Construction Safety Issues: Wind and Solar-Array Farms
As the world’s population continues to increase dramatically from the existing six billion people to more than nine billion by mid-century and global supplies of oil and gas continue to be depleted, the search for renewable sources of energy has become pronounced and even desperate. In response, wind and solar-array farms are being installed in countries around the world to help satisfy the growing demand for energy, especially the demand for renewable energy resources. To identify potential construction safety issues involved the large equipment; cranes and dirt moving equipment used in these projects as well as the potential electrical hazards that are routinely encountered, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.
Review and Discussion
A number of renewable energy resources are being deployed around the world, including solar, wind, biomass, hydrogen fuel cells and more (Schwartz, 2007), but Brown and Escobar (2007) report that of the currently available renewable energy sources, wind energy represents the fastest growing source of electricity on a global basis. In this regard, Brown and Escobar report that, “Wind generating capacity increased by 27% in 2006, with similar increases expected in 2007. In the United States, more than 11,600 megawatts of wind generating capacity are already installed, which is roughly enough to power 2.9 million homes” (2007, p. 489). This amount of electricity is equal to that generated by about 40,000,000 barrels of oil annually (Brown & Escobar, 2007). The siting of wind farms, though, may involve geographically isolated regions where the transportation and operation of large machinery may be particularly challenging and will require careful project management and coordination to avoid delays and construction site accidents (Sims, Dent & Oskrochi, 2008).
Although a renewable energy resource, wind farms are not without their detractors because of the amount of construction that is required to install, maintain and operate these facilities. For instance, Hiserodt (2010) emphasizes that most wind farms require the construction of “miles of roads big enough to bring in a 400-foot crane, miles of trenching for the underground cables necessary to bring the 25,000-volt outputs to a central transformer, and thence many more miles of high-voltage power lines to deliver the power to a power grid” (p. 18). Moreover, wind farms have also been criticized for their adverse effect on wildlife and scenic vistas (Hiserodt, 2010).
Not all wind farms are sited on land, though, and an increasing number of wind farm operations are being situated in offshore coastal locations to take advantage of prevailing winds (Gale, 2010). The construction of these facilities involves many of the same types of safety issues as projects on land, as well as a host of other problems that are associated with undersea construction initiatives (Gale, 2010). For example during the construction of the Dansk Olie og Naturgas Energy’s Horns Rev 2 wind farm in the North Sea, the project director emphasized that, “The biggest challenge on this project was not the size- it was the offshore site. Working offshore is a completely different way to approach a project. Climate conditions are much more severe, and safety was a big factor. It impacted the way we did everything” (quoted in Gale, 2010, p. 35). The enormity of many of the components that are employed in the construction of state-of-the-art wind turbines is staggering, with football field-sized turbine blades that are situated almost 380 feet above the ground (or water) in arrays that may extend several square miles (Gale, 2010).
Although solar-array farms do not involve all of the same types of construction hazards as those experienced with wind farms, there are some construction safety issues that must be taken into account. For example, as with wind farms, the siting of solar-array farms may involve isolated rural regions that experience high levels of consistent sunlight with little or no transportation infrastructure, necessitating the initial construction of access roads and the electrical facilities needed to connect the array to the grid (Schwartz, 2007). Furthermore, there are also two types of solar power that may be used, (a) solar thermal (this type uses the power of the sun to heat water and air) and (b) photovoltaic (this type uses the power of the sun to generate electricity), each of which will have its own corresponding construction safety issues involved (Schwartz, 2007).
The research showed that like any major construction project, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar-array farms involve the transportation, deployment and operation of large earth-moving equipment and other heavy machinery. The research also showed, though, that wind and solar-array farms also have some important construction safety issues involved that are not typical of other major construction projects, including their relative isolated siting in regions with little or no infrastructure. Indeed, the placement of massive wind farms in environmentally hostile locations offshore in regions such as the North Sea means that these projects will experience the same types of construction safety problems that were formerly unique only to the oil drilling platform industry.
Brown, B.T. & Escobar, B.A. (2007). Wind power: Generating electricity and lawsuits. Energy Law Journal, 28(2), 489-491.
Gale, S.F. (2010, April). A closer look. PM Network, 24(4), 34-36.
Hiserodt, E. (2010, November 8). The wind-farm eruption. The New American, 26(22), 17-19.
Schwartz, H. (2007). How Ontario and Ontario cities are coping with the cost of energy.
Canadian Journal of Regional Science, 30(2), 359-360.
Sims, S., Dent, P. & Oskrochi, G.R. (2008). Modelling the impact of wind farms on house prices in the UK. International Journal of Strategic Property Management, 12(4), 251-253.
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