There were roughly 225,000 wind turbines globally at the end of 2012 with a combined output of about 230,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity. With a 25% compound annual growth rate (CAGR), and rising spending expected worldwide for the foreseeable future, cumulative capacity will rise to 1.75 million MW by 2030.
The wind turbine industry is highly competitive and has a few major players including GE Energy, Gamesa, Vestas, Suzlon, Siemens and Mitsubishi. As things stand now Europe is considered the largest market for wind energy followed by the Asia-Pacific and then North America. China is expected to become the market leader in MW output by 2016.
Given these large growth rates it is no wonder that this relatively new technology experiences short-circuits, failures due to excessive friction, lightning strikes, storms and more. When a turbine catches on fire, firefighters are like Don Quixote attacking ferocious windmills as fire truck ladders are too short to do any good as the Nacelle with gearbox and generator sits atop a 160 foot tower.
The amount of strain put on wind turbines is immense and the tips of the rotors must be strong enough to withstand wind speeds of up to 155 mph. Their tremendous height also makes it difficult and expensive for workers to maintain and repair and as wind turbines grow taller and their rotors longer regular maintenance is critical.
Although wind turbines are not a complex technology day to day strains cause parts such as the gearbox to wear out quickly.
Wind turbine manufacturers claim their product should operate problem free for 20 years but insurance industry statistics show that wear and tear issues occur frequently and must be addressed regularly. Recently in Germany a wind turbine tower snapped in half scattering pieces of the wind turbine near the Autobahn.
Finally with the fast growth of wind energy and the high demand for new systems, broken or damaged wind turbine owners sometimes wait for months for replacement parts.
In Germany, Kirtorf a wind turbine snapped in half at the local wind farm, which consists of 7 wind turbines. The accident was blamed on sub-standard bolts.
The following video shows a typical wind turbine fire.