You may be familiar with wind power and hydraulics. Initially, these two things might appear to be unrelated. But the wind industry actually uses hydraulics in many applications. Wind turbines actually rely on hydraulics to produce the density and provide the durability they need for generating electricity. Hydraulics produce high pressure that helps the blades of large two-ton and three-ton turbines spin. Hydraulics play a role in smaller-scale wind farms, but they are especially useful for offshore wind turbines.
What is Hydraulic Power?
Hydraulic power, also called “fluid power,” will pump water to provide power rather than generate power through electricity. Hydraulic hoses circulate pressurized fluid throughout the various parts of the mechanical system. The fluid is then converted into mechanical energy that delivers electricity from a power source to motors, lifts, and other hydraulic equipment. The system works much the same way as the power that reaches an end-user from an electrical grid. However, hydraulics do not require fossil fuels to work, which makes them a great choice for renewable energy.
How are Wind Turbines Powered?
The Department of Energy notes that hydraulics is one of two kinds of power sources that turbines can use. The other is electricity. However, electric devices are used primarily for small wind applications. Hydraulics are better for heavy-duty uses, as they can produce more power and energy. Hydraulics are applicable to all forms of wind technologies too, which means they’re a versatile solution for all kinds of wind power needs.
The Advantages of Hydraulic Power
Traditional drivetrains, powered by electricity, have some disadvantages compared to turbines powered by hydraulics. Hydraulic systems are generally more reliable, more cost-effective, and lighter-weight than their electricity-driven counterparts. Hydraulics has the potential to shed up to 500 pounds of weight from a conventional electricity-based turbine. The mechanical gearbox is much lighter as well, which can knock off thousands of pounds of weight. Hydraulic-based drivetrains can also minimize torsional vibrations produced in the rotor hub. This makes hydraulic turbines more efficient and also increases their longevity, as their components don’t wear out as rapidly.
Where are Hydraulics Used in a Turbine?
Hydraulics in modern wind turbines are used in many applications. They are valuable for brake control, regulating blade rotation and setting, and turning the blades for more wind speed. A hydraulic system that consists of hydraulic hoses and hose assemblies creates a hydraulic drivetrain with a rotor and blades using a simple hose fitting. Small turbines generally have fixed rotor blades, while larger turbines need blades with a pitch, which are then mounted to bearings. The combination of a hydraulic reservoir, motor, pump, and other associated equipment ensures the turbine’s blade reaches the best pitch. Hydraulic pitch control and a hydraulic battery can work without an outside power supply. In addition to using less energy, this provides a shorter stopping time and wider temperature operating range.
Who Uses Hydraulics?
Hydraulics have many uses in the wind energy industry. Although hydraulics have some land-based use, they are most valuable for larger-scale offshore wind operations. Many companies are looking to translate hydraulic power to offshore wind turbines due to the efficiency and cost-effective nature of hydraulics. Currently, plans are in the works to swap out 6-7 MW systems with larger 8-10 MW hydraulic systems instead. However, designers are working on ways to make the larger turbines sturdier and more resilient to harsh environmental conditions, which are the norm on offshore wind farms.
As a cheaper, lighter-weight, and more powerful option than electricity, hydraulics are appearing in more wind technologies across the wind industry. From small wind operations to multi-megawatt offshore wind farms, hydraulics are increasingly used in many applications.