Imagine being present when a wind turbine catches fire. The sight of a 450-foot turbine engulfed in flames would be shocking to most people. Wind turbine fires are reported in the press a few times a year. But how frequently do wind turbines catch fire? And what is the repercussion? Take a look at some of the numbers.
Fires in wind turbines account for 10-30% of all fatal wind turbine incidents.
In both 2011 and 2012, the Caithness Windfarm Information Forum (CWIF) documented 20 wind turbine fires worldwide. Out of a total of 160 wind turbine accidents, this is the most recent. As a result, fires accounted for 12.5% of all events in both years.
Between 1995 and 2012, the CWIF detected 200 documented fire occurrences, an average of 11.7 fires per year. As a result, fire is the second most common cause of documented wind turbine accidents. According to the report, the top three causes of wind turbine accidents are:
- Failure of the blade (19 percent )
- Failure of the structure (9.7 percent )
The Telegraph and Renewable UK both estimate a total of 1,500 wind turbine incidents between 2006 and 2010, according to an analysis by the International Association for Fire Safety Science (IAFSS). This applies to both reported and unreported events.
CWIF’s investigation, on the other hand, found only 142 documented instances over the same time span. As a result, we can conclude that 91% of occurrences get unreported.
In 2011, an estimated 200,000 wind turbines were operational around the world. We can estimate that there were 117 fires that year based on data from the IAFSS report (both reported and unreported). In 2011, one out of every 1,710 turbines caught fire.
Another set of data from DNV GL, an internationally authorized registration and classification agency, forecasts that 1 in 2,000 wind turbines may catch fire each year. The DNV GL investigation looked into all wind turbine fires, regardless of whether the turbine was completely destroyed.
According to a 2020 article in Wind Power Engineering Magazine, one out of every 2,000 wind turbines catches fire every year.
When a fire breaks out, the usual course of action is to wait for it to burn out. In nearly all circumstances, if the fire is not put out, major structural damage and total loss will occur (90 percent ).
Overall, the data indicates that wind turbine fires are uncommon. A single wind turbine fire, on the other hand, can be quite costly for a wind farm. Each turbine costs over $1 million and generates between $1,500 and $2,000 a day in revenue. Offshore turbines, which are larger and more sophisticated, can cost up to three times as much as onshore turbines and generate three times as much money.
The expense of replacing a turbine is substantial, and downtime can quickly build up. Fortunately, low-cost fire suppression devices can assist in reducing dangers. Firetrace systems detect and control flames at their source automatically. The devices are self-contained and function without the use of energy or water, making them a viable option for wind turbine fire defense.
Windmills catch fire on a regular basis, right?
Companies are “fundamentally headed in the right direction in terms of health and safety,” according to Chris Streatfeild, director of health and safety consultant Forge Risk, and the industry has a strong track record on managing fire risk.
“I believe we need to take data ownership,” he added. We need to exchange and learn from data concerning accidents, therefore the industry has a lot of room to improve in terms of sharing and disseminating it.
“I understand the industry’s apprehension, but I believe we should be more transparent, forthright, and willing to take responsibility for the problem.”
- Negative reputation: According to Firetrace, a lack of openness in the sector concerning fires allows opponents to set the agenda on wind’s safety record.
- Due to a lack of reliable data, wind farm owners and operators are unable to determine what amount of fire protection they require.
- Data from the past: Companies can’t identify recent fire patterns since they’re relying on turbine fire data from the mid-2010s.
According to Firetrace, insurers and manufacturers’ reports on how frequently wind turbines cause fire “vary drastically.”
In 2020, Wind Power Engineering magazine predicted that one out of every 2,000 turbines will catch fire, whereas Fire Protection Engineering magazine predicted one out of every 10,000 turbines would catch fire in 2019.
According to Firetrace, the probability of a catastrophic fire destroying a turbine is one in 15,000, according to an impartial fire expert.
According to Firetrace, if one out of every 2,000 turbines catches fire per year, a typical wind farm with 150 turbines would see one or two fires in its first 20 years of operation.
The probability of wind turbine fires will shift in tandem with climate and technical changes, according to the report.
Devastating wildfires erupted in Australia and the United States in 2020, exacerbated by climate change, rising temperatures, and droughts, which created ideal conditions for fire.
How many wind turbines are involved in accidents each year?
Let’s take the average of the results from these research rather than going down the proverbial rabbit hole to figure out which study is the most accurate. This puts the number of birds killed by wind turbines in the United States in 2012 at at 366,000.
It’s worth noting that wind energy capacity has increased dramatically since then. According to the Loss and others study, there were 44,577 turbines in operation in 2012, however the U.S. Wind Turbine Database shows that there are now 65,548 turbines in operation, a 47 percent increase. After accounting for the industry’s expansion, we estimate that about 538,000 birds die each year in the United States as a result of wind turbines.
However, because it takes into account the size of turbines as well as their number, mortality projections based on energy produced are more commonly utilized. According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind energy capacity in the United States increased by 86 percent from 60,067 megawatts (MW) in 2012 to 111,808 megawatts (MW) as of this writing in 2021. Taking this shift into account, it is estimated that 681,000 birds are killed by wind turbines in the United States each year.
Because many bird deaths go unnoticed by humans, these estimates are likely to underestimate the full scope of the problem.
Consider that little songbirds are the most common birds in the United States, and they are also the most commonly killed by turbines. At two wind sites in California, canines identified 1.6 and 2.7 times as many small bird mortality as human monitors, according to a research published in March 2020. Even after attempting to adjust for searcher detection error, which is normal practice in such investigations, this remained true.
Small birds accounted for 62.5 percent of the birds in the Erickson study’s data set. Taking 62.5 percent of the 681,000 annual mortality estimate and multiplying it by the 1.6- and 2.7-fold multipliers from the dog search study (along with the other 37.5 percent of birds), the total number of birds would be 936,000 and 1.4 million, respectively, based on the numbers from the two sites. By averaging the two, it’s estimated that 1.17 million birds are killed each year in the United States by wind turbines.
Wind generating projects have substantial secondary effects that must be considered in addition to the bird deaths mentioned above.
Many wind farms, for example, are positioned far from the current power infrastructure, necessitating the building of new powerlines, which adds to bird death.
Researchers estimated that 25.5 million birds are killed each year by accidents with powerlines, with another 5.6 million killed by electrocutions, according to a 2014 study. As a result, powerlines installed solely to connect new wind facilities to the existing energy grid result in extra bird deaths, which should be added into the total number of birds killed as a result of wind energy development.
Wind farms also necessitate a sizable amount of land. Facility development can fragment or otherwise alter habitat, making it unsuitable for species that have previously thrived there. For example, after one year, a study at wind farms in the Dakotas discovered displacement impacts for seven of nine grassland bird species. While these effects have been shown in a number of research, they have yet to be quantified at a large scale.
When the foregoing facts are reviewed, it becomes evident that current estimates of the toll of wind energy development on birds are limited and do not take into account the industry’s complete impact.
The estimations above are imperfect since they are based on research that were produced from an incomplete data collection.
While most wind farms are required to undertake bird surveys in order to influence project planning and post-construction bird fatality studies, they are not always required to share their findings, and many businesses keep their data confidential. Bird mortality could be better understood if this statistics were made publicly available, and conservation prescriptions could be adapted accordingly.
On a similar point, the species that are harmed by wind turbines must be taken into account. Others species are more vulnerable to accidents with wind turbines than others, and some have slower rates of reproduction, thus losses may have a greater impact on their populations. California Condors and Marbled Murrelets, two of our rarest and most iconic species, fall into this category and are at risk of colliding with wind turbines. Others, such as Whooping Cranes, are losing their habitat due to wind energy development.
As previously stated, our estimates indicate that the annual toll of birds killed by wind turbines in the United States is at least half a million, and an equally conservative estimate puts the figure at almost 700,000 birds. There’s an argument to be made that the figure could be higher than one million. These are all likely to be underestimates for the reasons indicated above.
Regardless of the details, this is much too many when one considers the numerous other risks to birds on the landscape, as well as the significant declines in bird populations that have already occurred.
What is the answer to this puzzle? How can we continue to build wind turbines to combat climate change while also killing birds? Bird-Smart Wind Energy is our solution. To avoid high-risk locations for birds, smart wind energy production begins with effective data collecting and suitable siting. The available mitigation measures can then be implemented to further reduce risks, and the effects should always be mitigated by strong on-the-ground mitigation measures.
Is it possible for a wind turbine to catch fire?
However, as wind turbines become more common in national energy mixes across Europe and North America, the industry cannot afford the financial and reputational damage that a single turbine fire might cause.
Wind turbines catch fire generally as a result of electrical or mechanical failures, which cause ignition in the surrounding plastics and fibreglass nacelle.
Turbine fires usually start in one of three places in the nacelle: the converter and capacitor cabinets, the transformer, or the brake.
For the wind turbine to convert the variable frequency and amplitude of generated energy into a consistent frequency and voltage that can be supplied into the grid, converter and capacitor cabinets are required.
An electrical problem at these components, on the other hand, can cause arc flashes or sparks, which can engulf plastics in the cabinet and cause a fire. Transformers, which convert energy into a voltage suitable for the grid, can potentially be a source of fire owing to electrical problems.
In an emergency, nacelle brakes and blade pitching are used to stop the turbine blades from spinning in seconds. This generates a great deal of heat and friction, and a mechanical failure at the nacelle brake can quickly result in a fire.
Financial risk of fire
According to available data, the rate of fires has been steady over the last decade, with one out of every 2000 turbines burning down every year. While technologies like as electronic braking systems have been developed to reduce the risk of fire, many of the major ignition spots are required for energy generation and hence cannot be engineered out of the turbine.
While the number of fires has remained constant over time, the financial risk of fire has increased as turbines have grown in size and complexity. Because turbines are becoming larger and more expensive, a single fire can have a significantly greater impact.
Additionally, as wind farms grow in size from a few dozen turbines to big projects with 100 or more turbines, owners must factor in the increased likelihood of a fire occurring during the project’s 25-year lifespan.
The majority of wind turbine fires result in the complete destruction of the turbine. Because projects are typically located far from communities, the fire will have grown to a size that extends from inside the nacelle to throughout the turbine by the time the local fire department arrives.
There is no way to put out a fire once it gets this big. A fire at the nacelle is out of range for ground-based firefighting because the typical turbine hub height is over 80 meters, and sending a team up to put out the fire would pose a considerable health and safety risk.
However, if fires can be put out while they’re still contained to the nacelle, the turbine will be spared. While fire-resistant materials can help slow the development of a fire and minimize the risks of it igniting, only fire suppression systems can extinguish a flame once it has started.
An automatic fire suppression system detects a fire and extinguishes it either directly (direct) or by flooding the nacelle with a suppressant chemical (indirect) (indirect).
By installing a fire suppression system at the three most common ignition points in the nacelle, any fire damage to the turbine will be minimized, allowing it to continue functioning without replacement.
Given that the average fire suppression system costs between $4,500 and $13,000 depending on size and whether it is direct or indirect, and given the projected frequency and expense of a wind turbine fire, the advantage of comprehensive protection for a 3MW+ turbine well justifies the cost of installation.
The possibility of fire isn’t just a concern for wind farm owners. A wind turbine fire can spread to the surrounding environment, potentially igniting wildfires and affecting local populations.
As a result, government and community stakeholders are increasingly working to guarantee that wind turbine fires are put out before they spread beyond the asset.
A rising number of German authorities, as well as municipal and state governments in the United States, are realizing that fire suppression is required to protect new wind farms and their environs in the case of a wind turbine fire. Regulators in Ontario, Canada, have gone a step further, allowing local governments to demand that existing buildings be modified with fire suppression systems.
Wind farm owners and operators must express their commitment to fire prevention and protection with landowners and other community stakeholders in addition to complying with government authorities.
By adopting the necessary precautions to adequately safeguard a wind turbine from a fire, the industry can not only lower the financial costs of rebuilding a turbine, but also improve relations with communities that rely on renewable energy.
The wind sector will be in a better position to continue its remarkable growth with the goodwill of local stakeholders and evidence for addressing significant issues.
to 31 March 2022
The data in the detailed table attached is far from complete. We believe that the information provided may only be the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of accident numbers and frequency. Indeed, the Daily Telegraph stated on December 11, 2011, that RenewableUK had revealed that there had been 1500 wind turbine accidents and incidents in the UK alone in the previous five years. Since 2014, EnergyVoice and the Press and Journal documented a total of 81 incidences of workers being hurt on UK windfarms, according to EnergyVoice and the Press and Journal. Only 15 of these are found in our data (
The data, on the other hand, provides a great cross-section of the different types of accidents that can and do happen, as well as their repercussions. Only data on fatal accidents was available before to 1997, with a few exceptions.
As expected, the pattern is continuing.
As more turbines are erected, there are more accidents. From 2002 to 2006, there were an average of 70 accidents per year; from 2007 to 2011, there were 138 accidents per year; from 2012 to 2016, there were 171 accidents per year; and from 2017 to 2021, there were 222 accidents per year.
This increased trend in accident numbers is expected to continue until HSE makes significant modifications, including designating a minimum safe distance between new turbine constructions and occupied dwellings and buildings to safeguard the public.
The HSE in the United Kingdom currently lacks a database of wind turbine failures on which to make judgments on wind turbine dependability and risk assessments. Please see https://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr968.pdf for more information.
This is due to the fact that the wind sector “guarantees the confidentiality of reported events.” No other energy industry operates in such secrecy when it comes to incidents. The wind business should be no different, and the sooner RenewableUK makes its database available to the Health and Safety Executive and the general public, the better. RenewableUK does not like to accept that, but the fact is out there.
Industrial wind turbines can constitute a serious public health and safety danger, according to several governments. The Finnish Ministry of Health recommended a minimum distance of 2 kilometers from homes in a report released in June 2014, concluding: “The actors involved in the development of wind energy should understand that no economic or political goal should take precedence over the well-being and health of individuals.” Bavaria implemented laws in 2016 establishing a minimum distance of 2 kilometers between wind turbines and homes, and Ireland is exploring similar legislation.
The following is also mentioned in the 2018 GCube report:
- Problems with blades and gear boxes exceed wind turbine fires by a large margin.
- Operators’ failure to conduct adequate due diligence through maintenance checks is becoming increasingly concerning, and;
- Wind farms that are operated outside of their design constraints have been identified as a significant source to fires.
The information is given in a chronological order. It can be split down into the following sections:
How frequently do wind turbines cause accidents?
Eventually, 216 news articles were discovered that directly reported 240 wind turbine accidents, which were added to the dataset and thoroughly examined.
What will a wind turbine cost in 2020?
Wind turbine prices have dropped dramatically from a decade ago, from $1,800 per kilowatt (kW) in 2008 to $770-850 per kilowatt (kW) now. The value of the health and climate advantages of wind energy built in 2020 was estimated to be $76 per MWh, significantly more than the cost of wind energy.
Is there anyone who has died as a result of a wind turbine?
After blade failure, fire in wind turbines is the second most common form of accident reported. While some models of wind turbines have a larger danger of fire than others, all wind turbines contain fire risk elements. Highly flammable materials, including as hydraulic oil and polymers, are stored near electrical cables and equipment within the nacelle. If there is an ignition source, such as an electrical arc or a fault within the transformer, a fire can quickly start and spread. Fires in turbines are less common than in other energy businesses, but the financial consequences are enormous, costing upwards of $4.5 million. In this article, we’ll look at five different wind turbine fires.
#1 San Gorgonio Pass
The View Fire, which started in June 2012 in the Whitewater area east of Cabazon in Riverside County, California, was caused by a wind turbine fire. Despite efforts such as cleaning grass and debris from the turbines’ bases, the turbine fire ignited a wildfire that burned 367 acres. Authorities were alerted when many witnesses reported the fire, and residents in the box canyon were evacuated. Over 100 firemen fought the fire on the ground and from planes to get it under control in less than 24 hours. There were no injuries or structural damage reported.
#2 Piet de Wit Wind Farm
There had never been a human death as a result of a wind turbine fire before 2013. On Tuesday, October 29, 2013, it all changed when two of the four mechanics working on a wind turbine in Ooltgensplaat, Netherlands, were killed. A fire trapped the mechanics, aged 19 and 21, on the top of the turbine, and they killed as a result. The fire service had difficulty extinguishing the fire due to the height of the turbine and its position. To tackle the fire, a professional team of firefighters was dispatched with a big crane, which took many hours. One mechanic was discovered on the ground near the turbine’s base, while the second victim was recovered by the specialized crew from the turbine’s top. The other two mechanics were able to get away without harm. The fire was caused by a short circuit, according to Deltawind.