of being transferred to the national grid in order to power our homes and buildings, as they are intended for.
Winch fairleads may also be used in this instance, which are pieces of deck equipment that help to guide wires out of the way, in turn preventing the winch line from becoming damaged whilst in use. If winches are regularly being used to pull multiple cables from each turbine to the substation, then a fairlead will allow for this to be done in a way that does not exhaust the winch’s lifespan, as well as keeping everything orderly.
Whilst wind turbines are typically left to do their job after being installed, they will need to be checked at regular intervals to ensure that they are operating smoothly and to check whether any maintenance needs to be carried out on them.
In the maintenance of both offshore and onshore wind farms, winches and/or other lifting equipment will often be needed to lift tools and equipment up to engineers who are serving the turbines. Likewise, in the case that there is an issue with any of the inter array or export cables that transfer the energy produced by the turbines to the national grid, then winches will be needed to retrieve these cables so that any issues can be identified and rectified accordingly.
With offshore wind farms specifically, if any maintenance work is to be carried out, then winches are required again in the form of mooring equipment. Engineers will need to travel out to offshore wind farms on a vessel of some sorts, and since they may be out at sea for hours on end, it is vital that they take the necessary precautions to remain safe and stable in their position whilst they are. This may include lowering their anchors (which uses a winch in the process) or attaching themselves to a mooring buoy.
As you can see, winches and other pieces of winch and lifting equipment are involved in the efficient running of wind turbines in multiple ways. Whether used in the actual construction and installation of wind turbines themselves, assisting in how they operate and transfer electricity to our national grid or in the proper and safe maintenance of them; all of these things could not effectively and efficiently be done in conjunction without the use of winches and lifting equipment.
It is all these things combined that allow us to effectively utilise the energy produced by wind farms, and it is this active utilisation that allows us to say that we are using renewable energy, rather than just producing it.
If we want to move forward with our use of renewable energy in the UK, then building more wind farms (especially those offshore) is one of the most effective steps we can take. Given the current climate crisis, this would also be a smart and conscious step to take. This is why quality winches and lifting equipment are of the utmost importance, in order to aid in the growth of renewable energy sources.
If you are looking for high quality winches and lifting equipment, Atlas Winch Hire & Hoist Services have all the products you need.
We produce some of the specialist winches used in offshore wind farm operations, as well as other types of winches for use in various applications, including:
- Air winches
- Diesel winches
- Hydraulic winches
- Electric winches
As well as winches, we also sell other lifting equipment products, such as deck equipment and mooring equipment.
Our trained engineers are available to assist on site to safely operate any lifting equipment that you either own or have hired from us, as well as being able to test and service any equipment that you have to a high standard. Unsure how to use your lifting equipment but want to learn? No worries – we also offer in-house and onsite accredited training programmes.