Blyth Harbour wind farm

What happens to turbines at the end of their life?

When old turbines are at the end of their serviceable life and ready to go to the big wind farm in the sky, what happens? It seems every week I hear some opponent of wind energy claiming they will be left to rust and the company that owned them will have sold them to a $2 shelf company and done a runner, and the farmer will be left with ugly rusting hulks dripping gearbox oil onto the paddocks.

Cleantechnica has just published this short item that outlines a far more likely outcome.

Germany’s REpower to Upgrade Blyth Wind Farm with 23.8 MW of New Turbines

by Nicholas Brown, January 30

REpower, a German wind turbine manufacturer plans to upgrade/replace the 20-year-old wind turbines at Blyth Wind Farm with new 3.4-MW turbines. There are nine old 300-kW (0.3 MW) turbines at that power plant (with a combined capacity of 2.7 MW or 2,700 kW) and REpower is to replace them with seven 3.4-MW turbines, turbines which will be the UK’s biggest to date. Seven 3.4-MW turbines would have a combined electricity generation capacity of 23.8 MW, of course, making for a pretty powerful wind farm.

The old turbines are being replaced because their useful life has ended. The first new turbine that will be installed is expected to generate more electricity than all of the old turbines combined due to tremendous improvements in wind turbine technology over the past couple of decades.

Additionally, they are simply larger. Larger wind turbines are more economical, since they are exposed to more and stronger wind. If you increase the height of the tower of an existing wind turbine, it will generate more power. Taller towers do cost more money, but they are clearly worth the investment in the long run.

Blyth Harbour wind farm
Blyth Harbour wind farm, UK (FreeFoto.com)

Jessica Shankleman writes in Business Green:

On its own, the first new machine to be installed at the site will likely produce more energy than all the old wind turbines combined.

Rick Eggleston, managing director of REpower UK, said he was extremely pleased to have sold the company’s first 3.4M104 turbine in the UK.

“Using larger capacity turbines like this means that onshore wind farms can be even more productive in relation to their size,” he said. “I am also delighted to be continuing our long-established relationship with Hainsford Energy.”

The turbine is expected to be installed in the middle of the year, with commissioning expected by late summer.

One hard-to-please commentator writes:

All this exposes the lie that all wind turbines will be dismantled and removed at the end of their twenty five year life span. Operators are presently talking of upgrading present installed capacity in 2020, which suggests wind farm life to at least 2045. This makes a mockery of planning consents and exposes them as the sham they truly are.

We assume that the developers have the appropriate planning approval for any alteration to the wind farm.

Who would think that, having built a significant part of our energy supply as wind farms, we will just let them all fall apart after 20 years? More likely, they will be upgraded; in this case, nine turbines are being replaced by one, with the option of replacing several more and generating many times the clean energy.

4 thoughts on “What happens to turbines at the end of their life?

  1. And yet another LG furphy evaporates under the harsh light of reality. So much for all those rusting hulks lying around after the turbine life expires.

    Another great post Ben, good stuff 🙂

  2. Go look to America, particularly Techapi, and see the fields of redundant wind farms rusting away. As a practical buisness man rather than an acedemic I am only too aware that as technology gets to end of life, it is often cheaper to scrap and move on rather than waste time and money on an upgrade of what will by then be old technology. Wind is presently supported by subsidy which will have declined or vanished by the time most turbines come to their end. Without subsidy it is simply not financially viable to re-engineer or replace. Look to viable alternatives to wind such as osmotic generation, plasma waste and thorium or CANDU nuclear. UK plc needs a competitive or cheap energy source to survive in the world markets. Not a pipe dream!

    1. As with many opponents of wind energy, Mr Quixote’s arguments rely on some fairly questionable assumptions. Basically that wind power only exists by a government subisidy “scam” because it doesn’t actually work to produce green power.

      Thanks Blair for providing many of the arguments I would have; and we have analysed those arguments elsewhere on this site (see the drop-down menu at the top of the page for the FAQ section).

      As regards nuclear options etc, lets just say that wind power is cheap and safe by comparison to nuclear tech, and unlike some hypothetical “fourth generation” nukes etc is actually proven to work in practice not just on paper.

  3. All energy sources exist with the aid of subsidies and the other types have managed to upgrade when required, but unlike fossil fuel and nuclear facilities, the fuel for wind turbines is free so they automatically have an advantage over old energy. Eventually wind will likely survive without subsidies while nuclear and fossil fuels never will.

    Another point you ignore is that wind turbines exist primarily where the best wind resources are so it makes sense to upgrade the turbines in their existing position.

    While I agree it might be wonderful to have osmotic generation, plasma waste and maybe even thorium powered nuclear, the sad fact is those are all decades away at best. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming but at the moment, that’s all those technologies are. Meanwhile we have real-world issues to deal with.

    Nobody is saying wind alone is the entire solution to our energy needs but it will be a sizeable part. It’s time people stopped using intellectually lazy and dishonest arguments to criticise the technology that will take us into a cleaner future.

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