19 July 2021News

Wind asset operators must improve fire risk management processes: Firetrace

A lack of clarity around the ownership of fire risk management is putting wind farms at greater risk of suffering fire damage, according to Firetrace, the provider of fire suppression technology.

The latest report from Firetrace, titled Reducing Fire Risk, highlighted the lack of clarity between wind farm owners and turbine manufacturers when it comes to fire risk management.

While wind turbine fires are relatively rare, when one does occur it often results in the total destruction of the asset, particularly if no fire plan or suppression technology is in place. This can lead to a financial loss of between $7-8 million, with damage going beyond the balance sheet.

Many turbine manufacturers have improved the safety of their designs and materials over the past decade. Most new turbine designs no longer incorporate elements that increase the risk of sparks, such as primary mechanical braking systems or failure protocols that result in rapid cycling of hydraulics, or flammable materials that could fuel a fire.

However, the risk of fire still remains and the efforts of manufacturers should be supported by operational practices to minimise the risk of catastrophic fires, Firetrace said. These include 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 – putting any technicians inside the tower or nacelle at significant risk of injury or death.

Angela Krcmar, global sales manager for wind at 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.”

Krcmar said it would be impossible to completely eliminate the risk of fire from an electricity generating asset. “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,” he said. Ultimately, owners and operators are liable for the cost and reputational impact of a fire, he added.

A fire can result in a reputational mark against not only the turbine manufacturer, project owner, and operator, but the entire industry, Firetrace warned. This can potentially create opposition to future projects and delay the rollout of wind power.