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The Need for Fire Management for Renewables

image credit: Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Any significant shift in technology is going to come with some growing pains at first. That's certainly true of renewable energy, which, although promising and increasingly competitive, still has some shortcomings. One such flaw that has emerged with growing renewable usage is the risk of fires.

Fire hazards aren't an issue unique to renewables but have been present in the energy industry for years. Electricity, if improperly managed, can be a dangerous thing to handle, so a certain amount of risk comes with any electrical venture. If renewable power sources are going to catch on, they need to consider these risks.

Much of the research and development in renewables has focused on making them more efficient and affordable. As these projects keep growing, fire management should become another point of focus.

Fire Risks for Wind Power

Of all the renewable technologies, wind power presents the highest risk when it comes to fires. According to a recent report, the average wind farm can expect two significant fire incidents in a turbine's lifecycle. Given that turbine fires cost $4.5 million in damages on average, that's cause for concern.

Most wind turbine fires happen at the top of the tower, where most of the mechanical components reside. Since these fires happen so high above the ground, it can be challenging to fight them. As a result, turbine fires present a substantial risk to wind farms and those in them.

Wind farms are typically in areas of high winds, which further heightens the risk that fires pose. Fast winds can help fires spread, and the oxygen movement can cause them to surge. Turbine fires may not be frequent occurrences, but they present a substantial enough danger to merit some more attention.

Solar Power Risks

Solar panels present a much lower risk of fire than wind turbines, but could still pose a threat. Since solar power is so popular, hazards are more of a concern because of the sheer number of installations. In the U.S. alone, there are nearly 2 million solar installations, and that number keeps growing.

Germany, a world leader in solar power, reports that less than half of fires involving solar panels result from the systems themselves. As a result, it seems that a substantial portion of PV fires come from factors like design flaws, while most are from outside elements. Given the price of solar panels, though, any flames could cause substantial losses.

Solar panels can get remarkably hot, which poses a risk if any flammable materials are nearby. Rushed or faulty installation could also lead to problems with electrical arcs igniting fires. While these instances aren't as likely as a turbine fire, it's better to prevent them than deal with an incident afterward.

Managing Renewable Fire Safety

Fires may be a legitimate hazard with renewables, but there are plenty of options for preventing and mitigating these incidents. Careful engineering is the first step in fire safety management. Manufacturers should design and build equipment with proper insulation and cable management to lower the risk of an electrical fire.

Fire suppression systems are a necessity for wind turbines. A suppression system near the source of the flames could put them out without needing human crews to put themselves at risk. Since solar panel fires are less likely, suppressors aren't necessary there, but installers should remove any nearby flammable material.

Video surveillance systems can give first responders crucial information like the exact location and size of the flames. With this data, they can respond in the best way for the situation. Video feeds can also help with insurance costs.

Safely Transitioning to Renewable Energy

Shifting towards renewable energy is a necessary step in moving towards the future. During this transition, the green energy industry should pay attention to potential hazards like fire safety. Renewables need proper risk management if they're going to replace fossil fuels.

Fires are not an unavoidable threat. With better fire safety management, solar and wind power installments can safely guarantee the future of energy.

Emily Folk's picture

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 11, 2020 9:20 pm GMT

I would suppose if anything would make renewables require more attention for fire safety it would be their inherent tendency to be distributed rather than centrally concentrated. A central power plant can have all the fire safety and prevention measures in place in one location, but added infrastructure spread out all over and on less prepared sites means more deliberate thought needs to go into designing them with fire safety in mind

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