Over the last 20 years, the wind turbine industry has seen a great number of changes. For one operational executive, who moved up the ranks from an entry-level wind technician to senior management, he has seen firsthand how the renewables space has grown and continues to be transformed. Serving in a senior role for operations, he oversees multiple wind farm sites that generate over 1,400 megawatts of power.
His main responsibilities include overseeing all operations leading up to the delivery to the grid and ensuring compliance with all regulatory authorities. He manages a group of wind farm site managers that direct the maintenance of the site, equipment, and structures, as well as coordinating training of employees in operations, safety, environmental issues, or technical issues. Site managers also maintain records for the wind operations, such as site performance, repairs or preventive maintenance, parts usage, and substation events.
A few years back, a wind turbine tripped offline at the site. Because there were no technicians in the turbine at the time, technicians were sent to troubleshoot why it was offline and complete any repairs to get the turbine back up and running. When removing panels and access covers, they found the remnants of the Firetrace tubing that had burst and released clean agent to suppress a fire in the converter cabinet.
The benefit of using clean agent in this type of application is that it leaves no residue and does not harm sensitive components within the wind turbine, in turn minimizing the time the turbine is offline. While this turbine could have been quick to return to service, they chose to keep the turbine offline for a longer period of time to do a thorough root cause analysis. The only damage sustained during the incident was to some components within the converter cabinet, which was identified as the cause of the fire.
“Because the Firetrace system activated so quickly and extinguished the fire, there was a not catastrophic loss.”
This operations executive is fortunate that he personally has never experienced a catastrophic loss of a turbine, which could cost them anywhere from $4.5m to $9m based on the size of the turbine and amount of downtime. Routine maintenance and proactive safety precautions, including active fire suppression, are key to reducing fire risk factors in wind turbines.
“If it weren’t for Firetrace, we likely would have lost the nacelle.”
Typically, when implementing fire suppression in a wind turbine, three areas are protected: the converter and electrical panels, up tower transformer, and brake area. The Firetrace systems installed in these areas are self-contained, activate automatically, and require no electricity to operate. The systems locally protect the areas where they are installed.
“The other thing in terms of Firetrace’s suppression system that I think is attractive is it’s a local application.”
Installing fire suppression systems in wind turbines can be part of the purchasing process directly with the OEM or can be retrofitted in the field, which was the case with this wind turbine.