Wind turbines are valuable assets. They act as energy converters, taking kinetic wind energy and transforming it into electrical energy. Because of the push for clean energy, they are becoming common around the world. As turbine construction increases, so does the concern for safety. The two biggest hazards in the industry are blade failure and fire. Protection of wind turbines from fire risks is a necessity. We’ll explore some of the reasons why they catch fire, as well as different methods of protection that can be used to prevent significant damage to the wind turbines.
Why Wind Turbines Catch Fire
Wind turbines catch fire for a variety of reasons. With the nacelle of the wind turbine sitting over 400 feet in the air, there is potential for disastrous incidents. Many of the electrical components in the nacelle are combustible and susceptible to fire hazards. Some of the main reasons why wind turbines catch fire include:
The number one reason wind turbines catch fire is due to lightning. When lightning strikes a wind turbine, it can hit the nacelle and immediately spark up a fire. While lightning is not preventable, there are precautions to minimize damage to the wind turbine in the event of a lightning strike.
The age of the wind turbine can impact the likeliness of it catching fire. The older the wind turbine, the higher risk due to aging components, wiring, etc.
As humans, we make mistakes. When a mistake is made during the manufacturing, construction, operations, or maintenance, there is always the risk of it affecting one of the components. Arcing could occur around cable terminations and bus connections, overheating of brakes and bearings, or lack of proper lubrication in the nacelle could result in overheating, all potential causes of fire in wind turbines.
At the base of the wind turbine are the converter and other critical electrical components. The base is a prime location for sparks which can ignite a fire. This is especially the case during the warmer months and in hotter, drier areas of the world.
Protecting the Equipment
Wind turbines are expensive and valuable pieces of equipment. Protecting them from fire hazards is important to minimize damage and downtime. Maintenance is essential, and performing regular inspections is critical to keeping the wind turbines safe. This ensures the continuous production of power from the wind turbines.
Wind turbines are being built over 450 feet and if a fire were to start sparks and flames can travel great distances. Costing up to $4 million installed, they are extremely expensive to replace. Protection against fire requires an appropriate fire suppression system. Traditional sprinkler systems are an effective fire suppression method for many applications. However, when it comes to wind turbines, they are not a cost-effective solution. Without having immediate access to water at each tower, cylinders would need to store and supply the water. The number of cylinders, weight, and accessibility to the cylinders for service would also be an issue.
However, an automatic fire suppression system is a practical solution as it can be easily installed within the vital components of the wind turbine, the nacelle, and converter. The system provides automatic fire detection and fire suppression and shuts down the wind turbine to suppress the spread of fire. The cost of an automatic fire suppression system compared to the potential damage caused by a fire, or the cost of having to replace a destroyed wind turbine, is minimal.
With wind turbines being high-voltage, power-converting energy generators, owners need to be aware of the risk of fire. It is difficult to completely engineer out faulty components, human error, and lightning strikes, but many precautions can be taken to minimize fire risks.