Emerging Tech

Say what!? A wind turbine in Japan got blown over by the wind

If you thought blustery conditions would be perfect for a wind turbine, then think again.

Strong gusts brought by Typhoon Cimaron on Friday caused a massive wind turbine in western Japan to topple over.

The 60-meter-tall turbine was located in a park on Awaji Island, 275 miles west of Tokyo, but was wrenched from its base in the early hours of Friday morning as the typhoon pummeled a large part of the Japanese archipelago.

Fortunately no one was under the wind turbine when it came down, or indeed on it.

Built in 2002, the turbine had been out of commission since May last year after being struck by lightning, according to the Japan Times. News footage showed how the turbine had been torn from its base by the strong winds, with its 20-meter-long blades badly damaged by the impact with the ground. It’s not yet clear if the base had been weakened in some way prior to the typhoon.

Typhoon Cimaron’s strong winds and torrential rain caused power outages and flooding in the region, and also disrupted train services for a number of hours. Three students were reported missing, having apparently been swept out to sea from a beach about 100 miles west of the capital. A further 30 people were injured as the typhoon passed over the country in the early hours of Friday.

Wind turbine failure

It’s extremely rare for wind turbine structures to fail, and even rarer for them to break at the base like the one in Japan.

You might imagine that wind turbines would be able to comfortably handle extreme conditions, but when winds reach a certain speed, turbines are shut down to prevent the blades suffering any damage. When wind speeds reach a critical level for a turbine, its blades can be twisted, or “feathered,” to reduce the chances of them being caught by the wind.

With so many typhoons battering Japan — Friday’s was the 20th this year — wind turbines are usually stopped until the weather system passes. The constant disruption prompted Japanese engineering firm Challenergy to create the world’s first typhoon-powered wind turbine.

Several years in development, Challenergy engineer Atsushi Shimizu has said he hopes the turbine, which features cylinders rather than blades and a more compact design to minimize the chances of structural failure, will one day have the chance to help the country power itself in a more efficient manner.

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