Technology reduces turbine fire risk

Online Editor

Ultrasonic tools help keep wind turbines fully operational and reduce the risk of fires

The energy matrix is changing, and the industry is continuously driving initiatives towards generating greener, cleaner and more sustainable energy. Public support for renewable energy in the UK is consistently high (around 85%), and the nation is proudly leading the way in reducing carbon emissions to fulfil the Climate Change Act of 2008.

Our dependence on renewables is growing, and as a result, the wind turbines being built are taller and more powerful. Yet with this growth, comes the challenge of keeping assets operational. The second leading cause of accidents in wind turbines after blade failure, is fire. It is hence even more vital that we keep them fully operational and reduce the risks of lives lost and assets damaged, to lead in this global movement for greener change.

There are over 340,000 wind turbines around the world, yet the vast majority have no fire suppression system installed. 10-30% of all loss-of-power-generation incidents in wind power plants are due to fire. The nacelle operates at a great heat and comprises highly flammable resin fibreglass, with internal insulation. Combined with the possibility of lightning strikes, these very tall turbines (now surpassing 450ft) in exposed locations pose a uniquely high risk and are vulnerable to fires. 

Wind turbine fires lend great danger

When turbines are under construction, or engineers are undergoing maintenance and repairs, the escape routes are often long and vertical, which in the case of a fire lends severe danger. Examples of the other effects of such an event include the following:

·  In 2005, a wind turbine powering the Nissan car factory in the UK caught fire, leading to the total loss and disruption of the nearby highway
·  In 2011 a wind turbine fire in Ardrossan, UK caught fire and burning debris were scattered across a long distance due to the strong winds
·  In 2012 a wind turbine fire in Lower Saxony Germany estimated a potential loss of €300,000-400,000
·  In 2017, a wind turbine caught fire and sparked a wild fire Northeast Wyoming, USA and burnt nearly 1,600 acres of land
Technical experts must work collaboratively in the wind industry to find ways of ensuring we can drive greener energy, whilst minimising the danger to engineers and surrounding landscape, by enhancing fire safety.

There are many ways to ensure these fires do not recur. The nacelle should be protected via small gaseous fire suppression systems and rely on them to avoid total loss, to save lives, and protect critical infrastructure before maintenance engineers can get to them.

Test quickly and accurately to prevent wind turbine fires

Quick and accurate routine tests, can make the greatest preventative difference. Coltraco offers specialist non-invasive liquid level measurement to test the contents of fire suppression systems that are inside the nacelle of the turbine. Its solution is called the Portalevel Max Ultrasonic liquid level indicator. The firm works with manufacturers of fire suppression systems to ensure that the Portalevel Max is the appropriate tool for wind turbine systems.

Wind turbine fire suppression system case study

In 2017 a wind turbine manufacturer approached the manufacturer of the fire systems that it installs in some turbines for a solution to inspect the fire system cylinders [for agent content loss in case the pressurised cylinders leaked or discharged, which would mean insufficient agent to suppress a fire event]. This manufacturer had worked with Coltraco on projects for many years and recommended the company to the wind turbine manufacturer. Working with the turbine manufacturer the Portalevel Max was chosen for trials and testing. The unit is able to identify liquefied gaseous extinguishant levels to +/-1.5mm. It passed the trials and the unit was deemed to solve the issues: giving the ability to regularly inspect and maintain the contents of their fire extinguishing systems.

Wind turbine manufacturers and their customers can use the ultrasonic technology to protect their valuable assets from substantial fire damage, as well as minimise downtime for maintenance, ensuring cylinders are always full and able to extinguish fires. 

The fires that continue to occur pose a dangerous threat to both business continuity and human lives, and yet they are entirely preventable. More and more wind turbine manufacturers are acknowledging the risk to assets, and fire suppression systems are being retrofitted in existing sites. We must now continue to educate and lead, ensuring that no more lives are lost nor critical assets damaged. There are smart solutions available that enable wind turbine owners and operators to improve their fire safety management and reduce the threats to human life, and business continuity caused by any downtime, hereby diminishing the risk to business reputation.

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