Journalist, Cherry Park

Author Bio ▼

Cherry Park is an experienced freelance journalist and reporter who specializes in features, news, and news analysis, in print and online. She has written extensively in the areas of health and safety, fire safety, employment, HR, recruitment, rewards, pay and benefits, market research, environment, and metallurgy, and she also conducts research.
July 25, 2014

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True Number of Wind Turbine Fires Underreported Tenfold

Wind turbine on blue skyWind turbines may catch fire 10 times more often than previously thought, undermining the industry’s green credentials, a study has revealed.

The study of more than 200,000 wind turbines worldwide by Imperial College, London and the University of Edinburgh estimates from the limited data available that nearly 120 turbine fires occur annually, eclipsing the 12 that are publicly reported.

The discrepancy is perhaps explained by a failure to report 90% of fires.

Lightning strike, electrical malfunction, mechanical failure and maintenance errors are the main causes of fire in wind turbines.

They may catch fire owing to the proximity of highly flammable materials such as hydraulic oil and plastics to faulty or overheating machinery and electrical wires. High winds also add to the problem – somewhat ironically – by rapidly fanning any fire.

The report warns that fires tend to be “catastrophic” because the blazes occur so high up that they are almost impossible for firefighters to reach and extinguish.

Apart from the risk to the safety of workers and members of the public, the fires have a huge economic impact. Turbines worth more than £2m each and generating around £500,000 in annual income are frequently written off.

Preventative measures

The report recommends a number of passive and active fire-protection measures, including the installation of comprehensive lightning protection systems, using non-combustible hydraulic and lubricant oils, and building heat barriers to protect combustible materials.

Suggested active measures to contain turbine fires include smoke alarm systems and suppression measures to douse flames in water or foam.

Manufacturers are also advised to avoid using combustible insulating materials and apply new monitoring systems to constantly check the condition of machinery.

However, significant progress in fire prevention measures must have been made. The researchers pointed out that the number of wind turbines installed grew threefold between 2007 and 2012 and that the ratio of fire accidents per turbine actually fell significantly since 2002.

RenewableUK’s response

Industry body RenewableUK issued a challenge to some of the assumptions made in the Imperial College report, including the reliability of data sources.

Its director of health and safety, Chris Streatfeild, said: “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. 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.”

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