Making renewables safer: How safety technology is powering the clean energy transition

In this guest post, Wendy McMillan, sector chief executive for safety, at Halma, outlines how safety technology is powering the clean energy transition.

We are undergoing the largest energy transition since the invention of electricity. For over a hundred years the world’s energy has been generated through burning fossil fuels. But in the last decade the demand for energy generated by renewable sources has surged.

Countries are increasingly turning to wind turbine technology to increase their energy security as well as speed up their transition to greener forms of energy. The wind turbine market is the fastest growing in the renewables sector and is expected to double in size by 2028.

Examples of this growth comes from countries like the USA where wind is the largest source of renewable energy, providing more than 9% of the country’s electricity. In fact, there are now 120,000 Americans employed by the industry, and wind turbine technician is the second fastest growing job in the country.

The growing demand for wind power is driving the demand for bigger installations and taller turbines. At 300 ft in the air, the cabin of each wind turbine houses the technology that harnesses the blades’ motion and converts it into electricity. Onshore wind turbines are often situated in remote locations where there are not as many natural obstructions like trees and buildings, allowing the wind to flow more freely through the blades.

But this remoteness presents new safety challenges. Fires can occur at any time due to the complex technology involved, and a significant number of fires go unnoticed until it is too late, destroying the turbine and damaging the local environment.

To help address this, three Halma companies – Apollo, Sentric and Firetrace – are playing an important role in keeping wind turbines and workers safe from harm. Their life-saving technology is installed in wind turbines around the world, from the top of the Catskill Mountains, USA, to UK’s Dogger Bank in the North Sea.

Speed is essential in tackling a wind turbine fire. When fires ignite they can quickly overwhelm the structure, leading to irreparable damage. Due to the wind turbine’s height off the ground, and their remote location, new technology is needed to detect and put out a fire in seconds.

Apollo’s fire detectors help wind turbine operators monitor their assets and provide the exact location of any potential fire, to minimise damage and avoid disruption.

Firetrace provides automatic fire detection and suppression systems, stopping small fires where they start. This fast-acting technology limits the damage caused by a fire and reduces the subsequent downtime. By adding this technology to wind turbines, operators can build an extra layer of protection to help extinguish fires at the source before they can cause serious harm.

Working on wind turbines is hazardous. Safety systems designed by Sentric create safe working conditions for a turbine’s maintenance crew. Their unique interlocking key system ensures that once a worker has shut down an operation to go and inspect it, it can’t be started again by accident. This means that maintenance crews can access the areas they need to keep the turbine operational and know that they are protected while doing their jobs.

Transporting people and goods causes one-fifth of global carbon emissions. As consumers seek to reduce their carbon footprint, they are embracing new modes of electric transport. Research shows that electric vehicle sales were up 62% globally in the first half of 2022 compared to the first half of 2021.

However, the transition to cleaner transport doesn’t come without risk. High voltage batteries for cars, and high voltage cabling for trains and airplanes, need to be rigorously tested to ensure they work safely. Halma company WEETECH specialises in customised testing for cabling harnesses – multiple cables bound together to transmit electrical power.

Its technology tests all these applications ensuring greener modes of transport can be used safely for customers around the world.

Europe is facing a winter of uncertain energy supplies due to the war in Ukraine, with warnings of potential blackouts in France, Germany and the UK.

But what if you are a hospital providing critical patient care and any interruption to your power supply can mean the difference between life and death?  Many hospitals are now installing back-up energy storage units to provide uninterrupted power supply to keep their operations running. These units use renewable energy sources to generate electricity and then store it in densely packed batteries for when it is needed. If for any reason the grid suffers a power cut, the hospital can seamlessly connect to their storage unit.

However, a major challenge with this type of energy storage is that batteries can emit hazardous gases as a by-product of their operation. These are often difficult to detect as they are odourless and represent a potential hazard for the people maintaining these sites.

This is where Halma company Crowcon has a vital role to play. Its gas detection technology can detect hazardous gases before they become a problem. Crowcon’s technology – which is used by the UK’s NHS for example – is a vital safety mechanism that will help ensure battery storage units like these will remain safe as the world switches to cleaner energy.

The energy transition is picking up speed, and economies are shifting their investment into greener forms of energy to improve security and reduce their carbon footprint. But this shift can only happen if workers and the valuable renewable technologies they maintain are protected every step of the way. This could be the year when safety tech helps the green economy take off.

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