Are Risks and Mitigation in Renewable Energy Industry Different and More Challenging?

Renewable Energy -wind turbine

Increased focus on renewable energy has expanded immensely in the last 20 years turning it into a mainstream source of clean and cost effective energy source. Global competition is at its peak, to migrate from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

One of the most sought-after green energy source, is Wind Energy.

The 15th flagship Global Wind Report 2019 by the Global Wind Energy Council(GWEC) provides a comprehensive overview of the global wind industry.

The GWEC report established;

  • 4 GW of wind energy capacity was installed globally in 2019, a 19 per cent increase from installations in 2018 and the second-best year for wind historically.
  • Total capacity for wind energy globally is now over 651 GW, an increase of 10 per cent compared to 2018.
  • 2020 was expected to be a record year for wind energy, with GWEC forecasting 76 GW of new capacity. However, the full impact of COVID-19 on wind energy installations is still unknown.

The above data measures the growth of wind energy worldwide, but close attention should also be paid to the data reflecting accidents, incidents or near miss reporting within the wind industry.

Safety On, a health and safety organisation for the onshore wind sector, has published a report on Onshore Wind Health and Safety Incident Data Reports. This report identifies a total of 532 reported incidents in 2020 across nearly seven million hours worked. Of these 455 (86%) took place on an operational wind farm,while the remainder, either on a site under construction (12%), a development site (2%) or while working from home (0.4%) for on shore wind farms in UK alone. The key risk areas identified by the report were – during routine maintenance (126), during access/egress (84), and while working with electrical systems (50).

What we learn from studying the above reports is that the renewable energy sector has its own set of hazards just like other energy industries. However, the renewable energy industry’s unique nature can aggravate these risks and may even increase their probability and severity.

So far, the data indicates that routine maintenance on operational wind farms is the major risk area in the renewable wind energy sector.

Green Energy construction and/or production adds a different set of difficulties to the hazards which are common to any other energy production sectors. Hence it requires a different approach in terms of hazards identification, its mitigation and implementation (probably by using latest technology).

How does the renewable energy industry’s unique nature aggravate risks and hazards?

The basic difference is due to the source of energy. In fossil fuel energy production, the fuel required to produce energy is transported to a contained, and controlled environment (Power Plant). In Green energy, however, the energy sources are abundant and available in various locations. These locations of abundant availability are generally, difficult terrains and remote locations. The construction, production and maintenance of these facilities, therefore, add a different set of difficulties in managing risks and hazards. “CONTROL OF WORKS” thereby, becomes the single largest challenge.

Control of works challenge in renewable energy industry.

How is ‘Control of works’ posing such a big challenge?

Let’s take an example of one such risk area, common in all energy sectors,i.e.entry in “Confined Space”.

Case Study:

  • According to published accounts, in southwest Minnesota, a fire broke out on a wind turbine while three men were working on the wind tower and replacing a turbine. At least one report claims that the fire started when they were replacing a bolt. One man lost his life and the other 2 were critically injured.
  • Oxygen Depletion, Toxic or Flammable fumes, arising from heat or electrical sparks igniting solvent-based resins or other volatile organic compounds used to lubricate turbines, blades and electrical apparatus are potential risks that have to be evaluated prior to commencing work in a turbine.

 

OSHA has identified the turbine area as a ‘permit-required’ confined space. Depending upon the tower design, a wind tower may have many other confined spaces depending upon the work requirement like,

  • Telecom Vault
  • Basement Electrical Rooms
  • Hub / noose cone
  • Turbine Blades

With reference to the case study (and the limited information available), let’s assume that ateam of three workers were tasked to change the turbine on the wind tower. They must have also been tasked to carry out all the risks and mitigations related to their work, including assessing and implementing pre-work requirements of safety guidelines, prior to entering or start working in a confined space. It is likely that this was done without a (provable) documented, authorised and approved confined space entry procedure.

In any other energy industry, a pre-defined, documented, authorised and approved ‘Permit to Work System’, containing a confined space entry procedure, would have been applied leading to different outcomes.

Operations in a remote location, especially in renewable energy, comprises of many other similar challenges which can be mitigated by implementing Permit to Work software. A customized application, specially designed to cater these challenges, is certainly warranted.

How can a digital PTW solution overcome such stiff challenges?

With a digital solution, benefits could come in the form of;

  • Control Of works in remote locations, construction and operational phase
  • Facilitates permit application for all activities via easy interface of Mobile App
  • Review permit applications, risk assessment, ‘real-time’ pictures and videos of current work locations
  • Enables you to review, authorise, STOP WORK, in real time
  • Keeps you Informed and in control during all stages of particular activity (Live Permits)

Renewable Energy - wind turbine

  • Keeps you updated with all activities on every location via easy graphics (Area Maps)

With a customized PTW solution, mitigation of all risks associated with activities in the renewable energy generation can be addressed and resolved. Learn more about how a global industry giant has addressed and resolved their PTW related issues by implementing a customized PTW solution: case study 

Want to know more about the digital PTW solution? Head over to the dedicated webpage for more information: Permit to work.

 

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