Fires Cause Turbine Failure Turbine fires are expensive. They attract negative publicity. It is estimated that 0.3-0.5 fire incidents occur per 1000 wind power stations (onshore and offshore) every year (Technical Research Institute of Sweden). What it more, wind turbine fires tend to cause losses equal to or above the original cost of the wind power plant - especially offshore!
WHAT ARE THE RISKS?
Introducing fixed fire extinguishing systems as fire protection is becoming more prevalent because of the increased rate of fire incidents and the rising value and sizes of turbines. While there have been occasional articles written over the last couple of years about the importance of wind energy and the problems of fire, they have not addressed how fire systems themselves can be constantly monitored to ensure operational efficacy and to reduce risk, saving costs and increasing revenues.
Potential ignition sources are mainly inside the nacelle where there is fast moving machinery (generators, gearboxes e.t.c) which creates heat and combustible oil and solid material in the. Even with the incredible engineering and safety measures in place, a fire can ignite and develop, leading to the possible complete destruction of the turbine. A study conducted by SP Safety at the Technical Research Institute of Sweden showed that 10-30% of all loss-of-power-generation incidents in wind power plants are due to fire.
CRITICAL TURBINE INCIDENTS
The fires in wind turbines not only lead to a loss of business continuity and a negative impact on the company’s reputation but also, most importantly, are a critical safety issue. Possibly harmful debris can be drifted by the wind in the event if a fire and there is also a significant risk to human lives. When turbines are under erection, commissioning maintenance and repair, escape routes for operators are often long and vertical. Three out of six incidents involve a human presence in the nacelle; hence, a fire becomes a safety concern. In 2013, a crew of four engineers died in Ooltgensplaat, Netherlands in a wind turbine fire. This devastating loss of life calls for improved review of fire safety to minimise the risk to engineers.
Daniel Kopte, expert for safety systems, renewables certification at DNV GL, estimates that worldwide 120 wind turbines suffer fire damage (not necessarily causing total loss) annually. There have been several high-profile cases on wind turbine fires in the UK within the previous 6 years. An 100-metre tall turbine caught fire during hurricane-force winds at Ardrossan in North Ayrshire in December 2011, reportedly due to a lightning strike. The wind turbine was completely burnt out and debris scattered over large distances due to the strong wind. With predictions of much taller and more powerful turbines of 13-15MW to be implemented by the middle of the next decade, and thus fewer per project, ensuring that the they are in working order is essential, because the larger and fewer the turbines, the more costly they will be to operators in the event of fire damage.