The number of wind turbine fires is increasing as the number of turbines installed increases. For example, a 100-turbine wind farm is on average ten times more likely to have a fire than a 10-turbine wind farm. This trend is affecting the reputation of the industry, hardening the insurance market, and has the potential to hurt the growth of the wind industry.
Fire regulations are common in many industries. Buildings and factories are a couple of examples. They establish a baseline of best practices to keep people safe from fire risks. However, fire regulations are much vaguer for wind turbines. Certain standards exist as guidelines (NFPA, CFPA, VDS), but ultimately it is up to the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) to decide what fire safety steps are required in most cases. Some AHJs have been proactive regarding wind turbine fire protection and have made detectors and/or fire suppression systems required. Others are leaving the bulk of fire protection up to the turbine manufacturers, developers, and owners.
There can be several reasons why regulations increase. After fatal events, changes in legislation, investor demand, or an AHJ decides a regulation should be changed. In the case of wind turbines, about 1 in 2,000 catch on fire per year over their 20-year lifespan. If one of these fires were to cause a wildfire with a large amount of damage to people and property, fire regulation is almost guaranteed.
Fire regulations are expected to increase in the future due to several factors. We’ll discuss the major trends below.
Some communities and businesses are heavily dependent on renewable energy. If an entire wind farm is down for a day, then meeting energy demands can be difficult. We saw this happen recently in Texas. By preventing stoppages due to fire, wind farms have improved business continuity.
The rate of wind turbine fires has remained consistent at about 1 in 2,000 per year over a turbine’s lifespan, meaning that a wind farm with 150 turbines will experience 1-2 fires over 20 years. As the number of wind farms increases, the number of fires is expected to increase. Each fire poses a threat to people, the environment, and local communities, so it is best to prevent them from occurring.
When an insurance claim is filed for a wind turbine fire, no party benefits. You must dedicate resources over weeks, or even months, to investigate the fire and perform mitigation efforts. After all of this, you may be surprised that your insurance policy doesn’t cover the entire loss and your premium and deductible may rise.
Because of the large payouts, premiums in renewables have increased by 20-30%. Even if your own company did not experience a fire, the insurers still had to pay out claims, and increase premiums across the board as a result.
Fire detection is a crucial risk mitigation/safety component that is already implemented on many turbines. Because wind turbines run unmanned, it is important to detect when there is a fire and react accordingly.
Fire detection regulation is often left up to local authorities. For example, both France and Belgium have decrees that require fire detection on turbines. Over the past few years, these countries started to require fire detectors in only new turbines. Now the scope of this requirement covers all wind turbines, both new and those already in the field.
Fire detectors may be able to detect a fire, but how do you put a fire out once it starts? That is why fire suppression systems are so important. These systems can activate once a fire is detected and ensure that the fire is put out in just a few seconds, often saving the turbine (and $7-8 million expense that a total loss causes).
While fire suppression systems provide more safety benefits than fire detectors, they are in just a few percent of wind turbines. The main reason for this is the cost difference compared to simple fire detectors. However, after a quick cost-benefit analysis, fire suppression systems make financial sense. Because fires start wildfires, harm people, and damage property, some authorities have required fire suppression systems in their jurisdiction. Examples are New Hampshire, USA and Ontario, Canada.
Everyone hurts when there is a wind turbine fire. By mandating risk mitigation measures like fire protection, wind turbines become safer and easier to insure. This gives owner/operators better rates, helps insurers lose less in claims payouts, and helps move the wind industry forward.
To ensure your turbines are ready for future regulations, it is best to evaluate fire detection and suppression systems now. NERO has industry-leading fire detection and suppression systems that are safe for employees and electronics.
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