Fire safety should be a top priority for all wind farm operators. The industry’s journey towards truly comprehensive protection against fire shouldn’t begin at the finish line, leaving firefighters and staff to deal with the consequences when fires break out. Our latest report, “How to Evaluate Fire Risk,” shows why performing an effective fire risk assessment (FRA) is crucial, and how to best execute it.
Conducting and acting on an FRA not only casts a keen eye on the potential dangers a fire at your wind farm might present to personnel. It can also drastically increase the probability of avoiding the costs incurred due to turbines being damaged or destroyed by fire — 90% of the time, a fire leads to a total loss of the wind turbine.
Wind turbine fires, rare as they may be (estimates place the number of wind turbines catching fire per year between 1 in 2,000 to 1 in 15,000), can be caused by a variety of potential issues. Sparks thrown out during mechanical failures, the friction generated from brakes, arcs from faulty generators and transistors, cables overheating. Predicting where or how exactly fires might occur without having first assessed and identified any points of weakness and proneness across your farm’s overall operation is next to impossible.
While the rare incidence of turbine fires may make conducting assessments less of a pressing concern, the consequences of neglecting FRAs can be devastating. In addition to the cost of repairing or replacing a turbine (which can be as high as $9 million), it can also mean 12-18 months of revenue is lost while a turbine is being recommissioned. An FRA could also reduce the likelihood of wildfires occurring from a turbine fire, which can be devastating to the surrounding area, including the local community.
While FRAs have been used or are legally required in other industries to identify avenues of fire risk, those working in the wind industry face no such legal obligation and continue to operate without proper knowledge or precaution. This money-saving and potentially life-saving step is neglected because third-party independent service providers do not tend to include FRAs in their scope of services.
JP Conkwright, assistant professor of fire protection and safety engineering technology at Eastern Kentucky University, says there seems to be little evidence that wind farm operators are conducting “holistic fire risk assessments following some type of recognized standard.” Without the proper legal frameworks in place, or enough previous examples to use as best practice, operators may become discouraged with the idea of conducting and trusting an FRA that they themselves don’t know for a fact is effective.
The most concerning reason is that wind farm operators do not conduct fire risk assessments because they feel having insurance means the assessments are unnecessary. This is contrary to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)’s guidance on recommended practice for fire protection for electric generating plants – known as the NFPA 850 – which encourages the development of a “fire protection design process” and a “fire risk control program” among other measures. Relying on insurance to patch over future damages is both cost-ineffective and a concession to the endangerment of personnel, surrounding communities, and wildlife.
As detailed in the report, a full commitment to FRAs with proper procedure will benefit a wind farm proportionally to its operational age, helping maintain its longevity. Wind farms that have been running for more than five years face significant proneness to fire and accidents caused by fire, which only worsens and increases with age. In contrast, an effective FRA will:
When the benefits are this great, there is no good reason to avoid the responsibility we have as an industry to make sure turbines are as safe as possible. Let’s push the boundaries of energy — not safety.
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