Last year, Business Week noted “The Dangers of Wind Power”: “After the industry’s recent boom years, wind power providers and experts are now concerned. The facilities may not be as reliable and durable as producers claim. Indeed, with thousands of mishaps, breakdowns and accidents having been reported in recent years, the difficulties seem to be mounting.”
The latest difficulties concern Suzlon Energy wind turbines. In February, Suzlon recalled 1,251 blades after Edison Mission Energy filed with the S.E.C. that turbine blades it purchased for three Midwestern wind farms had begun to split. As a result, Edison cancelled an order for 150 2.1-megawatt turbines. Now, Suzlon faces complaints from customers in its home country of India. The Wall Street Journal reports (online subscription required):
Some of Suzlon Energy’s largest Indian customers say their turbines fail to generate anywhere near the amount of electricity expected, suffer from excessive vibrations during high winds and have control problems costing them millions of dollars in lost power revenue.
“The machines are not fit to handle the wind,” said Shrenik Baldota, managing director of MSPL Ltd., an Indian mining company and one of India’s largest investors in wind power. Mr. Baldota is one of a number of Suzlon’s top customers who say they have turbine problems. Others include Essel Mining & Industries Ltd., Madras Cements Ltd. and KS Oils Ltd.
Mr. Baldota says the turbines have technical problems that make them vibrate excessively when operating at high wind speeds. Some turbines have run out of control in strong gusts, leading to generator blowouts and blades splitting, he says.
A Suzlon spokesman, Vivek Kher, denies the company’s turbines have experienced technical problems in its home market. Any drop in performance, he said, is because of falling wind speeds in India in the past couple of years and regular problems connecting to India’s shaky electricity grid, which frequently causes turbines to shut down.
But many companies say a fall in wind can’t explain their problems. Madras Cements bought 36 units of Suzlon’s 1.25 megawatt turbines since 2003. A.V. Dharmakrishnan, executive director of finance for the Chennai-based company, says excessive vibrations at high wind speeds, forcing turbines to run below capacity, are costing the company about $4 million in lost power this year. “The turbines are not capable of producing [electricity] even when the wind is there,” he says.
As a result, the average “load factor” — or power output of a turbine as a percentage of its maximum capacity — for its Suzlon turbines has dropped to 23% this year from 37% in 2004, Madras Cements says.
According to the Journal, Suzlon’s U.S. market share is 8 percent, but at the end of July, its U.S. order backlog was down 23 percent from a year earlier. This is probably not the last bad news we’ll hear on Suzlon’s allegedly shoddy turbines. It is also not encouraging that U.S. wind-energy developers, backed by government subsidies, are investing in what some purchasers have concluded is poor equipment.
See my previous post on India wind energy.