As Australia increases its wind energy production as part of efforts to transition towards clean energy, there will also be an increasing need to manage the end-of-life of wind farms already in operation. The latest report by the Clean Energy Council examines this very topic by addressing the reuse, repurposing and recycling of wind turbines to create a circular future for the industry.
Wind energy is the second largest contributor to Australia’s clean energy transition, with 115 wind farms already spread across the country. However, these wind farms generally have a design life of 20-30 years after which, if not managed sustainably, can end up in landfill.
This issue is just starting to surface in Australia as 31 wind farms aged over 15 years approach the end of their serviceable life. As we build more wind farms, the need to ‘decommission’ the old ones, that is, to remove or retire old farms, is gaining more visibility.
The report highlights many environmentally and socially responsible approaches for handling wind farms once they approach their end of life including:
Lifetime extension: Wind farms that exceed their design expectancy often remain in suitable condition to continue operation. By servicing and maintaining the turbines according to performance standards, their design life can be extended.
Partially and fully repowering a site: Partially repowering a wind farm involves upgrading the turbine parts such as the rotor and nacelle while retaining the existing tower. Whereas, fully repowering a site means refitting the power plants on an existing site with new and refurbished technology.
Decommissioning the wind farm: Decommissioning involves removing the wind turbines, site office and any other infrastructure on the land, followed by restoring the land to its natural form or building something else there. Once decommissioned, the parts of the wind turbine must be managed sustainably, following the waste hierarchy.
Around 85-94 per cent of the material of a wind turbine is recyclable and can be recycled within Australia, as highlighted in the report.
While wind energy is a beneficial contributor in helping us reach our target of a 43 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030, cross-industry collaboration, research and support are required to ensure the industry does not contribute to landfill waste and prevent any further unintended environmental issues.
“Australia’s economic recovery and future prosperity will be driven by clean energy. With wind already accounting for more than a third of generation capacity, it will also shape the circular economy as it grows over the next few decades,” said Clean Energy Council Chief Executive, Kane Thornton.
For more information on creating a circular economy future for Australia’s wind farms, read Winding Up: Decommissioning, recycling and resource recovery of Australian wind turbines.