There are a lot of things to consider when purchasing and installing wind turbines for your wind farm. One of the packages you may have seen is the ability to add fire detection and suppression to your turbines. We will review the facts to assist you in making an informed decision about active fire suppression and help you gain an understanding if it provides a return on investment when you opt in.
What are fire suppression systems?
Fire suppression systems are a way to detect and extinguish or suppress a fire automatically. When a fire is detected, an automatic suppression system will release a fire-fighting agent, such as dry chemical, foam, or a clean agent, to stop the fire. Some agents, such as clean agents, can suppress fires within seconds.
Below is a short video on how fire suppression systems work in wind turbines.
These systems eliminate the need for handheld extinguishers and can suppress fires quickly, long before a fire department can arrive on scene. Firetrace fire suppression systems are trusted in a wide variety of applications, including vehicles, airplanes, CNC machines, and more.
No asset manager wants to deal with the downtime, investigation, and operational impact of a total loss due to fire. That's why over the past ten years, 26,000+ Firetrace systems have been installed in wind turbines to mitigate the risk of fire.
How common are fires in wind turbines?
If you have been around the industry for any length of time, then you have undoubtedly heard about multiple turbine fires. You may have even experienced them yourself.
The exact frequency of fires is difficult to determine because many fires are never publicized, and there is no central repository of past wind turbine fires. For multiple reasons, affected parties are not publicly sharing data on incidents. Estimates range from 1 in 2,000 (Wind Power Engineering Magazine, 2020) to 1 in 10,000 (Fire Protection Engineering Magazine, 2019) per year. 1 in 2,000 seems to be the most common estimate. This means in a wind farm with 150 turbines will likely experience 1-2 fires over an operating span of 20 years. The odds of a turbine catching fire over 20 years are then 1 in 100, or 1%. If the life of these turbines is extended, the turbines are even more prone to fire risk.
Which design features make a turbine more likely to catch fire?
According to DNV GL, there are five design features that may increase fire risk.
- Uptower transformers
- Carbon blades
- Spark gaps
- Splices in cabling
- Poor condition monitoring
There are other risks on turbines that have caused fires and different turbine models can have a higher risk of catching on fire than others. It is best to keep an eye on what is happening globally with your specific models of turbines. If there have been multiple fires in one particular model, you can proactively mitigate the fire risk in your turbines and fend off changes to your insurance policy.
Is fire suppression on wind turbines worth the investment?
Paying millions of dollars and shutting down turbines due to a fire is something that no turbine O&M business or insurer wants to deal with, so preventing fires is important. However, there is always a cost associated with adding a feature to your turbines. And the investment must make sense considering the low frequency, high impact nature of turbine fires. The cost of installation and breakeven point are topics that many other turbine operators are wondering about. We analyzed fire frequency and claims data to create a guide on recommendations of fire suppression investment for various sizes of wind turbines, ranging from 1MW to 8 MW.
As you can see from the graphic taken from The Complete Guide to Wind Turbine Fire Protection, the recommended investment and level of protection increases as turbine capacity also increases. This is because a loss of a 4MW turbine will incur greater losses than a 1MW turbine. Fire suppression systems are highly recommended for offshore fleets because of the 5-10x higher cost to investigate and repair/replace a turbine.
Can I get a better insurance policy for adding fire suppression?
Depending on your broker/insurer, you may be able to make your policy more attractive by opting into fire suppression because your turbines are more insurable and decrease your insurer's risk. This can be in the form of lowered deductibles, increased limits, and potentially lower deductibles. Based on recent discussions with renewable sector insurance companies, if you are deemed as having a high risk of fire then some underwriters will increase deductibles or even exclude you from a policy for not having fire suppression in your turbines.
Because insurers would avoid paying out a claim for a total loss due to a fire, both you and insurers benefit from opting into fire suppression systems. Premiums have been rising sharply over the past few years, so finding ways to keep your insurance policy more favorable is to your advantage. It is best to talk with your broker/insurer about incentivizing you to have fire suppression and using this fire loss mitigation measure as leverage when negotiating your terms.
What is the process for installing fire suppression systems?
The complexity of the installation depends on the hazard you are protecting and the complexity of the system itself. If you use Firetrace’s simple tubing-based system, then installation can be done in less than a day and is easy enough to be done by the turbine manufacturer, your staff, or a certified installer.
Is retrofitting existing turbines with fire suppression systems a smart idea?
While the ROI is more substantial when fire suppression systems are installed by the manufacturer as a capital expenditure, retrofitting existing fleets provides a return on investment when you have experienced a fire, have turbines with known risks, or are trying to protect your brand reputation.
If you have turbines in your fleet that are known to catch fire, then your insurer may increase your premiums because of the risk of a total loss. Even if a competitor has a claim due to a fire in a particular model, it can increase your premiums. To offset this increase, you can prove to insurers that you are mitigating this risk by installing fire suppression systems.
If you have suffered a loss, are concerned about corporate responsibility for the environment and community, or want to extend your turbines' life, retrofitting your turbines with fire suppression systems can be a great solution and provide a strong return on your investment.
Being proactive to fires instead of reactive will save time and reputational cost in the long run, and there are several benefits to retrofitting your existing fleet.
How common are fire suppression systems?
Firetrace has over 26,000 suppression systems installed on turbines, with many turbines having multiple systems. For reference, there are around half a million wind turbines on the planet. You may be wondering why fire suppression hasn't been installed on every turbine. Compared to the first turbines installed over 40 years ago, fire suppression systems are relatively new technology and have been installed in the wind industry for just over ten years. With the insurance market hardening due to large fire claims and wildfire damages in other industries, there has never been as good of a business case for these systems then there is now.
Are fire suppression systems compatible with my turbines?
Fire suppression systems are flexible enough to be installed on any turbine. The main implementation task is identifying hazards and coming up with solutions to protect the areas most prone to fire. This is why it's important to do business with a fire suppression company that understands the unique hazards on different models of wind turbines.
Firetrace has over ten years of experience identifying and protecting fire hazards in various wind turbines and has an entire team dedicated to protecting the wind industry from fire loss events.