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Bushfires/lightning-strikes/wind turbines
The need for researching the relationship

Logic suggests that wind turbines along a ridge should give some degree of protection from bushfires caused by lightning-strike.

Bushfires cause millions of dollars worth of damage and large numbers of animal deaths in Australia and elsewhere each year, and not uncommonly cause human fatalities.

Lightning-strike setting fire to trees or dry grass is a common cause of bushfires. Lightning strikes occur more often on ridges and hilltops than elsewhere. The turbines of commercial wind farms are commonly built on ridges and it is not unusual for them to be struck by lightning.

It is logical to suppose that bushfires caused by lightning strikes on ridges should be less common when the ridges involved are 'protected' by tall wind turbine 'lightning rods'.

There seems to have been little, if any, serious research carried out in an attempt to quantify the relationship.

This page was written 2017/06/22
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com (David K. Clarke) – ©
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lightning-strike on a wind turbine at Hallett, South Australia
Lightning strikes turbine
Photo credit Helen Simpson, Osprey Photography
 
Sarah Zhang published a high-speed recording of ground-to-cloud lightning from wind turbines in Spain: Gizmodo, 2014/01/17.
The photo on the right shows lightning striking a wind turbine in Mid-North South Australia, the leading Australian wind-power region.

As a member of the Waterloo Wind Farm Community Liaison Committee (also Mid-North SA) I have been informed that there have been a number of lightning strikes on this moderately-sized seven-year-old wind farm. The great majority of the approximately 340 wind turbines in the region, including Waterloo and Hallett, are on ridge-tops.

Mid-North SA suffers from frequent bushfires, many of them caused by lightning-strike.

As of the time of writing there have been three wind turbine fires in Australia; none of these were started by lightning. It seems that the built-in protection from lightning-strike given to wind turbines stops them catching fire as a result of those lighting-strikes.

So, it is logical that wind turbines would give some protection to a ridge from lightning-started bush fires, but it does not seem that anyone has seriously researched the degree of this protection. Mid-North SA seems an ideal region for such reasearch.

The research

How would the research be carried out?

Following the literature review:
  1. All the wind farm operators in the research area should be and asked for their records of lightning strikes. I believe that wind turbines detect lightning strikes because some repair, usually minor, is normally required to the area on the turbine blade where the strike occurred.
  2. Emergency Fire Service records would need to be examined for fires that had been started by lightning and for the number of these that were on ridges. These records would be evaluated in relation to the ridges that might be 'protected' by wind farms.
  3. It may be workth fitting surveillance cameras to sellected turbines to record lightning strikes over the period of the research. As the turbines are mostly along ridge-lines one camera could cover a number of turbines. The cameras would also show whether lightning started any fires in the vicinity.

Who might fund the research?

Considering the great cost of bushfires to the community, insurance industry and, ultimately to government, I would think that the latter two might be willing to fund the research. The Emergency Fire Service organisation should be willing to support the research, but would probably lack the financial resources to fund it.

Wind farm operators may be willing to help fund the research because it would potentially improve the image of wind farms. Opponents of wind farms have falsely claimed that wind farms make fire-fighting more difficult because, they claim, water-bombing aircraft cannot fly near turbines. This has been denied by the EFS and was shown to be false when water-bombing aircraft flew near and between turbines at Waterloo Wind Farm in January 2017. Wind farm operators would be very please to be able to show that the presence of wind farms actually protected local people from fires to some degree.

Where could the research be done?

As mentioned above, the numerous lightning-strike fires and wind turbines along ridges in Mid-North South Australia would make it an ideal place for the research.


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