07/15/2018  Jason Hopkins | Energy Investigator
Thousands of aging wind turbines will eventually need to be decommissioned, but the disposal of this “green” technology could prove to be a dirty job for environmental regulators.

Besides a host of problems that occur during a wind turbine’s lifetime — such as intermittent power production and the killing of thousands of large, rare birds — Germany is now dealing with a another pressing issue:  What is to be done with a wind turbine once it’s reached the end of its life cycle? There are over 28,000 onshore wind turbines in Germany. More than one-third of these aging turbines will need to be decommissioned by 2023.

Many in the general public consider wind energy technology to be a completely operable without environmental degradation. However, this is not the case.

The high-tech blades used in wind turbines contain exotic compounds that are laborious to recycle. These rotor blades use carbon fibers and glass, and give off toxic gases and dust — which means burning them is not an option. Additionally, the concrete bases used to uphold wind turbines can go as far as 30 meters deep into the ground, making them very difficult to fully remove.

“The operators of wind farms in Germany [are] beginning to have to ask themselves, ‘What do we do with the assets that come up to the lifetime?’” said Giles Dickson, a wind energy lobbyist in Europe. The problem isn’t just on the horizon, but something that has already been plaguing German regulators for years. The country was forced to deal with 54,000 tons of waste from rotor blades in 2014. (RELATED: Here’s How Renewable Energy Actually Hurts The Environment)

“It will probably be a challenge for technology. It will really be an issue over the next years and decades probably to get old turbines off the field, so I expect industry will find technologies to cope with it,” said Dr. Jan Tessmer, an energy expert, during an interview with Deutsche Welle.


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