Having attended the All Energy and Decarbonise exhibition and conference earlier this month (11th and 12th May), "Onshore Wind: The long game - Re-powering and life extension" proved to be a very interesting presentation. Featuring speakers involved in every stage of the development of an onshore wind site - from site planning all the way through to life extension - the presentation was both insightful and inspiring in its attention to detail regarding the steps necessary to bolster our current renewable energy capacity, steps the development of which my colleagues and I keenly follow.
Most interesting - through the lens of innovation - was the discussion of necessary actions regarding the decommissioning of onshore wind installations which are due an upgrade, not a discussion held at large on the renewables world stage. In particular, the Q & A following the presentation shed light on the problem of turbine blade recyclability. This problem is one of import, as many of the onshore wind sites currently in operation (for many years) are due to be replaced by sites which feature more up to date and efficient technology. The problem being, many of these outdated sites occupy some of the most lucrative locations in the world with regard to the exploitation of wind energy. Therefore, these outdated wind turbines must be removed to make way for their more modern descendants. Removed, though, to where?
"Recycling facilities" acts as an acceptable answer to the above question in relation to many components of a wind turbine - largely excluding the turbine blades themselves. Notoriously difficult to recycle, decommissioning these components may solve the problem of outdated onshore wind installations, whilst simultaneously creating an issue of waste following such decommissioning. Unsurprisingly, one of the landscapes which onshore wind operators are primed to explore in order to overcome this issue is that of turbine blade technological innovation. In short, the exploration of how exactly turbine blades can be designed/manufactured in order to make them more recyclable. This problem, therefore, struck me as one which presents a fantastic opportunity for innovators to contribute significantly to the net zero effort, whilst benefiting commercially as a result of their innovative efforts.
The discussion by the panel of the absence of the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) - responsible for manufacturing the components used to produce the wind turbines originally placed throughout these outdated sites - also proved noteworthy. Absence of the particular spare parts required in order to be able to extend the life of these aging wind turbines acts as a significant barrier to the continued operation of theses sites. With Siemens Gamesa, a prolific OEM, having created an entire business line dedicated to the refurbishment of aging wind turbine parts, in an attempt to counteract this issue, a niche primed for exploitation by innovators seems to have been identified. Whether such exploitation takes the form of innovative methods of spare part refurbishment, or perhaps the invention of wind turbine components capable of acceptance into a wide range of wind turbine systems, opportunities to contribute to the net zero effort, and benefit commercially whilst doing so, seem to be calling out to innovators the world over.