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How the wind energy industry can reduce financial, economic, and reputational risks caused by fires

fireThe significant increase of global use of wind power, does present some challenges for wind turbine manufacturers, wind farm operators and other parties involved. Particularly fire protection is becoming a major concern, as the risk of wind turbine fire presents a financial, economic and reputational threat to the industry. To ensure that wind energy reaches its potential as a mainstream energy source, it is vital that the industry takes measures to protect wind turbine investments from the risk of fire.

Clearly, any loss or downtime of wind turbines makes the industry less viable and productive. However, fires create additional problems for the industry, not only affecting energy production and economic output, but also potentially emitting toxic fumes and damaging the industry’s green credentials, which in turn could affect future investments. Recent fires caused extensive damage to property, high follow-up costs, negative reputation and in some cases even loss of human lives.

We at DNV GL have put this topic high on the agenda already several years ago and developed and published a Technical Note in 2005.  In continuation of the topic the complete service specification ‘SE-0077 Certification of fire protection systems for wind turbines’ was published in March 2015. This service specification defines and ensures a high quality model for the design and construction of up to date fire protection systems for wind turbines.

Understanding the risks

Each time a fire strikes, it results in an almost 100% total loss of the turbine. For those left standing, high repair costs follow and a permanent loss of revenue is the worst-case scenario. For farm owners unlucky enough to suffer these consequences the misery does not stop there, with increased insurance quotes being the next step.

While it is possible to mitigate the risk of fire to some extent by, for example, finding suitable non-flammable materials to use as cable coverings, one thing that cannot be changed is wind turbines’ dependence upon large quantities of flammable liquids such as hydraulic oil. Braking systems pose a particularly high fire risk. Overheating can cause hot fragments of the disc brake material to break off, rupturing hydraulic hoses and resulting in highly combustible hydraulic fluid being expelled under pressure and coming into contact with the hot disk brake fragments. Hydraulic pumps and connections have also been known to fail, enabling the fluid to erupt into flames when it comes into contact with a hot surface.

It has been clear for some time that the industry needs a single fire protection standard that meets the unique challenges of the wind turbine industry. Identifying a need for a more robust process, we developed the service certification of fire protection systems for wind turbines:

  • Analyse possible fire risks (assessment of protection class)
  • Check if a fire protection system is adequate for the wind turbine and covering the analysed fire risks (system integration into the wind turbine)
  • Final inspection of turbines following assessment (witnessing of the fire protection system)
  • Independent confirmation of the fire protection concept and its functional implementation in a defined wind turbine type
  • Considerable reduction of the risk of bodily injury caused by fire
  • The protection of investment and income is increased
  • Good arguments against authorities (e.g. in case of requirements for wind turbine installations in forest areas)
  • Convincing sales argument for suppliers of fire protection systems

This service can also be applied to existing turbines.

Do you need additional information about fire protection for wind turbines or do you want to discuss best practices with us? My colleagues and I at DNV GL are always happy to discuss with you how you can best protect your assets against fire.

For more information on DNV GL’s fire protection standard and service please, click here.

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