Wind farming is one of the leading industries in the renewable energy sector. The process is simple: wind turns the blades, which spin a shaft, which connects to a generator and makes electricity. However, converting this kinetic energy into mechanical power has resulted in quite a few wind turbines catching fire, and according to researchers not all fires are being fully reported.
Researchers from Imperial College London, the University of Edinburgh and SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden carried out a global assessment of the world’s wind farms, which in total contain an estimated 200,000 turbines. The team found that ten times more fires are happening than are being reported. Instead of an average of 11.7 fires each year, which is what is reported publicly, the researchers estimate that more than 117 separate fires are breaking out in turbines annually.
By comparison, with other energy industries, fire accidents are much less frequent in wind turbines than other sectors such as oil and gas, which globally has thousands of fire accidents per year. However, fire accidents can have a considerable economic impact on the wind farm industry, say the team.
Wind turbines catch fire because highly flammable materials such as hydraulic oil and plastics are in close proximity to machinery and electrical wires. These can ignite a fire if they overheat or are faulty. Lots of oxygen, in the form of high winds, can quickly fan a fire inside a turbine. Once ignited, the chances of fighting the blaze are slim due to the height of the wind turbine and the remote locations that they are often in.
The researchers attribute fire ignition in wind to lightning strike, electrical malfunction, mechanical failure, and errors with maintenance.
In an effort to get a clearer picture about the true extent of fires in wind farms, the team carried out an extensive analysis of data from a wide range of sources. This included Government reports, data from anti- wind farm lobbyists and information gathered by major newspaper investigations.
The research has been published in the journal Fire Safety Science.
Read more at the Imperial College of London.