Fire has a huge financial impact on the industry, the researchers report in the journal Fire Safety Science.
Each wind turbine costs more than £2 million and generates an estimated income of more than £500,000 per year.
Any loss or downtime of these valuable assets makes the industry less viable and productive.
Dr Guillermo Rein of Imperial’s department of mechanical engineering, said: ‘Fires are a problem for the industry, impacting on energy production, economic output and emitting toxic fumes.
‘This could cast a shadow over the industry’s green credentials.
‘Worryingly our report shows that fire may be a bigger problem than what is currently reported. Our research outlines a number of strategies that can be adopted by the industry to make these turbines safer and more fire resistant in the future.’
Wind turbines catch fire because highly flammable materials such as hydraulic oil and plastics are in close proximity to machinery and electrical wires.
These can ignite a fire if they overheat or are faulty. Lots of oxygen, in the form of high winds, can quickly fan a fire inside a turbine, the paper found.
It contradicts the findings of a report into the wind industry, commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive in 2013, which concluded that the safety risks associated with wind turbines are very low.
The wind industry last night questioned the validity of the new research.
Chris Streatfeild, of Renewable UK which represents wind firms, said: ‘The industry would challenge a number of the assumptions made in the report, including the questionable reliability of the data sources and a failure to understand the safety and integrity standards for fire safety that are standard practice in any large wind turbine.
‘Wind turbines are designed to international standards to meet mandatory health and safety standards including fire safety risks.
‘The industry remains committed to promoting a safe environment for its workers and the public, and no member of the public has ever been injured by a wind turbine in the UK.’Source