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.

Britain’s going green. Let’s make sure it does so safely.

We live in exciting times for the energy industry. A shift to clean power is taking hold around the world. And one of the best examples in recent months has been the UK.

The country that spawned the industrial revolution, and with it a growing global appetite for coal, has moved into renewables in a big way. In April, the UK went without coal for an entire day, for the first time since around 1882.

This was after coal’s contribution to the UK energy system dropped to just 9% in 2016, compared to 23% in 2015. By 2025, coal is expected to have been phased out of the system altogether.

And this month the National Grid reported that renewable energy (meaning wind, solar, hydro and biomass) had for the first time in the modern era provided more than half of UK electricity supplies.

“For the first time ever this lunchtime wind, nuclear and solar were all generating more than both gas and coal combined,” National Grid said.

For anyone who is concerned about man-made climate change, this is great news. And the inexorable rise of renewables is good for jobs, too.

Not only do clean-energy industries create high-value employment, but the work is safe: wind engineers are more than 660 times less likely to suffer a fatal accident than people working in the coal industry, for example.

Most of this difference comes from the hazardous nature of coal mining, though. Let’s not kid ourselves: working on a turbine nacelle at 80 metres above ground is hardly a cakewalk. One slip could be fatal.

And the risks are even higher in the offshore wind farms that industry attention is shifting to. To maintain its well-earned reputation for safety, the renewables sector must work harder than ever to make sure things don’t go wrong.

That means checking, double-checking and triple-checking equipment. Making sure everyone is trained up to the highest standard. Confirming all components have the right certifications and quality stamps. And keeping records of the whole lot.

As the need to focus on workplace safety gets ever more key, storing records on Excel spreadsheets or bits of paper is no longer really an option.

If an engineer needs to confirm that a harness has passed its latest safety check, and they are in a ship in the North Sea, having a record back in the office just won’t cut it. Thankfully, there are smarter ways to do things now. The industry just needs to adopt them, fast.