While wind turbine fires are relatively rare, when one does occur, it often results in the total destruction of the asset
A lack of clarity between wind farm owners and turbine manufacturers around ownership of fire risk management is putting the industry at greater risk of suffering the damaging consequences of fire.
Angela Krcmar, global sales manager, Wind for Firetrace noted: “In any industry, a clear chain of accountability has to be set up to most effectively tackle fire risk.”
”However, in wind, many owners and operators understand that turbine manufacturers are taking steps at the design-level to reduce fire risk and assume that no further action needs to be taken on their side. As such, key steps to prevent and put out fires can fall through the cracks due to this misunderstanding.”
While wind turbine fires are relatively rare, when one does occur, it often results in the total destruction of the asset, particularly if no fire plan or suppression technology is in place. This can lead to a financial loss of between $7-8 million, with damage going beyond the balance sheet.
A fire can cause reputational damage for the turbine manufacturer, project owner, and operator. It can result in opposition to future projects, delaying the rollout of wind power.
The risk has led most turbine manufacturers to move toward safer designs and materials over the past decade. Most new turbine designs no longer incorporate elements that increase the risk of sparks, such as primary mechanical braking systems or failure protocols that result in rapid cycling of hydraulics, or flammable materials that could fuel a fire.
However, owners and operators that the risk of fire has not been ‘designed out’ and that this effort on the manufacturer side is only the first step to managing fire risk throughout the supply chain. Operational practices must also follow best practice to prevent catastrophic fires.
“It is impossible to completely design out fire risk from an asset that generates electricity – and many assets in operation pre-date these new designs,” added Krcmar.
”Owners and operators must have a clear plan in place for detecting, preventing, and putting out flames in the rare event of a turbine fire, or find out that although they may have assumed responsibility lies with the manufacturer, they will still be liable for the cost and reputational impact of a fire.”
Best practice for owners and operators to prevent fires from starting includes condition monitoring and preventative rather than reactive maintenance. However, automated fire suppression is the only safe option for putting out any fires that do start.
The wind industry has had an exemplary safety record compared to conventional power. But this record could be jeopardised if additional mitigation efforts are not implemented or an operator’s lack of action, due to assumptions regarding supply chain responsibility for risk management, results in a turbine fire.