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End of asset lifecycle is the greatest challenge of the wind sector

17 - 07 - 2019
One of the biggest challenges in the wind energy sector today is the approaching end of life of most wind assets in Europe, and to meet the targets set in the 2030 National Energy-Climate Plan (PNEC), it is urgent reflect on how to deal with the situation.

European decision-makers have a major task: they will have to analyse different scenarios, taking into account the economic viability of the projects, the regulatory framework in effect, the profile of investors, short- and medium-term objectives, among other factors.

Portugal, one of Europe's most ambitious wind energy countries, is among those facing this challenge.
The Minister of Environment and Energy Transition, João Pedro Matos Fernandes, reaffirmed during the Wind Europe Conference & Exhibition last April that the wind energy sector is among the priorities for the country, and assumed the aim to double its renewable energy production capacity by 2030.

Data from the Renewable Energy Association (APREN) and INEGI prove this trend: wind-based generating capacity grew by 1.2% in 2018 and the wind-generated electricity produced in 2018 corresponded to around 24% of consumption.
Which is why the definition of a strategic plan, together with the definition of a regulatory framework, which is likely to attract investment in this area, is vital for Portugal to achieve its objectives.

WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE STRATEGIES?

On the table are three main options:

a) extend the operation of the turbines beyond the age of 20, estimating their remaining life and analysing the possible need to substitute some components;

b) replace the wind turbines with others with the latest technology and with a higher generating capacity, known as repowering, or

c) totally dismantle the wind farm.

The dismantling, for obvious reasons, does not benefit Portugal at all. Repowering has well-known advantages. These include the use of newer and more efficient technologies, the use of infrastructures, and the diminished visual impact of fewer wind turbines. The adoption of a circular economy approach is also relevant here in, in the sense that it minimizes the impact of the operation in environmental terms and enhances the reuse and recycling of materials.

However, there are still many uncertainties in the national strategy and policy, which, coupled with the lack of legislative framework and regulation, with regard to the recycling processes of deactivated wind turbine materials and safety issues, condition the action of investors.

The choice between extending the life of wind turbines or moving towards repowering is also conditioned, in part, by issues such as return on investment, market prices and regulation.

Regarding the extension of life of wind farms, although it is still an issue that raises many issues in the sector, there are already published guidelines that highlight several approaches to consider when evaluating the remaining life of wind turbines. In order to standardize these recommendations, in 2018 the IEC - International Electrotechnical Commission created a working group dedicated to the standardization of these methodologies, with the aim of publishing, in the near future, a guide accepted by the sector on life extension of a wind turbine.

Time does not stop, but the efforts of a sector united to overcome this challenge are increasingly more visible. The seminar "EoLIS - End-of-Life Issues and Strategies", an initiative of Wind Europe with the participation of INEGI and taking place in September, is an example of this!

INEGI will be there and will continue to support policy makers, industry, investors, and companies to drive the sector's growing expansion. Can we count on you?