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BLOG: The hidden value in every wind farm - and how to tap it

Posted on 10/09/2018 by Nick Sharpe

In 1995 Scotland’s first wind farm, Hagshaw Hill, took shape in the hills of South Lanarkshire.

20 years later, the machines which have turned wind into electricity at that site are reaching the end of their lives.

And so comes opportunity.

Scotland’s ambitions for a ‘circular’ economy – where everything has value and nothing is wasted – have already earned us worldwide acclaim and secured us host nation status for this year’s Circular Economy Hotspot next month.

So it’s only right that renewable energy – our stand-out economic and environmental success story – should step up to the plate in the next phase of the fourth industrial revolution.

Excluding its concrete foundations, 80% of a modern wind turbine is recyclable.

Rather than seeing turbines at the end of their lives – like those at Hagshaw Hill, and many more which will come after them – as a liability, industry is starting to see them as an asset.

Zero Waste Scotland are examining the scale of that opportunity.

Scott Bryant, the organisation’s Sector Manager for Energy Infrastructure, explains:

“Scotland is at the cutting edge of developing a more circular economy – designing products and services to keep materials in use for as long as possible – and has attracted a global Circulars Award for its circular economy progress.

“Harnessing innovation in the energy sector could realise huge economic and environmental benefits, as well as increasing the resilience of individual businesses.”

Using end-of-life turbines to create value – by reprocessing blades or recovering, reconditioning, re-certifying and re-using asset components – may spell opportunity for Scotland.

Indeed, an ‘asset-not-liability’ mindset could provide a way to reduce the cost of wind energy, with used parts becoming a saleable asset at the end of a project’s life.

The circular economy is already in action in Scotland’s low-carbon sector:

  • Scottish Renewables member Renewable Parts opens its turbine parts refurbishment facility in Argyll next month, with plans to revitalise components which would otherwise have been scrapped
  • The Advanced Composites Group at the University of Strathclyde has successfully demonstrated the reprocessing of wind turbine blades back into raw materials for reuse
  • Floating Power Plant has been investigating new leasing business models to maximise the effective use of its mobile and reusable integrated floating wind and wave energy technology.

Legislation like the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive has already pushed circular thinking mainstream.

And where legislation has driven innovation, incentivisation can also play a role.

Zero Waste Scotland is able to offer advice and support as part of a wider circular economy programme worth £70 million.

This programme, backed by Scottish Government and European Regional Development Funding, is  available to SMEs (and through them, their partner stakeholders) operating in Scotland who’re looking to develop greener, more circular energy infrastructure.

ZWS’s Scott Bryant continues:

“Although composite waste from the wind industry is a small fraction of the wider composite sector, it represents a growing form of waste for the renewables sector and one that is ripe for commercialisation in a sector built on green credentials,

“Failing to capitalise here would also be a missed opportunity to potentially bring down end-of-life costs, reducing the cost of energy and enabling more deployment of renewable generation.”

With so much at stake – and so much benefit to be gained – the renewable energy industry’s shift to an even more sustainable model looks set to continue.

After all, what better than repurposing the tools we’re using to fight climate change so they can continue to do so long into the future?

  • We are holding an event on renewables and the circular economy, titled Unlocking Value in End of Life Assets, on November 13 in Glasgow. Click for more details.

Pic: Eddie Boyd

Nick Sharpe

Director of Communications