Engineers find Wind Turbines are at High Risk for Fire and Incidents are Underreported
A study conducted by Imperial College London and University of Edinburgh engineers found that wind turbine are at high risk for catching on fire, and incidents are largely underreported by the industry.
According to the study, 120 turbines catch fire each year—with the industry only reporting a tenth of them. Next to blade failure, fire is the biggest source of risk for wind turbines.
Fires are a major issue for the industry, with turbines costing several million dollars each, and producing hundreds of thousands in revenue annually. This is also a problem since wind turbine fires are a source of harm to the environment—the very thing the turbines were designed to combat.
“This could cast a shadow over the industry's green credentials,” Dr. Guillermo Rein of Imperial College’s mechanical engineering department said. “Worryingly our report shows that fire may be a bigger problem than what is currently reported.”
According to the study, wind turbines catch fire easily because of highly flammable materials’ proximity to electrical components. If these parts fail, the fire can grow extremely quickly since the wind that’s supposed to be turning the turbine will end up fanning the flames, making the situation a dire one.
Because of the height a remote location of turbines, fighting the fires can often be a difficult task, with added challenges and slower response times.
A contradicting 2013 report from the Health and Safety Executive found that risks associated with wind energy are very low, and the industry remains skeptical.
“The wind industry welcomes any research that will help reduce maintenance times and improve safety standards,” Chris Streatfeild, Renewable UK’s director of health and safety, said. “However, the industry would probably challenge a number of the assumptions that are presented in the research, which include the questionable reliability of the data sources referenced and perhaps more importantly a failure to understand the safety and integrity standards for fire safety that are in effect standard practice in any large wind turbine.”
However, with this new report, evidence that wind turbines may be a greater risk—both environmentally and financially—than the industry is reporting is mounting.
“This new study on wind turbine fire hazards is an important reminder that there are hidden operation and maintenance costs affecting the economic lifetime of what is after all very expensive equipment,” Dr. John Constable, director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, said. “Just because the wind is free doesn’t mean that it is a cheap way of generating electricity.”
Constable went on to say that safety and operating efficiency are top priorities for the industry, and no one has ever been hurt by wind turbine in the UK.
Drax advances biomass strategy with Pinnacle acquisition
The Group’s enlarged supply chain will have access to 4.9 million tonnes of operational capacity from 2022. Of this total, 2.9 million tonnes are available for Drax’s self-supply requirements in 2022, which will rise to 3.4 million tonnes in 2027.
The £424 million acquisition of the Canadian biomass pellet producer supports Drax' ambition to be carbon negative by 2030, using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and will make a "significant contribution" in the UK cutting emissions by 78% by 2035 (click here).
This summer Drax will undertake maintenance on its CfD(2) biomass unit, including a high-pressure turbine upgrade to reduce maintenance costs and improve thermal efficiency, contributing to lower generation costs for Drax Power Station.
In March, Drax secured Capacity Market agreements for its hydro and pumped storage assets worth around £10 million for delivery October 2024-September 2025.
The limitations on BECCS are not technology but supply, with every gigatonne of CO2 stored per year requiring approximately 30-40 million hectares of BECCS feedstock, according to the Global CCS Institute. Nonetheless, BECCS should be seen as an essential complement to the required, wide-scale deployment of CCS to meet climate change targets, it concludes.