04 Nov 2019, 14:01
Benjamin Wehrmann

Mass dismantling of old wind turbines could overburden Germany's recycling capacities

Clean Energy Wire

The expected dismantling of thousands of old wind turbines in Germany could overburden the country's recycling capacities and lead to financial difficulties for the turbines' operators as reserves set aside might have been calculated too low, the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) has found in a study. "The federal government and the states quickly ought to come up with guidelines for turbine deconstruction," UBA head Maria Krautzberger said. "We need clear rules for the scope and procedures to protect people and the environment and to recycle the valuable materials." While the turbines' steel and concrete can be disposed of without greater problems, the UBA found that the rotor blades will pose particular problems as the materials they are made of are difficult to separate properly. By 2024, about 70,000 tonnes of old blades could pile up annually in Germany alone. Moreover, the reserves set aside by operators could fall short of covering the financial needs by hundreds of millions of euros by 2038, which is why the UBA recommends reviewing the reserves' calculation base and have them reviewed by independent experts on a regular basis.

There are currently nearly 30,000 onshore wind turbines operating in Germany. The first installations will reach the end of their 20-year guaranteed remuneration period by 2021, meaning that many turbines will likely be taken offline. Operators are looking for ways to keep their turbines operational by pursuing other funding models, such as power purchase agreements (PPA). However, as land becomes increasingly scarce for new renewable installations, replacing old models with newer ones through repowering is often seen as the more desirable solution when a turbine reaches the end of guaranteed support. 

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