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As the wind turbine OEM sector becomes more competitive, larger and more innovative turbines are coming to market, but unlike more traditional turbines - little is known about their susceptibility to fire risk.

Global wind energy developers are increasingly turning to new wind turbine original equipment manufacturers [OEMs] when purchasing turbines in the everlasting drive to ensure greater returns on investment. But while the latest turbines may be more effective and efficient, it is vital that developers properly understand the level of fire risk posed by such alternatives, given that they differ from a design and operational perspective.

For example, OEMs in China are designing ground-breaking new turbines that set new standards for power and efficiency. By way of illustration, China recently switched on the MySE-16-260, a 16MW turbine with a rotor diameter of 853 feet, a world record size that was 26 feet longer than the previous record holder, which went online in China just a few weeks previously. [1]

Indeed, the popularity of Chinese-manufactured turbines is increasing dramatically. As of 2021, Chinese wind companies had an estimated global footprint of 45 countries, equivalent to 14 GW of capacity, spanning asset ownership, turbine supply, EPC contracts or a combination thereof, according to Wood Mackenzie. [2] In more recent times, there is evidence that Chinese OEMs have succeeded in building on that success. For example, Goldwind’s annual results last year showed that, by the end of 2022, the company’s overseas external order backlog had increased by 96% year-on-year to 4,467MW. [3] Meanwhile, the company’s order backlog in the Middle East and Africa had increased a massive 369% to 1,209MW, when compared to 2021. The company also has order backlogs, albeit of a smaller scale, in North America, South America and Europe.

Furthermore, data from the Brussels-based Global Wind Energy Council shows that Goldwind, the leader in the Chinese market, is ranked second in the global market with a 13 per cent share, behind only Denmark’s Vestas, which has a 14 per cent share. [4] This is partly because Chinese manufacturers have improved their cost competitiveness by scaling up and expanding sales channels in Europe and Japan.


Emerging OEMs in China now responsible for 60% of the world's installed capacity

It’s been a similar story of dramatic growth at fellow Chinese OEM Envision, which, among other recent highlights, signed a contract in June 2023 to supply 1.67 GW of wind turbines for the NEOM Green Hydrogen Company – located in Saudi Arabia – which is the world's largest utility-scale hydrogen plant powered entirely by renewable energy. [5] Meanwhile, another Chinese turbine manufacturer, Mingyang, has also been tipped for global success, with a white paper from the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis claiming that Mingyang is well-placed to grow outside China due to its development expertise, turbine innovations, and global manufacturing footprint, as well as the economic challenges facing its western competitors. [6] As UK research firm Wood Mackenzie has highlighted, it is “difficult for developers and lawmakers to turn away Chinese suppliers”. [7]

Data shows that, in 2022, China’s wind power generation manufacturers supplied nearly 60 per cent of the world’s installed capacity. [8] However, while Chinese-made wind turbines may be setting new standards for efficiency and value, it is important that project developers consider that new more innovative types of turbines may have a different fire risk profile due to the fact they are produced to a different specification than more traditional turbines.


Who is taking responsibility for fire risk?

Given that newer, state-of-the-art turbines are being added to fleets around the world, forward-thinking owner operators are taking the time to fully investigate, understand and mitigate the fire risks of new machines.

One of the biggest potential issues that has been created by the influx of new players from around the world into the global wind OEM market is that there may be less clarity about which parties are responsible for addressing safety risks such as fire. OEMs may be under pressure to quickly deliver affordable turbines and could therefore pass this responsibility on to owner operators that have either assumed fire risk has been designed out during the manufacturing process, or simply passed responsibility on to the insurance provider. However, insurers are increasingly excluding loss of revenue and surrounding area damage from fire incident claims, with the result that the onus is on owner operators to mitigate fire risk.


How to reduce wind farm fire

Best practice for reducing the risk of fire at a wind farm involves conducting an effective fire risk assessment (FRA), which will limit potential damage to your wind assets and mean you won’t incur millions in costs replacing turbines. Upon completion, the results of the FRA should be shared with all stakeholders, including colleagues responsible for personnel safety, the operations teams and the finance team, as well as external providers of finance and insurance providers.

Technologies used for fire protection in wind turbines include fire detection, arc flash detection, and condition monitoring systems. Most technologies focus on fire prevention or detection, but only fire detection and suppression systems mitigate fire damage once a fire has started. Firetrace systems target specific ignition sources in the wind turbine. This allows a flexible, modular approach to fire protection that can be customized for different turbine makes and models.



[1] https://www.woodmac.com/news/opinion/china-wind-expansion/

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