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Revealed: The ‘hidden’ peril of wind turbines that catch fire  

Credit:  Wind turbine fires are hidden peril | By: John Ingham | Daily Express | Published: Thu, July 17, 2014 | www.express.co.uk ~~

Wind turbines are catching fire 10 times more frequently than the industry admits, a detailed study has revealed.

And the toxic fumes released are damaging the wind power industry’s green credentials.

The study by Imperial College London, Edinburgh University and Sweden’s SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden found that fires are the second biggest cause of wind turbine accidents after blade failure.

Once a turbine catches fire it is almost impossible to put it out due to its height and often remote location.

The study in the journal Fire Safety Science said: “Incidents of wind turbines catching fire are a big problem that is not currently being fully reported.

“Ten times more fires are happening than are being reported. Instead of an average of 11.7 fires each year, which is what is reported publicly, the researchers estimate that more than 117 separate fires are breaking out in turbines annually.”

The team studied the world’s 200,000 wind farms and admitted that fires are much less common on wind turbines than in the oil and gas industries.

But the study said fires can have a “considerable economic impact”.

It said: “Each wind turbine costs in excess of £2 million and generates an estimated income of more than £500,000 per year. Any loss or downtime of these valuable assets makes the industry less viable and productive.”

Dr Guillermo Rein of Imperial College said: “Fires are a problem for the industry, impacting on energy production, economic output and emitting toxic fumes. This could cast a shadow over the industry’s green credentials.

“Worryingly our report shows that fire may be a bigger problem than what is currently reported.”

The researchers said wind turbines catch fire because highly flammable materials such as hydraulic oil and plastics are in close proximity to machinery and electrical wires.

These can cause a fire if they overheat or are faulty. High winds, can then fan the fire inside a turbine.

The researchers added: “Once on fire the chances of fighting the blaze are slim due to the height of the wind turbine and the remote locations that they are often in.”

The study found that fires account for up to 30 per cent of the reported accidents and in 90 per cent of cases the turbine either shuts the turbine down for a long time or is lost.

The researchers recommended various safety measures including installing better conductors to protect against lightning, using non combustible oils and introducing heat barriers.

The Renewable Energy Foundation said the fires study undermines the industry’s economic competitiveness.

Director John Constable said: “This work on fire hazards is an important reminder that maintaining wind turbines is no simple matter and that there are major hidden costs with important implications for the economic lifetime of the equipment.

“Just because the wind is free doesn’t mean that it is a cheap way of generating electricity.”

In 2012 a REF study said onshore wind turbines have an economic life of 10 to 15 years rather than the 25 years claimed by the industry.

Dr Constable said: “The use of subsidies to drive over-rapid investment in wind turbines ahead of the learning curve was bound to cause problems, and the significant numbers of fires in current equipment raises concerns about design flaws affecting a large part of the installed capacity.”

But RenewableUK questioned the reliability of the data used by the turbine fires study and said some of the information came from anti-wind websites.

Its director of Health and Safety Chris Streatfeild said the study had “failed to understand the safety and integrity standards for fire safety that are in effect standard practice in any large wind turbine”.

He added: “There is also a lack of context in the research relating to the actual level of fire risks present to workers and members of the public. Wind turbines are designed to international standards to meet mandatory health and safety standards including fire safety risks.

“State of the art monitoring systems ensure that the vast majority of turbine fires can be dealt with quickly and effectively. This is supported by an HSE-commissioned report in 2013, which concluded that the safety risks associated with wind turbines are well below all other comparable societal risks.

“The industry remains committed to promoting a safe environment for its workers and the public, and no member of the public has ever been injured by a wind turbine in the UK.”

“Fire is a very important issue for the industry in terms of worker and public safety as well in reducing costs through minimising any operational down time.

“However the operational practices and design standards are such that the actual safety risks associated fire are extremely low.”

He cited two Health and Safety Executive reports which said the industry takes health and safety seriously and concluded that the risks associated with wind turbines are well below all other comparable societal risks.

He added: “The industry remains committed to promoting a safe environment for its workers and the public, and no member of the public has ever been injured by a wind turbine in the UK.

“Wind farms are an important part of our energy infrastructure, powering 5.4 million homes last year”.

A new offshore windfarm which will provide electricity for 450,000 homes was yesterday given the green light by the Government.

The 700 megawatt Rampion wind farm off the coast of Sussex will consist of up to 175 turbines, and is expected to support over 750 jobs and bring in £2 billion in investment to the UK economy, said the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Source:  Wind turbine fires are hidden peril | By: John Ingham | Daily Express | Published: Thu, July 17, 2014 | www.express.co.uk

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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