Wind turbine fires ‘ten times more common than thought’, experts warn

fireEmily Gosden, The Telegraph
Wind turbines may catch on fire ten times more often than is publicly reported, putting nearby properties at risk and casting doubt on their green credentials, researchers have warned. The renewable energy industry keeps no record of the number of turbine fires, meaning the true extent of the problem is unknown, a study backed by Imperial College London finds on Thursday.

An average of 11.7 such fires are reported globally each year, by media, campaign groups and other publicly-available sources, but this is likely to represent just the “tip of the iceberg”. There could in fact be 117 turbine fires each year, it argues, based on analysis showing just 10pc of all wind farm accidents are typically reported.

Fires tend to be “catastrophic”, leading to turbines worth more than £2 million each being written off, because the blazes occur so high up that they are almost impossible to put out, it warns. Read article

16 thoughts on “Wind turbine fires ‘ten times more common than thought’, experts warn

  1. So, 0.0005%-0.05% of all the turbines in the world (based on 2012 numbers), are catching on fire each year. I wonder what the rate is for other types of structures? (Homes, barns, offices, etc.)

    • DTan, True, but these other structures that you mention are structures that fire fighters can mostly deal with.
      And unless it’s a huge fire you don’t have to evacuate people for 1/2 k around them let alone deal with the possible flying debris.

      • What about burning some farmers’ almost ready to harvest wheat fields?

      • DTan, have you ever had to help beat out a fire that got started in a wheat field? Well, I have.

        These urban eco-nuts don’t think that IWTs can cause severe problems for rural Ontarians!

      • > these other structures that you mention are structures that fire fighters can mostly deal with.

        That is a good point. We know that Germany had a wind generating capacity that is equivalent to Ontario’s current capacity back in 1995. That’s essentially 20 years of fires they had to deal with. Can you share some more information about the equipment their firefighting crews have adopted over the years and perhaps touch on their policies an procedures during such an event?

        I’m not in any way involved in the firefighting profession, so I’m not in a position to speculate about how it should be handled. Interested in reading more though.

        > What about burning some farmers’ almost ready to harvest wheat fields?

        That is something to consider. I’m not in the insurance business either, but I’m sure they have calculated the risk of exactly that. I know you’ve done a lot of research on this topic, so I imagine you’ve come across the numbers at some point. What is the actual probability of a turbine setting a wheat field on fire?

      • > These urban eco-nuts don’t think that IWTs can cause severe problems for rural Ontarians!

        From what I’ve seen, I’m sure they’d be *very* happy to have the government ban industrial agriculture combines to prevent wheat field fires. Might want to be careful what you wish for. 🙂

    • To begin with the German government is not likely to release information on IWT fires and any damage associated with any fires. Not a good sales pitch for German made IWTs.

      Southwestern Ontario is one of the lightning strike hot-spots in the world and another one is central Florida for North America.Germany does not have the numbers of lightning strikes like Ontario has. Environment Canada has this data.

      The IWT developers have succeeded in denying that there are fire dangers with IWTs
      Of course these IWTs are new to Ontario so there is little or no data available on these fire situations.

      • > the German government is not likely to release information on IWT fires

        That sounds a little speculative, but I’ll take it for what it worth. I’ll follow up by asking: Do they need to?

        The problems with IWTs are not exclusive to Ontario. Germany, with a head start of 20+ years, should have a wind resistance movement that makes our’s look like child’s play.

        There are industrious people recording every step and misstep in Ontario and making it available for everyone to see. It seems highly improbable that nobody has done and is doing the same in Germany.

        > Germany does not have the numbers of lightning strikes like Ontario has.

        I’m a little unsure of what you are trying to say here. Germany does have turbine fires on record. It is something we know they have dealt with. It is not a problem exclusive to Ontario and Florida.

        > Of course these IWTs are new to Ontario so there is little or no data available on these fire situations.

        There have been 200 turbine fires recorded worldwide since 1995. Are you suggesting that fires burn differently in the province of Ontario, making all of that prior data useless?

      • The German government has created a constituency/votes so they could develop and support renewable energy.

        Now they can’t take away money from people with solar panels and IWTs without losing votes. A lot of these are urban votes with solar panels.

        Northern Europe has a lot less lightning flashes and thus strikes than southern Ontario has so the probability of strikes is much greater here. So fires due to lightning strikes on IWTs will be greater here. Lightning strikes tall objects.

        It makes no sense to increase fire risks in Ontario by installing IWTs no matter what the cause of these fires may be.

        If a farmer loses a field of wheat this is a lot of money and food lost. Hay lost for fodder ls the same thing.

        Many people do not take the time to separate out and define the issues involved in IWT installations in Ontario.

        Trying to fight multiple fires caused by IWT fires is not something that urban Ontarians even think about or likely even care about.

      • > The German government has created a constituency/votes so they could develop and support renewable energy.

        That doesn’t mean they don’t have to fight turbine fires. I’m a little perplexed at where you are going here. Perhaps my earlier questions were not direct enough?

        > So fires due to lightning strikes on IWTs will be greater here.

        First, care to share your sources? This article (http://www.702.co.za/shows/LightningSafety25012013.pdf) claims Germany is hit with 2 million lightning strikes per year and Environment Canada (http://www.ec.gc.ca/foudre-lightning/default.asp?lang=En&n=2814D3B2-1, http://www.ec.gc.ca/foudre-lightning/default.asp?lang=En&n=C4E86962-1) claims the entirety of Canada is hit with about 2.2 million strikes per year. Even if we can assume the vast majority if the strikes are localized in southern Ontario, they’re still pretty much on equal ground.

        Second, I’m not sure how this is relevant to the question at hand. We’re interested to know how other regions, like Germany, who have a history of wind turbines and turbine fires are dealing with the problem. Whether or not Ontario theoretically might have more in the future, while perhaps interesting on its own, isn’t relevant to the topic at hand.

        > It makes no sense to increase fire risks in Ontario by installing IWTs no matter what the cause of these fires may be.

        When you consider the whole picture, I would agree. I’m still interested to know more about the calculated probability. Those “urban eco-nuts” you mentioned in an earlier comment can sweep gut feelings aside, but math becomes much more difficult to dispute.

      • The Chinese with their low cost solar panels upset the German market for panels and much solar panel production & jobs lost.

        And the German urban public continued to install Chinese panels to get government money for selling electricity to the grid.

        Also continued to install IWTs. The end result is that Germany has many, many voters who don’t want to give up the money they are getting for selling electricity to the grid and vote according to this. Combine the solar votes with the IWT votes in Germany to continue down this path.

        This has not worked out too well in Ontario as the Chinese have the corner on the solar panel market. So very few jobs making solar panels in Ontario.

        Ontario is trying to create a constituency for renewable energy/votes as well. For example the USW votes for producing steel infrastructure used in renewable projects. Then there are the line workers who also benefit from stringing all the needed wires.

    • If your own machinery causes a fire on your property that is your own issue but flying debris causing fires on other people’s property is a whole different situation.

      • Is that not minimizing the impact a wheat fire can have? Wheat fields will quickly burn themselves out in isolation. The concern is always about the fire moving onto the neighbouring properties.

  2. Ont experience with the Goderich turbine fire is discussed below. In that case the wind company relied totally on the Goderich volunteer fire brigade.
    This begs the question, does Ont demand even a modicum of fire preparedness from the wind companies? It would have to be the province, as wind outfits are exempt from any municipal
    by-laws. The obvious problem is any water under pressure, or in storage to fight extensive ground fires. Providing any such system would be expensive and very difficult for the operators.

    From above UK health and safety Director says: ““Fire is a very important issue for the industry in terms worker and public safety as well in reducing costs through minimising any operational down time. However the operational practices and design standards are such that the actual safety risks associated fire are extremely low. No member of the public has ever been injured by a wind turbine in the UK.”

    Not to say that they may be next time. My impression is that the Ont government’s policy is to hope no serious fire occurs. Like so much else with wind development, Not good enough.

    • Martin,
      Just an aside, but the Goderich turbine must have been in disrepair for a long time. I don’t think lightning was the cause of that fire but would like to know if that’s the consensus. I was bothered by noise10 km distant for about 3 years until it burned. I was even able to hear it in town at Easter that year. Some days and nights, noise is still annoying but nothing like it was before the fire.

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