Modern wind turbines are getting taller, bigger and more powerful. They offer the potential for reliable, abundant energy. But what about the aging fleet? The industry is now scrambling to avoid the waste problem by 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 was 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 wind turbines can be recycled, the blades are often landfilled or incinerated. This is a difficult problem for an industry that has become a symbol of clean energy and sustainability. As wind farms reach retirement age, around 52,000 tons of blades will be discarded every year by 2030. Before they turn into trash, scientists and industry themselves are looking for ways to reuse or upcycle those blades.

More with less: Repowering wind turbines

“In Denmark we need to replace 6,000 to 7,000 turbines within the next seven to eight years,” says Joachim Steenstrup, head of public affairs at 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 is known in the industry as “repowering”: replacing old, inefficient wind turbines with modern, more powerful ones. “Repowering allows 10 to 15 times more power to be produced with fewer turbines than with older turbines,” explains Joachim.

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The recycling challenge

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