‘Wind turbines don’t turn forever’: Industry issues new end-of-life guidance

WindEurope has issued new guidance on dismantling onshore turbines, many thousands of which are due to be decommissioned over the next three years

Across Europe, 34,000 onshore turbines are now at least 15 years old, representing 36GW of capacity, according to WindEurope. (pic: Geograph/Claire Pegrum)

Across Europe, some 14,000 blades from 4,700 first generation turbines are due to be decommissioned by the end of 2023. WindEurope’s End-of-Life Issues and Strategies Seminar (EoLIS 2020) aims to offer assistance.

The guidance provides a comprehensive overview of the rules and regulations on decommissioning. It also defines best practice, with recommendations for dismantling, onsite cutting and separation and loading and transporting material.

In Europe, 34,000 onshore turbines are now at least 15 years old, representing 36GW of capacity, according to WindEurope. Many of them are in Germany, Spain, France and Italy. Moreover, 9GW – 4.5% of Europe’s 197GW installed capacity – is 20-24 years old, while around 1 GW is older still.

WindEurope’s CEO, Giles Dickson, said: “If lifetime extension is not an option, wind turbines have to be fully decommissioned. We want an international standard that defines how to decommission turbines. There’s no such standard today. With the new industry guidance document on dismantling and decommissioning… we are further strengthening our position as a sustainable industry”.

The World Bank estimates that in Europe, climate neutrality will increase demand for metals by 300% for wind turbines and 200% for solar panels. Redundant turbines themselves are an attractive source of recyclable resources. 

Currently, 85-90% of the content of dismantled turbines can be recycled, including the towers, foundations, generators and gearboxes. Most of these components comprise concrete, steel and cast iron which are easy to recycle, but blades are more problematic. 

They are typically made of glass-reinforced polymers and, to a lesser degree, carbon fibre. These composite materials make blades lighter and more durable, but more difficult to recycle. Currently, cement co-processing is the most widely used blade waste treatment method. 

A thermoplastic composite ‘melting turbine blade‘ is currently under development. It uses a thermoplastic resin that can be melted down and reused, unlike thermoset resins. 

WindEurope estimates that some 2GW of generation capacity will require decommissioning by 2023, with a similar volume needing replacement. It has submitted its guidance report to the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) TC88 as input to the ongoing amendment of 61400-28 CD Technical Specification, which focuses on end-of-life turbines.

To view the guidance document in full click here.