Construction of an onshore windfarm

Wind Turbine Safety Needs a Refresh

Sander Splinter

By Sander Splinter

Onshore wind has been a major element in the rapidly expanding renewable energy sector for some years. Its growth has been remarkable. In Europe alone, the total installed capacity rose from 13 gigawatts in 2000, to 85GW in 2010, to 154GW in 2016, of which a startling 141GW was onshore.

In part, at least, the growing demand has been driven by the falling price of wind power, but that in turn has also meant great downward pressure on costs along the industry supply chain.

In addition, in the more mature markets, the most accessible sites have been developed, which has meant new projects can be on hard-to-access sites, sometimes with difficult ground conditions.

And finally, there is the trend towards taller, bigger – and, for the developer – more efficient wind turbines.

Taken together, many in the mobile crane and heavy transport sectors fear that those factors are behind an increasing number of accidents. This is unacceptable and the whole industry needs to urgently act together to cut risks to an absolute minimum.

With our colleagues at FEM, the European Materials Handling Federation, we at ESTA want to see new industry-wide best practice guidelines for the lifting and transportation of wind turbines. We think such guidelines are vital and will improve both safety and the industry’s on-site efficiency.

The springboard for this latest work was a conference ESTA organized in Hamburg last February. This attracted more than 130 delegates, many of them representing ESTA and FEM members.

Crucially, the conference also received support from VDMA Power Systems, part of the German Engineering Federation and whose members include the major turbine manufacturers. As a result, we are now talking to VDMA about producing such guidelines. This is only a first step, but it is a start.


Dialogue needed earlier

Many ESTA firms have experienced a situation where a site design has been fixed without proper consideration given to the requirements of the crane and transport companies involved – for example with steep inclines that could have been reduced or poor ground conditions that could have been avoided.

A lot of these issues can be resolved with earlier and better communication and planning. And that can often lead to greater efficiency in the project as a whole.

Quite simply, the quality of the preplanning and communication between all the stakeholders is the key issue – that is what must be improved.

For the turbine manufacturers and energy companies to agree, and act upon, a set of common minimum standards would be a major step forward.

The manufacturers must walk the talk. Their intentions on paper, agreed by management and procurement, are reasonable, but on-site crane and transport companies experience a completely different reality.

Through all of us agreeing and adhering to a uniform set of standards, we should be able to significantly improve safety.


Sander Splinter is president of ESTA’s Section Cranes and managing director of Mammoet Europe. ESTA is the European Association for Abnormal Road Transport and Mobile Cranes.


Photo credit: Shutterstock


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