When fires ignite in wind turbines, speed is of the essence for suppressing the flames. We’ve noted in a previous blog about how long it takes for a wind turbine fire to cause irreparable damage and concluded then that the straightforward answer is that it doesn’t take long at all. As we know, wind turbines are large boxes containing polymers, cables, insulation, and hundreds of liters of hydraulic oil and lubricants. It’s a matter of minutes before a faulty electrical component or overheated gearbox ignites a fire that leads to total destruction.
The speed in which a multi-million dollar asset can be destroyed – along with loss of revenue, cost of replacement or repairs, potential dangers to wind-farm personnel, and the possibility of starting a wildfire – means that the response to tackling turbine blazes needs to be faster than fire.
Outbreaks of fire in wind turbines remain rare. But when they do occur, it is clear that the location and infrastructure of wind farms do not always lend themselves to efficient and effective firefighting.
The Need for Speed
First of all, let’s examine the location of wind farms. They are often in remote locations, away from residential areas, or located in geographies susceptible to high winds. This in itself can hinder the response of firefighters, who are likely having to make significant journeys to reach turbines that are on fire.
The hub height of wind turbines now exceeds 90 meters. This means that fires that break out in the nacelle of turbines require fire trucks equipped with the world’s largest aerial platforms. While this technology – offered by the likes of Bronto Skylift, which boasts aerial platforms which can extend beyond 100m in height – exists, there aren’t many fire departments that have access to it. This means platforms need to be brought from long distances, and upon arrival, they need to set up, which is quick but not quick enough. Additionally, the lack of water at or near the wind farm could prohibit traditional fire fighting.
In the meantime, fire is relentlessly consuming one flammable turbine part after another. For every minute a turbine burns, it is often doing irreparable damage to the hardware, but it is also risking the reputation of the industry.
Opposition to wind farms remains relatively high, particularly in the United States, where, according to the Renewable Rejection Database, in 2021, 31 rejections by communities to wind projects were recorded. The sector needs to be doing all that it can to enhance its reputation. Highly visible turbine fires, able to relentlessly burn on hilltops close to communities, serve as the torch beacons that the industry’s opponents need to block more projects. Thus, hindering the rollout of wind projects and their role in the energy transition.
Risk Assessments and Suppression
This is why our latest report, Evaluating Fire Risk, which undertakes fire risk assessments, considers all of these factors incredibly important. In addition, as our blog on with whom and how to share the results of a risk assessment states, communicating with your local fire department is very wise.
The bottom line is that it needs immediate attention when a fire breaks out in a turbine. One of the only ways to effectively do that is to install clean agent fire suppression systems. They detect and suppress fires in under 10 seconds – and almost certainly before they grow into infernos. The clean agent deploys as a gas to suppress the fire and does not damage sensitive equipment. The agent then evaporates, leaving no residue, which means no clean-up is needed.
The odds of a turbine suffering a fire in its lifetime are 1 in 100. But when a fire does occur, speed is of the essence to extinguish it. The very nature of wind turbines, from their design to the locations they’re sited in, makes firefighting a challenge. This is why fire suppression systems should be incorporated into the turbine’s operation at the earliest opportunity.