Robots join the race for renewable energy
Just before Christmas, on 19th December 2020, a new record was set. On that winter Friday, wind power generated more renewable energy than ever before, providing the UK with 40% of its electricity.
The UK is home to more wind turbines than any other country, but some sites can be difficult to reach. Turbine blades come under enormous pressure and are battered by their environment. Routine blade inspection and maintenance is vitally important, but when rope access technicians carry out this work it is hazardous and expensive.
This has led to the development of a six-legged inspection robot called BladeBUG. This ant-like crawler was created at the National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth, Scotland. The robot can crawl over the blade surface on vacuum padded feet fitted with an electronic skin. By transmitting data from the surface, the robot maps the blade for cracks and imperfections.
BladeBUG is being developed as part of a £1m collaboration with ORE Catapult, and is part funded by Innovate UK, a funding stream for high potential SMEs. Further collaboration involves a team of drones and a robotic arm, with the aim of a fully autonomous turbine maintenance project later this year. Maintenance costs are a continual commercial concern for offshore wind farm operators. Introducing robots could save between 30-50% of turbine maintenance costs and help pave the way for even further expansion in wind-powered electricity.