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Co-located renewable energy projects remain exposed to fire risk says expert

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A new report has highlighted the fire risk renewable energy projects co-located with battery storage solutions can be exposed to, following a “historic underestimation of potential solar and wind turbine fires”.

The American Clean Power Association reported that 2023 was a record year for clean energy deployment in the USA. The energy storage market grew from 869MW to 3,983MW of grid-scale energy, while the deployment of co-located renewables rose by 90%. In particular, battery plus solar installations led the way with 10.45GW, and such projects are forecasted by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) to account for 81% of new electricity generation capacity this year. To aid this, developers have rightly identified and sought to manage the risk of fire in battery systems.

According to the “Double Indemnity: How to tackle fire risk at co-located renewables projects” report, this same level of vigilance is not being applied to wind or solar assets, among which batteries are often interspersed on co-located sites. This is despite the fact solar and wind infrastructure carry their own fire hazards that could have site-wide consequences in the absence of adequate mitigation strategies. The report explains that, though less common than battery fire, 1 in 2000 turbines will experience a catastrophic fire and that solar farm fires are understood to be underreported.

Consequently, co-located renewable energy projects that fail to apply the same precaution to solar and wind assets that they adopt for battery systems are only managing half of the overall project’s risk of fire. Owners are left vulnerable to significant expense in the event of a fire, with battery losses potentially coming to $2m USD and wind turbine losses to $9m USD per individual asset. This is before the added loss of project downtime and the impact of reputational damage.

Managing the fire risk of renewable assets in the US is not as straightforward as it could be, due to differing regulations from state to state. The report highlights that developers cannot therefore rely entirely on in-built fire suppression systems to meet the required safety standards in place. This uncertainty reinforces the importance of project owners conducting their own comprehensive risk assessments across the sites they operate.

Brian Cashion, Director of Engineering, Firetrace International, said:

“Last year, the industry’s awareness of energy storage fire risk grew substantially, partly driven by delays and cancellations of projects due to fire concerns. The International Association of Fire Chiefs also ran a fire risk campaign for energy storage, demonstrating a committed attitude to managing the hazards associated with batteries. What this new report illustrates, though, is the prevailing, but mistaken, belief that batteries represent the only high-profile fire risk in co-located renewables projects.”

‘Double Indemnity’ draws on Firetrace’s 14 years of expertise in renewables fire protection to recommend four steps to reduce a project’s exposure to this threat:

  1. Extending battery system fire precaution to co-located assets onsite.
  2. Independently conducting fire risk assessments of the site.
  3. Establishing familiarity with local fire regulations and installing fire suppression accordingly.
  4. Scheduled testing of the condition of operational assets to assess wear and tear.

Mr Cashion added,

“Over the last few years at Firetrace, we have drawn attention to our experience of underestimated fire risk on wind farms in our 2021 report, and on solar farms in our 2022 report. It is even more imperative now, with more and more battery plus solar or wind projects coming online, to tackle these avoidable losses with sufficient fire suppression systems. The only way to fully protect co-located renewables infrastructure, revenue, and reputation is to take equal care of all the assets in the project rather than solely taking care of the most likely fire hazard.”

Firetrace is a global organization capable of supporting large-scale customers across industries including manufacturing, aviation, and renewable energy with suppression systems custom built for each client’s unique application.  Read their full report here.

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