Turbine fire report based on anti-wind group data

WORLDWIDE: Research widely reported in mainstream press claiming to show that turbine fires are more common than previously thought also proves that fire risk remains negligible in wind turbines.

A Fuhrländer turbine on fire in Germany last year
A Fuhrländer turbine on fire in Germany last year

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The report from the University of Edinburgh, SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden and Imperial College London is based largely on data from the Caithness Windfarm Information Forum (CWIF), a staunchly anti-wind lobby group.

On the basis of this information, it claims that fires are ten times more common than previously thought. Newspaper coverage largely focused on this information.

However, the report arrives at this conclusion by making assumptions about the level of reporting of turbine fires in order to multiply reported incidents. The data from CWIF reports 142 accidents between 2006 and 2010 — of which an average of 11.7 each year were turbine fires.

It compares this data to the 1,500 total accidents recognised by UK industry body RenewableUK. Since the CWIF pool of data is ten times smaller, the paper draws the conclusion that turbine fires are actually ten times more common than the CWIF data shows.

This leads it to the conclusion that there are around 117 turbine fires yearly. It fails to recognise, however, that there is likely to be a different rate of reporting for different accidents, with turbine fires a more newsworthy incident than a gearbox breakdown.

Furthermore, the results still show that wind turbines are a very safe technology in terms of fire safety protection. "In terms of fire hazard, the figures are almost negligible. It is a one in 10,000 probability of a fire," said Guillermo Rein, an engineer in fire safety from Imperial College London, and one of the authors of the report. "There is no scandal here. This number is not zero, but it is minimal."

"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," he said.

The paper also recognises that while the absolute number of fires globally has increased, this is due to the proliferation of turbines, with fires per turbine falling since 2002.

Update: the article has been updated to include comments from the report author.

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