More advanced wind turbines leading to greater fire risk

Image courtesy of Firetrace International

The wind turbine industry should expect around two catastrophic fire incidents at an average wind farm during the lifecycle of a wind turbine.

That’s the standout statistic from a new report from Firetrace International, a provider of fire suppression systems for the wind industry.

In “The Complete Guide to Wind Turbine Fire Protection“, Firetrace explores the cost and benefit of managing this risk – providing wind turbine owners, operators, and their insurers with an assessment of the likelihood of fires, average cost of a fire loss, and the cost of protection using one or more fire suppression systems.

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According to a leading provider of insurance services for renewable energy projects, over a 7-year period, the average loss per fire incident is $4.5 million – a figure set to increase with the expansion of larger, more advanced turbines.

Most turbine fires originate in the nacelle, making it difficult to fight due to the significant health and safety risk of sending a team up to extinguish the fire.

If not immediately suppressed, fires that begin in the nacelle lead to the total destruction of the turbine and can potentially spread into the surrounding environment ” incurring not only financial losses, but reputational damage to the owner or operator, and the industry as a whole.

In order to reduce the severity of nacelle fires, automated fire suppression systems must be installed at the main points of ignition – converter and capacitor cabinets, the nacelle brake, and the transformer.

A system designed with flexible Detection Tubing is more effective in these fire suppression systems. Once a fire breaks out, this tubing ruptures and a suppression agent is released automatically through the tubing or via diffuser nozzles nearest to the point where the most heat is detected, extinguishing the fire precisely where it starts and before it can take hold.

Even after accounting for the likelihood of a fire, once a turbine’s capacity exceeds 3MW, the cost of fire suppression to protect all three risk areas is outweighed by the cost of replacing that turbine. Installation of fire suppression systems at all three ignition sources typically costs less than $30,000 ” less than 1% of the average installation cost of a 3MW onshore wind turbine and less than 0.6% of the average cost of a fire loss.

The Firetrace guide includes practical advice and recommendations for investment into fire suppression systems based on turbine size and cost.

Angela Krcmar, Senior Business Development Manager, Firetrace said: “The unintended consequences of a fire incident in a wind turbine can have far reaching operational, safety and health risks. While preventative technology such as arc flash detection and condition monitoring systems can reduce the risk of a fire, only suppression systems can put a fire out once it has started.

“If owners, operators, and insurers want to guarantee a fire is limited to the nacelle, rather than spreading down the tower, to other turbines, and potentially into the surrounding environment, investing in a suppression system is critical. Suppression systems can be installed during manufacture, or retroactively fitted to turbines at low cost ” giving owners and insurers peace of mind that their turbine can continue to operate safely.”

Further information is available in the full whitepaper.

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