‘Lack of clarity over liability increases turbine fire risk’

Firetrace report says operational practices must follow best practice to prevent catastrophies [Image: International Association for Fire Safety Science]

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 report by Firetrace.

Firetrace, a provider of fire suppression technology with systems in place across 35 countries in five continents, said in the report ‘Reducing Fire Risk’ that, 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.

It said a fire can result in a reputational mark against not only the turbine manufacturer, project owner, and operator, but the entire industry.
“This can result in opposition to future projects, delaying the rollout of wind power needed to decarbonise the world’s energy supply and reduce emissions in line with international climate targets,” Firetrace said.

“This clear risk has led most turbine manufacturers to move toward safer designs and materials over the past decade.”

It added that 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, Firetrace cautions owners and operators that the risk of fire has not been ‘designed out’ and that this effort on the manufacturer side is only the first step to managing fire risk throughout the supply chain.

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Operational practices must also follow best practice to prevent catastrophic fires, it said.

Best practice for owners and operators to prevent fires from starting includes condition monitoring and preventative rather than reactive maintenance.

Firetrace global sales manager for wind Angela Krcmar said: “In any industry, a clear chain of accountability has to be set up to most effectively tackle fire risk, and for conventional power.

“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.”

“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.”

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