An article headlined "Wind turbine fires 'ten times more common than thought',
experts warn", written by Emily Gosden was published in a UK newspaper
named The Telegraph on 2014/07/17.
The article was based on a report claimed to have been "published in the
journal Fire Safety Science".
In fact it was published by an organisation named the
International Association for Fire Safety
The report was written by Solomon Uadiale, Evi Urban, Ricky Carvel (all
School of Engineering, University of Edinburgh, UK), David Lange (SP Technical
Research Institute of Sweden) and Guillermo Rein (Department of Mechanical
Engineering, Imperial College London).
In what follows this report will be referred to as Uadiale et al.
Response from author
One of the authors, Ricky Carvel, responded to an email I sent him, in part,
with the following:
"As far as I am concerned, the message and intent of the paper can actually
be summarised as follows:
There is a small but significant problem with fire in wind turbines.
This is something we can actually do something about by applying fire safety
engineering principles to the design of such turbines.
However, change will only come about if the insurance industry pushes for it."
Very little of what I've written here is opinion; almost everything can be
by referring to the Uadiale et al report, to the sources it references and in
only one case, an article on the Internet by Business Spectator.
Uadiale et al referred back to The Telegraph and to Caithness Windfarm
Information Forum (CWIF; an anti-wind power organisation Net site) as
This is questionable in a science paper.
On the fourth page of the report the authors go from the observation that:
The newspaper The Telegraph reported that there were about 1500 wind
turbine accidents in the UK between 2006 and 2010 while only about a
tenth as many were recorded by the anti-wind power organisation CWIF.
to the conclusion that:
"Thus we can argue that the publicly available tip of the iceberg represents
about 10% of the total number of [wind turbine] fires"
Uadiale et al claimed that the number of accidents was independently
confirmed by Renewable UK, but this is highly questionable (see the box on
Incidents, not accidents
On 2014/07/21 Business Spectator
the director of Renewable UK as having said that the 1500 figure was for
'incidents' not 'accidents.
Incidents include minor slips, trips or falls as well as actual accidents.
This totally destroys even the tenuous logic used by Uadiale et al to claim
reported fire frequency as being too low.
This completely unjustified conclusion has been gleefully taken up and
repeated world-wide by unscrupulous anti-wind power organisations.
Of course, unlike work-place accidents on wind farm sites, wind turbine
fires are highly conspicuous and almost invariably will be reported by the
In the case of a turbine fire at Lake Bonney Wind Farm, Australia,
there were also dishonest specific claims in Uadiale et al.
- The report stated that 'some 80,000 ha of national park were destroyed by
a wildfire ignited by the turbine debris' and gave an
Australian Broadcasting Commission report as a reference.
In fact, the ABC Net site referred to mentions a blaze that "consumed more
than 70 hectares" and did not mention wind turbines at all.
In fact it was referring to another fire that happened four years after the
Uadiale et al stated that "Investigation into the cause of the fire found
that the cause was an electrical
failure within the turbine nacelle" while the referenced source stated "We
don't know the cause of it at this stage because we can't get at it, but
it's probably an electrical fault in the turbine".
Uadiale et al claimed that "The incident led to the shutdown of the farm,
leaving some 63,000 homes without electricity".
In support of this claim Uadiale et al referred to an anti-wind power Net site
called Wind Action.
The Wind Action page referred to actually stated that it was a 'heatwave
[that] left 63,000 South Australian homes without power'.
Points 1 and 3 above seems later to have been used in the Discussion and
Conclusions where it was stated that:
Given the very significant shortcomings in the report and the fact that the
unjustified conclusion – that turbine fires could be up to ten times
as common as has been reported – has been repeated world-wide by the
anti-wind power lobby, I have requested that the International Association
for Fire Safety Science retract this report, at least until it is corrected
"These fires result in financial loss, power loss (which is especially
problematic in remote locations where the wind turbines are a major source
for electricity), as well as secondary damage, for example through road
closures or ignition of wild fires in rural areas."
In fact no evidence is given that a major power loss did result from a
turbine fire or that there was an ignition of a wild fire.
The basic claim, that turbine fires are under-reported makes no sense.
What could be more conspicuous than a fire in a wind turbine?
Any person nearby would likely get a photo and forward it to a local
All the country newspapers that I know of would jump at the chance to report
on a local wind turbine fire, especially when there was a photo involved.
So far as I know there have been three turbine fires (that destroyed the
turbines involved) here in Australia.
All were well publicised.
It is conceivable that there might have been a fourth that I have not heard
about; it is utterly beyond belief that there could have been 27!
I believe that
Sarah Laurie, a well known and very vocal
activist based in South Australia, has called electrical cable
joint fires, 1200mm below ground level, 'wind farm fires', so there may
well be some over-reporting of wind turbine fires.
Number of fires per turbine decreasing
It is to the credit of the authors that they included this section.
Quoting from page 2 of the report:
"Because the absolute number of fire accidents tends to increase with the
number of installed turbines, the expected growth in the installation of
wind turbines, also bring the expectation of an increase in the number of
However, the [ratio] of fire accidents per turbine installed has decreased
significantly since 2002."
Author plays down the report
In an article in
Wind Power Monthly, 2014/07/17,
Guillermo Rein, an engineer in fire safety from Imperial College London
and one of the authors of the report was quoted as saying:
"In terms of fire hazard, the figures are almost negligible.
It is a one in 10,000 probability of a fire.
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."
So why was he involved in producing the misleading report?
More information should be available
While the Uadiale et al report is seriously flawed,
it is true that the wind power industry could be much more pro-active in
making wind power statistics freely available to the public.