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, according to a new report released by technology company Firetrace.
The report Reducing Fire Risk states that although new and safer turbine designs now include primary mechanical braking systems or failure protocols that avoid the occurrence of sparks causing fire, the risk of fire is still high within wind energy projects.
Project designers and operators, therefore, need to adopt an industry standard for managing fire.
Efforts made by turbine manufacturers are only the first step in managing fire risk and as such, there is a need to adopt operational practices that follow best practices to prevent fires.
Angela Krcmar, Global Sales Manager, Wind for Firetrace, said: “In any industry, a clear chain of accountability has to be set up to most effectively tackle fire risk, and for conventional power, these steps are mandated by the National Fire Protection Association.
“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.”
Although wind turbine fires are rare, when they occur they could lead to damages of approximately $8 million when there is no appropriate fire risk management plan in place. In addition, a fire could lead to reputation damage for turbine manufacturers, project owners, and operators.
Increases in fire within the wind sector could reduce the pace of the energy transition yet the need to decarbonise the industry continues to increase.
Krcmar, adds: “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. 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.
Automated fire suppression is the only safe option for putting out any fires that do start, as the spread of a fire through the nacelle can take place in seconds, according to the report.
The wind industry has had an exemplary safety record compared to conventional power. But this record could be jeopardized 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.