Imagine witnessing a wind turbine fire in person. Most people would be shocked to see a 450 foot turbine in flames. Reports of wind turbine fires appear in the news a few times each year. But how often do wind turbines really catch on fire? And what is the impact? Here's a look at some of the statistics.
Wind turbine fires account for 10-30% of all catastrophic wind turbine accidents
The Caithness Windfarm Information Forum (CWIF) reported 20 wind turbine fires globally in both 2011 and 2012. That is out of a total of 160 total wind turbine accidents. Therefore, fires represented 12.5% of all incidents in both years.
Fire is the second leading cause of accidents in wind turbines
CWIF identified 200 reported fire incidents between 1995 and 2012, an average of 11.7 fires reported per year. That makes fire the second leading cause of reported accidents in wind turbines. Overall, the top 3 causes of accidents in wind turbines, according to the study, are:
- Blade failure (19%)
- Fire (15%)
- Structural failure (9.7%)
91% of wind turbine fires go unreported
According to analysis by the International Association for Fire Safety Science (IAFSS), The Telegraph and Renewable UK both estimate a total of 1,500 wind turbine accidents from 2006-2010. That includes both reported incidents and unreported incidents.
However, research by CWIF identified only 142 reported incidents during the same time period. Therefore, we can assume that 91% of incidents are never reported.
Wind turbines catch fire at a rate of 1 in 1,710
An estimated 200,000 wind turbines operated globally in 2011. Based on data in the IAFSS report, we can assume there were 117 fires that same year (both reported and unreported). That means 1 in every 1,710 turbines caught fire in 2011.
Another data set produced by DNV GL, an internationally accredited registrar and classification society, estimates the rate of fire in wind turbines at 1 in 2,000 each year. The DNV GL analysis examined all wind turbine fires, regardless of whether the fire resulted in a total loss of the turbine.
A 2020 article in Wind Power Engineering Magazine also estimates that 1 in 2,000 wind turbines catch fire each year.
Nacelle fires lead to total loss or significant damage in 90% of all cases
When a fire does occur, the typical action is to wait for it to burn out. Without suppressing the fire, significant structural damage and total loss result in nearly all cases (90%).
What do wind turbine fire statistics mean for wind farms?
Overall, the data shows that wind turbine fires are relatively rare. However, a single wind turbine fire can be very expensive for a wind farm. Each turbine costs over $1 million and generates $1,500-$2,000 of revenue per day. Off shore turbines, which are larger and more complex, can cost up to 3 times that and generate more revenue.
The capital cost of replacing a turbine is significant, and downtime can add up quickly. Fortunately, cost effective fire suppression technology can help to mitigate risks. Firetrace systems automatically detect and suppress fires at their source. The systems are self contained and do not require electricity or a water supply to operate, which makes them a feasible solution for wind turbine fire protection.