Power-generating wind turbines will soon have to comply with tough new technical standards to ensure they can withstand typhoons, lightning strikes and other extreme weather conditions.
Wind-power generation is a major pillar in the government’s push to use alternative energy sources to fight global warming. In recent years, however, storms have caused extensive damage to many wind turbines.
International standards drawn up in Europe are not sufficient to protect wind turbines from Japan’s weather patterns, according to officials of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, an arm of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Officials have resolved to introduce new standards of durability for the giant structures by fiscal 2008. Currently, wind turbines need only satisfy a stipulation in the Electric Utilities Industry Law that they be “structurally safe” against strong winds.
However, there is nothing to regulate how they should be designed to cope with thunder and lightning.
In 2006, about 75 percent of the wind turbines in Japan were foreign made, although local manufacturers are now rapidly entering the market.
In fiscal 2005, there were 100 cases of malfunctions and accidents reported in a survey of 900 wind turbines by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO).
The survey found that 38 cases were caused by natural phenomena, in particular strong winds and lightning strikes.
Twenty-five were due to faults in construction or manufacturing, and four were the result of poor management. In 33 cases, the causes were unknown.
Wind turbines stand about 100 meters, making them vulnerable to lightning strikes.
Wind-power generators facing the sea of Japan in the northwestern Tohoku and Hokuriku regions are hit by lightning strikes each winter.
As a result, they experience at least four times as much damage as similar structures elsewhere.
In addition, 13 percent of the reported damage was caused by powerful winds in years when many typhoons hit Japan. Wind turbines apparently are especially vulnerable to sudden gusts of wind.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and other domestic manufacturers of wind-power generators have already adopted designs in their new models that cater to Japan’s weather conditions.
NEDO officials will study weather patterns, strong winds and thunder in particular, on a nationwide basis so as to compile a report by the end of this fiscal year.
By Hisashi Hattori
2 July 2007
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