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Wind Turbine Fires – Facing Up To The ‘Environmental Impact’ !?!

2016-04-19:  A Priority Theme of  SFE 2016 DUBLIN, next September, is the ‘Adverse Environmental Impact’ caused by Preventable Fires in the Built Environment.  Last year’s horrendous devastation of large tracts of land, air and ground waters in the Tianjin port region of North-Eastern China is one very obvious example.

BUT, consider also … Wind Turbine Fires.  As we move closer and closer towards a planetary environmental precipice … there IS enormous pressure to harvest more and more energy from renewable, non-carbon resources.  Windmills, of old, used wind energy to perform an important function in a local context.  Everybody could see what was happening inside.  Local people reaped the benefits.  Modern wind turbines, on the other hand … ?

The First Major Issue concerning Wind Turbines, which received only half-hearted attention at best, was their …

Environmental Impact:  Any effect caused by a given activity on the environment, including human health, safety and welfare, flora, fauna, soil, air, water, and especially representative samples of natural ecosystems, climate, landscape and historical monuments or other physical structures, or the interactions among these factors; it also includes effects on accessibility, cultural heritage or socio-economic conditions resulting from alterations to those factors.

But, at least, ‘it’ was mentioned in conversations !

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Click image to enlarge.

The next major issue, the Fire Issue, is a different matter entirely.  This problem does NOT exist … NEVER happens … NOBODY KNOWS NOTHING !   And not just in Ireland or Europe … the ‘real’ fire statistics are either ignored, massaged or concealed.

Wind turbines differ from other forms of traditional power generation because of the inherent risk of total fire loss of the nacelle.  The main features of this risk include:

  • high concentration of value within the nacelle ;
  • high concentration of potential ignition sources within the nacelle, and increased risk of lightning strikes ;
  • unmanned operation ;
  • no possibility of fighting a fire in the nacelle by local fire service personnel, because they are too high up and/or there is no access for fire service vehicles ;
  • remote, sometimes very difficult to reach geographical locations of wind turbines, particularly in the case of offshore installations.

[ Nacelle:  A cover, or housing, for all of the generating components in a wind turbine, including the generator, gearbox, drive train, and brake assembly.]

The cost of wind turbines and their components, as well as restoration and repair costs after a fire, increase in proportion to installed generating capacity.  In addition, losses caused by service interruption also increase in a similar proportion.

According to the loss experience of Insurers, fires in wind turbines can cause significant damage to property and have very high post-fire costs.

Fire Loss in Wind Turbines Can Occur …

  • in the nacelle ;
  • in the tower ;
  • in the electrical sub-station of the wind turbine or wind farm.

Due to the high concentration of technical equipment and combustible material in the nacelle, fire can develop and spread rapidly.  There is also the danger that the upper tower segment will be damaged.  In the case of a total loss of the nacelle, restoration costs may well reach the original value of the whole turbine.

These ‘Preventable’ Fire Losses Are NOT Sustainable !

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PDF File, 601Kb – Click ‘CFPA-E Guideline’ link below to download.

Which is why, in September 2012, the European Fire Protection Associations decided to publish a common guideline in order to ensure similar interpretations in the different European countries … and to give examples of acceptable solutions, concepts and models.  The Confederation of Fire Protection Associations in Europe (CFPA-E) aims to facilitate and support fire protection work.

The European marketplace is constantly imposing new demands for quality and safety.  According to CFPA-E, fire protection forms an integral part of a modern business strategy for survival and competitiveness.  We thoroughly agree !

This CFPA-E Guideline (No.22 – September 2012) on Wind Turbine Fire Protection in Europe – produced by VdS Schadenverhütung and drafted by Hardy Rusch – is primarily intended for those people responsible for fire safety in companies and organizations.  It is also addressed to fire services, consultants, safety companies, etc … so that, in the course of their work, they may be able to assist companies and organizations in increasing levels of fire safety.

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Sick Building Syndrome, ISO 21542 & Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

2012-05-31:  The International Standard, ISO 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’, was published back in December 2011.  A few years before that, however, a decision was taken to link this Standard directly to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) … specifically referencing Preamble Paragraph (g) and Articles 9, 10 and 11 in its Introduction.  Reading the document now, this linkage looks and feels very naturally like an umbilical cord !

ISO 21542 has significantly widened the meaning of the concept ‘Accessibility-for-All’ … a normal evolutionary process.  I wonder, though, how many people would ever have considered Good Indoor Air Quality to be on the ‘Accessibility’ Menu ??

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Much lower rates of direct fresh air ventilation … and a dramatic reduction in accidental or unintended air seepage from, or into, buildings (depending on local climate conditions) … all driven by a pressing need to conserve energy and to impose greater energy efficiencies on the energy which is actually consumed … are, once again, one of the main causes of serious problems for ALL building users …

Building Related Ill-Health:  Any adverse impact on the health of building users – while living, working, generally occupying or visiting a specific building – caused by the planning, design, construction, management, operation or maintenance of that building.

I say “once again”, because we have been here before in Europe … after the oil crises of the 1970’s.

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Anyway … I thought that it would be useful to present a relevant extract from ISO 21542

B.8 – INDOOR AIR QUALITY (IAQ)

Poor indoor air quality, an important factor in relation to Building Related Ill-Health (also known as ‘sick building syndrome’), can cause serious health impairments and severely restrict a person’s participation in everyday activities, e.g. work.

Symptoms and signs may include:

  • irritation of eyes, nose and throat ;
  • respiratory infections and cough ;
  • voice hoarseness and wheezing ;
  • asthma ;
  • dry mucous membrane and skin ;
  • erythema (reddening or inflammation of the skin) ;
  • lethargy ;
  • mental fatigue and poor concentration ;
  • headache ;
  • stress ;
  • hypersensitivity reactions, i.e. allergies ;
  • nausea and dizziness ;
  • cancers.

These symptoms and signs are present in the population at large, but are distinguished by being more prevalent in some building users, as a group, when compared with others.  The symptoms and signs may disappear, or may be reduced in intensity, when an affected person leaves the building.  It is not necessary that everyone in a building should be affected before building related ill-health is suspected.

ISO 16814: ‘Building Environment Design – Indoor Air Quality – Methods of Expressing the Quality of Indoor Air for Human Occupancy’ covers methods of expressing indoor air quality (IAQ) and incorporating the goal of achieving good IAQ into the building design process.  It also covers ventilation effectiveness, harmful emissions from building materials, air cleaning devices, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment.

The indoor pollutants considered in ISO 16814 include human bio-effluents, which have often been the principal consideration in air quality and ventilation design, but also the groups and sources of pollutants which can reasonably be anticipated to occur in the building during its long life cycle.

These pollutants, depending on the sources present, may include:

  • volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and other organics, such as formaldehyde ;
  • environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) ;
  • natural radon, consisting of a number of different isotopes, is an invisible radioactive gas, and is found in the soils under buildings, water supplies to buildings and in the air ;
  • other inorganic gases, such as carbon monoxide (CO), the oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and low-level ozone (smog) which is formed when NOx and VOC’s react in the presence of sunlight ;
  • viable particles, including viruses, bacteria and fungal spores ;
  • non-viable biological pollutants, such as particles of mites or fungi and their metabolic products ;
  • non-viable particles, such as dusts and fibres.

The following Two Performance Indicators of Good Indoor Air Quality, developed with the aim of protecting human health, are recommended:

  1. Radon Activity (incl. Rn-222, Rn-220, RnD)  in a building should, on average, fall within the range of 10-40 Bq/m3, but should at no time exceed 60 Bq/m3
  2. Carbon Dioxide (CO2)  concentrations in a building should not significantly exceed average external levels – typically within the range of 300-500 parts per million (ppm) – and should at no time exceed 800 ppm.

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