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Microsoft Bets Big On Wind

Microsoft announced a wind energy…

Gaurav Agnihotri

Gaurav Agnihotri

Gaurav Agnihotri, a Mechanical engineer and an MBA -Marketing from ICFAI (Institute of Chartered Financial Accountants), Mumbai, is a result oriented and a business focused…

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Germany Now Faced With Thousands Of Aging Wind Farms

Germany Now Faced With Thousands Of Aging Wind Farms

Germany has long been a pioneer in the field of renewable energy, generating a record 78 percent of its power consumption from renewables in July of this year. In fact, Germany is one of the very few countries in the world that is actually struggling with too much renewable energy. The latest testimony to this fact is the new issue of decommissioning its old wind farms.

2011 was a turning point for the European giant as it started moving away from nuclear energy (post Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster) and began to replace it with renewables. However, wind energy made its foray in Germany well before 2011. Germany started building wind turbines in the mid-1990s and now there are almost 25,000 wind turbines in the country.

However, the problem now is that a large number of the 25,000 odd turbines have become too old. Close to 7,000 of those turbines will complete more than 15 years of operation by next year. Although these turbines can continue running, with some minor repairs and modifications, the question is whether it makes any economic sense to maintain them? Related: Winners And Losers Of Iran’s Return To The Oil And Gas Markets

GermanyRenewable

(Click Image To Enlarge)

Image source: TriplePundit.com

Efficiency is the key

Beyond a period of 20 years, the guaranteed tariffs that are set for wind power are terminated, thereby making them unprofitable. “Today, there are entirely different technologies than there were a decade ago. The performance of the turbines have multiplied, the turbines are also more efficient than before”, said Dirk Briese of market research company called Wind- Research. It therefore makes sense to replace old turbines with newer ones. However, it is not very easy to dismantle an existing turbine and, while there are companies like PSM that specialize in dismantling of wind turbines, the costs of decommissioning can run upwards of $33,500 per turbine.

Decommissioning wind turbines: a growing problem?

The process of decommissioning a wind farm is a complicated one as it requires at least two 150 ton cranes which are used to dismantle the turbines, tower houses, rotor blades and other related equipment and parts. In fact, offshore wind decommissioning is even more intricate and expensive, as the availability of shipping vessels, cost of shipping the components back on shore and cost of removing steel pillars form seabed need to be considered too. Related: Oil Prices - What Does “Lower For Longer” Actually Mean?

Wind farm decommissioning is indeed going to be a universal problem, especially for countries like the United States where a large number of wind projects are being developed. The U.S. has more than 48,000 utility operated wind turbines and more than 18 million American homes are powered every single year by the country’s installed wind capacity. Even corporations such as Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, IKEA, Mars, Walmart and Amazon have invested in the U.S. wind energy sector.

TotalUSInstalled

(Click Image To Enlarge)

Total US installed wind capacity as of 4Q 2014
Image Source: Awea.org

The numbers above suggest that the U.S. is going to face a similar problem that Germany is now facing may be in the next 8- 10 years when its oldest wind farms become outdated. However, a lot depends upon the efficiency and technology of turbines that are in use. Even if around 30 percent of U.S. wind turbines need decommissioning in the next five to ten years, the total decommissioning costs could reach up to $1 billion (when we consider a decommissioning rate of $55,000 and above per turbine). Related: Goldman Sachs: “Peak Coal” Is Here

What can be done with the decommissioned wind turbines?

A previous study that was commissioned by Scottish National Heritage (SNH) forecasted that there would be a need to ‘recycle’ approximately 225,000 tons of rotor blades by the year 2034. Something similar is happening in Germany, where the rotor blades are ‘reprocessed’ in industrial scale factories and then shredded and mixed with other waste. The final product is then used in cement manufacturing facilities as fuel.

Moreover, the second hand market for the discarded wind farms is flourishing in Asia, Russia, Eastern Europe and Latin America where the components can be re-used in applications such as building community wind farms. The issue of wind turbine decommissioning must be viewed more as an opportunity than a threat, as the wind decommissioning market (for both offshore and onshore) is growing at a rapid pace. The question is whether the global wind industry is prepared to seize this opportunity.

By Gaurav Agnihotri for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Roland on September 28 2015 said:
    It's the same for coal, nuclear, hydro, or any machinery you care to name. Old mines, old factories, old housing, old cars, old oil wells.
  • R. L. Hails Sr. P. E. (ret.) on September 29 2015 said:
    An excellent article but one point, unmentioned, should be considered.

    Where possible, a tall structure is usually demolished by blowing it down with controlled demolition. This avoids the costs and dangers of crane disassemblage. Ground break up and removal has advantages.
  • lallen2064 on September 29 2015 said:
    It is interesting that the article states that Germany produces too much renewable energy. It is more accurate to state that renewable energy like wind and solar produce energy without regard to demand. They may produce at their peak when there is little or no demand for the electricity. Conversely there are times when wind/solar produce little or no energy and cannot meet the demand. Unlike traditional on-demand power plants (hydro, nuclear fission, coal, natural gas etc..), there is little that can be done to control power generation to meet actual demand. The power companies are forced into schemes like power-to-gas in efforts to find some means of "saving" the energy for later use. It will be interesting to see how the nuclear fusion program at iter.org progresses and how that may change the future of "renewable" and old carbon based energy sources.
  • Don C on September 29 2015 said:
    I am skeptical of their claim Germany gets 78% of its energy from renewables. I seem to recall a chart showing coal and nuclear being much larger than renewables. And given the intermittent nature of wind and solar, it's probably not possible to achieve anything close to that 78% number. Another item is the high cost of electricity in Germany, causing many homes to lose power for lack of affordability.
  • SamVaughn on September 30 2015 said:
    Conveniently ignored by "environmentalists" is the environmental damage done by wind turbines and the people who promote them are always NIMBY's themselves.
  • Dave Winship on September 30 2015 said:
    If wind turbines are so eagerly recycled to other countries, maybe they don't really need replacing so soon?

    Infrastructure obviously needs to be built to last a long time, and designed so it's easy to upgrade to better tech. The towers should at least be made good for the next generation of turbine.
  • Robert on October 01 2015 said:
    Disassembling old wind mills is a trivial task in comparison to the disassembling of a nuclear plant where the disposal of nuclear waste material is a major unsolved problem (Fukushima). The environmental impact of wind farms is miniscule in comparison to nuclear or coal fired plants.

    The hope of a "clean" fusion power plant will forever remain a dream. It is not clear whether a fusion plant will ever produce significant amounts of power for long periods of time (it can be done for a few miliseconds, but not yet for minutes). But even if the engineering problem of constructing a viable fusion plant is solved one day, the problem of nuclear waste will remain with no possible solution on the horizon.

    In conclusion, the ancient idea of windmills is still the most attractive solution for our energy problem, not only economically, but also from the environmental point of view. Whenever large amounts of energy are produced, there will always be "leakage" meaning environmental impacts. That follows from the second law of thermodynamics.
  • David on December 04 2015 said:
    I don't understand your statement "Beyond a period of 20 years, the guaranteed tariffs that are set for wind power are terminated, thereby making them unprofitable.“ If the tariffs expire, the turbine owner could get a lower rate for the electricity but since the capital costs have already been incurred, why would producing more electricity be unprofitable? Do you have any information to back up this claim?

    Also, it is evident that large economies of scale or alternatives can be used to mitigate the decommissioning costs. Whether this be through sequential decommissioning of multiple turbines or replacement alternating of decommissioning and installation of a new turbine, there are many alternatives that you have not considered in your analysis.

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