How We Can Use Ultrasonics in the Renewable Energy Sector

published Mar 23, 2021
2 min read


Just a few decades ago, ultrasonics were being used in laboratories only and did not have any industrial application. Currently, however, ultrasonics are being used for a variety of reasons, across different sectors. From construction work to the manufacturing industry, this technology is being used efficiently in almost every major engineering as well as the medical field.
Our focus for today, however, will be on the renewable energy sector, and to find out more about how ultrasonics is being used to benefit it.

Determining the depth of water bodies to establish hydropower plants

Prior to establishing a hydropower plant, engineers need to measure the depth of the river and surrounding water bodies. The most viable way to do so is with the help of ultrasonic sound waves.
By using ultrasonic waves and the echo principle, engineers are able to measure the depth of the water bodies. To do so, they will simply transmit an ultrasonic wave from the surface of the water, and calculate the time it takes to bounce off of the bottom of the water body and return to the surface. Analyzing this time will give engineers a good estimation regarding the depth.

Detecting flaws in wind turbine blades

Fissures, fractures, and cavities in the blades can degrade the performance of wind turbines. In some cases, they might even stop working completely. These problems are seen as demerits of wind turbines and are also used to call out the whole concept of renewable energy projects. Thus, it is important to provide efficient solutions to tackle these problems.
Conventional methods (like using X-rays) for detecting these cracks have many drawbacks and are not that time-efficient. However, with ultrasonic sensing and detection, we will be able to save a lot of time and effort.
Testing the turbine blades with ultrasonic waves is a lot cheaper, and more convenient, and reliable. These detection systems use high-frequency waves to observe how the blade metal reflects it. The frequency of pulses used for inspecting blades made of steel or aluminium is around 0.8 – 2.5 MHz. These pulses, when reflected, tell engineers whether or not they deviated from their usual straight path. If a deviation is discovered, engineers can conclude that a crack or fissure does exist within the blade.

Detecting fatigue in nuclear power plants

The tanks or containers that are used to house the nuclear fuel rods inside nuclear reactors (or spent fuel rods that are no longer usable) can develop minute or microscopic cracks and fissures over time. These cracks are so small that conventional methods cannot trace them. Their microscopic size also means that you cannot treat them as a regular crack either. However, such microscopic cracks are the signs of fatigue, and you must learn of their existence before they turn into something big and problematic.
Ultrasonic acoustics are used to track such fatigue. Engineers propagate these waves over the surface of the containers and look to see if there is any sort of signal loss. Afterwards, they compare their findings with a standard specimen of the container material, calculate the difference in readings, and come to the conclusion as to whether the material is fatigued or not.

Finding cracks in solar cells

Solar cells are extremely fragile and can develop cracks quite easily (if they are not taken care of properly). Even though they can still run just fine with minimum damage, it is still wise to replace damaged cells.
Usually, longer and more prominent cracks can be easily seen with the naked eye. The small ones, however, are difficult to spot. One to two of these small cracks will not cause any major loss. You need to check for multiple spots or cracks, which can prevent the cells from functioning properly. To do so, you can use ultrasonics. It is pretty much the same principle as seen in the case of finding faults on turbine blades. Anomalies in your reading will prove the presence of minute cracks on the cells’ surfaces. You can then isolate the damaged cells from the solar panel and treat or replace them accordingly.
Ultrasonics has changed the way we design, build, and repair things. It is a technology that is fast and cost-effective no matter what it is used for. As people continue innovating, we are likely to encounter more amazing uses of ultrasonics, some of which might even be used in the renewable energy sector.