Could greener energy yield a ‘safety dividend’?

The UK energy system ended last year on a high note. According to the National Grid, 2017 was the greenest year ever for electricity in the country. Renewable energy sources provided more power than coal for around 90% of the year.

This is clearly great news for those concerned about climate change. But increasing the UK’s reliance on renewable energy may have another, less obvious advantage, linked to safety.

Coal, oil and gas are all hard to get out of the ground. They can catch fire or explode when handled. And they are major sources of air pollution. This all means they can have a significant impact on health.

Coal, for instance, is thought to cause 100,000 deaths per trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity, which is about the amount that Russia consumed in 2014. For the same amount of electricity, oil kills around 36,000 people. Natural gas results in 4,000 deaths.

The death rates from renewable energy, meanwhile, are comparatively small. Rooftop solar panels, which are made in pristine lab conditions and have practically no pollution or maintenance risks during operation, have a mortality rate of 440 per trillion kilowatt-hours.

Wind power is even safer, with a mortality rate of just 150 per trillion kilowatt-hours. Naturally, these figures should not discourage renewable energy companies from striving to improve safety.

But it is also clear that simply switching from fossil fuels to wind and solar could cut energy sector-related deaths by two or three orders of magnitude, which is a major achievement.

The key, of course, will be for the wind and solar industries to maintain or improve their safety records wherever possible. This won’t happen automatically.

On the contrary, even though wind and solar are inherently safer than coal, oil or gas, the fact that renewable energy sectors are growing rapidly means special emphasis needs to be placed on keeping safety standards high while scaling up production.

Part of this will need to be through improved training and policies. Part of it will be through the application of technologies ranging from drone-based inspections to personal protective safety equipment management systems, such as Papertrail.

Provided renewables firms make sure this remains a priority, the move to clean energy could deliver a safety dividend as well as better deal on climate.

Contact us now for more information about how to make your wind business safer.

Elevating wind turbine lift maintenance

Could smart tracking systems give wind turbine elevator maintenance a lift? This might seem like a trivial question, but it’s not. Lift availability is an important health and safety topic for the wind industry. And on reflection, it’s hardly surprising.

In 2015, according to the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the average hub height for offshore wind turbines was around 90 metres, which is about as tall as the Statue of Liberty (or a bit shorter than Big Ben, for readers this side of the pond).

As you can imagine, having to climb up stairs this height is an exhausting affair, particularly within the confines of a turbine tower. That is why turbine towers come equipped with lifts.

According to a G+ Global Offshore Wind report from March 2017, “lifts are ‘usually available’; however, where unavailability occurs it can have a dramatic impact upon work packages, and its effects can be chronic both for physical health and morale.”

Clearly, if a lift isn’t working then it would be pointless and possibly dangerous to try to use it. But lifts aren’t always unavailable because of a fault. G+ says: “Another common reason for unavailability is the lift being overdue for its statutory inspection.”

With the availability of platforms such as Papertrail, specifically designed to track inspections, it seems remarkable that wind farm operators could hamper productivity and compromise health and safety because of an inspection oversight.

And let’s be clear about the risks here. Says G+: “The impact of climbing activities on health, safety and well-being is considered to be significant, and effects can be direct or indirect. Direct effects include immediate and delayed musculoskeletal strain.

“Issues have included several older technicians suffering from knee muscle strain and pain and these effects have been reported on incident/injury forms.”

It is important to stress that offshore wind technicians work in environments where every care is usually taken to ensure health and safety.

In 2016, for example, there were only nine emergency response or medical evacuation incidents in the whole of the UK offshore sector. Everyone in the industry will be hoping to keep this level as low as possible.

All we are saying is that, in this day and age, missing lift inspections shouldn’t be a factor.

Contact us now for more information about how to make your renewable energy business safer and more efficient.