Sulzer Schmid and ENERTRAG Betrieb improve wind turbine blade inspections with new drone-based lightning protection system testing solution

by | Sep 14, 2021

Zurich, Switzerland, 14 September 2021Sulzer Schmid, and ENERTRAG Betrieb have teamed up to provide a new wind turbine blade inspection solution that integrates ENERTRAG Betrieb's innovative lightning protection systems (LPS) testing solution with Sulzer Schmid's UAV technology and digital inspection platform. This key innovation will enable LPS testing to be carried out at the same time as rotor blade inspections, saving operators and owners time and money.    

Lightning is a major risk for wind farm operators, endangering people and equipment. According to experts, each wind turbine has an extremely high probability of being struck by lightning every year. This is why the LPS testing is such an essential component of wind turbine inspections.

ENERTRAG Betrieb has developed an innovative and realistic process for LPS testing. Using an intermittent AC voltage of up to 6000V, which is much closer to the reality of a lightning strike than previous measurements of just 24V, the voltage is fed into the LPS located at the root of the wind turbine rotor blade which then generates an intermittent electric field around the blade. If the electric field is detected in the area of the blade tip, the lightning protection system is functional. If the electric field does not reach the blade tip, this indicates a damage to the lightning protection system. The damage is located where the electric field stops in the direction of the blade tip.

The two companies have co-developed a non-contact testing solution by mounting the LPS measuring equipment onto the DJI M300 RTK blade inspection drone and integrating the results within Sulzer Schmid's 3DX™ Blade Platform.

The development of the prototype and its test phase has been completed and the product feasibility has been proven in a recent study. This is great news for wind farm operators, and an attractive solution for developers of new wind farm projects with larger and more powerful turbines.

Tom Sulzer, Sulzer Schmid Co-founder and CEO, stated. We have a great working relationship with ENERTRAG Betrieb and we are delighted to be working on this very exciting project which develops a new ground-breaking use of our technology. With this new solution, ENERTRAG Betrieb customers can combine LPS testing and rotor blade inspections in one go using our autonomous drones and our software. This enables more efficient test and route planning, leading to downtime reduction which results in higher revenue for the owner of a wind farm. In addition, the cost savings by ENERTRAG Betrieb due to less travel time will be forwarded to the customer.

Non-contact lightning protection measurement by drone will become the new norm for equipment inspection, explained Dr. Konrad Iffarth, the key driver of the LPS testing innovation at ENERTRAG Betrieb. We were pleased to be able to work with a leader in the UAV turbine inspection field like Sulzer Schmid to bring our innovation to the market. It will now be possible to inspect many more wind turbines in succession. What is more, the new measuring method simulates a lightning strike much more accurately than current test methods could. Faulty results will be reduced, and the method will be universally applicable for all plant types. 


About Sulzer & Schmid Laboratories AG

Founded in 2016 by Tom Sulzer and Christof Schmid, Zurich-based Sulzer & Schmid is at the forefront of innovation in the energy service sector. Recognizing the potential for UAV technology to redefine industrial grade inspections, the company has developed an end-to-end technology platform that produces high-quality inspection results with ease “ precisely, repeatably, efficiently. To date, wind turbines in more than 30 countries worldwide have been inspected using Sulzer Schmid's 3DX™ technology. .


About ENERTRAG Betrieb

ENERTRAG WindStrom GmbH is a subsidiary of ENERTRAG AG and pools all the technical expertise in the operational phase of wind power projects under the ENERTRAG Betrieb brand. The company currently looks after 1,072 wind turbines. Over 100 people at six sites ensure that wind turbines run reliably, safely and profitably. The portfolio includes technical operations management and accredited inspections and checks.


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