Wind farm owners and operators retrofit their wind turbines with fire suppression systems for a number of reasons. Some retrofit after losing a turbine to a fire incident, others because of internal risk analysis, and some after receiving a significant increase in insurance rates. There are both pros and cons of retrofitting fire suppression systems. We’ll help you understand if the benefits outweigh the risks of installing fire suppression systems on your fleet.
One of the most common reasons wind farm owners and operators consider adding fire suppression systems is that they have had at least one wind turbine fire. They understand firsthand the difficulties encountered after a fire, from lost revenues to long lead times for replacement and extensive root cause investigation and analysis. The more proactive a business is in finding solutions to reduce their fire risks, the more benefits it will gain.
Considering the cost of a fire can be anywhere between $4.5-9 million, reducing the risk by any amount helps minimize your potential financial loss. Installing only fire detectors may initially look better on your balance sheet, but they do not have to ability to suppress a fire after it starts. This means your fire loss risk has not been reduced. While a fire detector will let you know when a fire starts, you need a fire suppression system to actively fight a fire in the incipient stage and prevent it from spreading to the rest of the turbine. This can reduce your fire risk by millions of dollars on each turbine because you can stop fires before they have time to spread and cause considerable, if not catastrophic, damage.
Nobody should be harmed or lose their life to a preventable fire. Focusing on employee safety is a key objective for wind farm owners and operators. Since fires can occur at any time, it is not safe to consider a wind turbine as an unoccupied space. By implementing fire suppression systems, you can maximize protection for your employees while they are working on the turbine because fires can be automatically detected and suppressed before they grow to engulf the entire nacelle. Additionally, clean agents used in fire suppression systems are safe around people and in occupied spaces.
Wind turbines produce electricity and generate revenue for wind farm owners. A fire can take a wind turbine offline for over a year, severely impacting revenue. You may have business interruption insurance to cover some of the lost revenue, but chances are you will still suffer months of lost revenue. Lowering costs is critical for the profitability of wind energy. One way to minimize the risk of having long-periods of unplanned downtime from a fire is by incorporating fire suppression systems on the turbines. If a fire is suppressed in a wind turbine, that turbine could be back up and running the next day.
Knowing that a fire within the protected components in the nacelle will be detected and suppressed with no employee intervention is a good feeling. Depending on the wind farm location, it could be near an hour before the local fire department is on scene. Once they arrive, due to the turbine’s height, they have limited ability to put the fire out. The fire department will focus on keeping the perimeter safe and limiting what could spread into a wildfire.
The power of a reputation should not be overlooked when considering protecting your wind turbines from fire. No owner or operator wants to see their wind farm make the news or be broadcasted on social media for one of their turbines burning down. It also impacts the relationship with local community members, landowners, investors, insurers, and banks. The cost of a bad image can be quite substantial.
It’s a hard market for insurance right now. Underwriters are being strict with loss mitigation to ensure they are not taking on risky projects. You may have experienced your premiums increasing more than usual. By installing fire suppression systems, you have leverage when negotiating with underwriters on your premiums, deductibles, and limits because these systems reduce your probable maximum loss (PML) and normal loss expectancy (NLE). These systems may also give you an edge over your competition when underwriters pick which projects to insure.
Many factors go into the ROI calculation for fire suppression systems. We will review some of the factors to consider when making the investment to retrofit fire suppression systems on your wind turbines
If fire suppression systems provide more benefits than they cost, a benefit-to-cost ratio above 1.0, this ratio will further increase with the number of systems you plan on installing. For example, if the annual fire risk per turbine is reduced by $2,000 from each fire suppression system, this number will be multiplied by the number of turbines you are installing on. So, across a 150-turbine wind farm, this would be $300,000 per year and $6 million over 20 years in risk reduction.
If your turbines are 18 years old and you only plan on using them for two more years, then it may be hard to justify installing fire suppression systems. However, if you have newer turbines with a long-life expectancy or hope to extend the life of legacy turbines, fire suppression becomes a much more attractive investment.
One of the most significant expenses for wind farm owners and operators can be insurance premiums. After a fire, this number can become even scarier. According to Jatin Sharma of NARDAC Insurance Services, it can give some insureds “sticker shock” to see their increased premiums and deductibles after a fire. It’s best to be proactive when dealing with insurance rates, so you don’t get caught having to pay millions more in premiums over the life of your turbines, on top of the cost of the fire. Some underwriters may incentivize you to add fire suppression systems, while some may even require you to have fire suppression systems to be insured.
There’s not much point in a fire suppression system if it doesn’t suppress the fire it was intended to suppress. By sacrificing quality for price with fire suppression systems, you likely won’t receive the benefits you may expect from reducing your fire risk. Suppose you use a system with a fire suppression agent that damages sensitive electronics or harms employees, like corrosive aerosols or foams. In that case, you may face even more damage than the fire itself. Electrical suppression systems leave gaps in protection, such as when restarting a turbine after it has been down, which is a common cause of fires. Your best option is an automatic, clean agent system that is safe for employees and equipment, and these systems do not require electricity, offering 24/7 protection.
On top of the few factors mentioned above, dozens more can go into an ROI calculation. Regardless of which inputs you use, you will have to ensure the benefits outweigh the costs. These benefits can come in fire risk mitigation, company image, insurance rates, and several other areas. The costs include the fire suppression systems plus maintenance/installation of them.
If the benefit-to-cost ratio is above 1.0, this suggests the benefits outweigh the costs, making it a worthy investment. But what happens when the benefit-to-cost ratio ends up being below 1.0? It’s best to ask yourself a few important questions.
Sometimes having peace of mind is worth more than any cost-benefit analysis may show. Below is a recommended investment guide for protecting your wind turbines, based on turbine capacity taken from The Complete Guide to Wind Turbine Fire Protection.
If you didn’t opt into installation during the manufacturing process, fire suppression systems could be installed as a retrofit at any time. Both options take the same path to protect your turbines with our fire suppression systems.
Having your wind turbines equipped with fire suppression systems gives you a sigh of relief because you know they are protected from fires.
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