Wind turbines are getting old. What happens to the ageing fleet?

Modern wind turbines are growing taller, bigger and more powerful. They offer the potential for reliable, abundant energy. But what happens to the ageing fleet? The industry is now scrambling to avoid a waste problem, giving old turbines a second lease of life. The Down to Earth team takes a closer look.

The first generation of wind farms in Europe were built in the 1990s, mostly in Germany, Denmark and Spain. Fast forward to today and many of those wind turbines are nearing the end of their working lives. While 85 percent of the total mass of a wind turbine can be recycled, blades often end up in landfill or incinerated. It's an awkward conundrum for an industry that's become a symbol of clean energy and sustainability. As wind farms reach the age of retirement, nearly 52,000 tonnes of blades will be decommissioned every year by 2030. Before they turn into waste, scientists and the industry itself are looking for ways to recycle or upcycle those blades.

More with less: Wind turbines repowered

"In Denmark we need to replace between 6,000 to 7,000 turbines within the next seven to eight years," says Joachim Steenstrup, head of public affairs for Eurowind Energy. As an early adopter of wind power, the Scandinavian country is now home to a large fleet of turbines that have become obsolete and need to be decommissioned. Many Danish energy producers are now carrying out what has been known as "repowering" in the industry: replacing old, inefficient wind turbines with modern, more powerful ones. "Re-powering will allow, with fewer turbines, to have 10 to even 15 times more power production than from old turbines," explains Joachim.

The recycling challenge

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