Renewing Renewables: Older Wind Turbines get New Life with Repowering.

March 28, 2018


An illustration shows some of the mechanisms inside wind turbines. Repowering can include new internal technology, as well as longer, lighter blades. Credit: Siemens

Wind Power myth: Decommissioned wind turbines left to decay.


Wind Operator: “We’d like to repower the wind turbine in your field, and you’ll make more revenue”.
Farmer: “uh, gee – Ok”.

Inside Climate News:

Old wind farms that have towered over the same fields for more than a decade may be generating more power now than ever before.

As America’s biggest wind farms age, their owners are starting to “repower” them with more efficient turbines, new electronics and longer, lighter blades that can sweep more wind with each rotation. The result is a thriving new industry, new jobs and more renewable energy.

New blades and technology updates have completely “revitalized” two Leeward Energy wind farms near Sweetwater, Texas, saving the company money and allowing the farm to generate more energy, said Leeward CEO Greg Wolf.

“In a sense, we have a whole new wind farm,” he said.

Last year, the U.S. wind industry completed 15 partial repowering projects totaling 2,136 megawatts, according to the American Wind Energy Association. (To put that in perspective, the entire U.S. wind industry added about 7,000 megawatts of wind power capacity in 2017.) As the market for wind continues to expand and technology keeps dropping in cost and becoming more efficient, renewable energy companies around the world are starting to update their fleets.

“It’s extending the life of these projects without having to build a new wind farm, by taking advantage of existing infrastructure, project locations and power purchase agreements to help save costs,” said Celeste Wanner, research analyst for AWEA. “Repowering benefits everyone with lower cost to consumers and higher performance of the turbines.”

Saving Money, Raising Power Production

When wind development started to take off a few decades ago, major companies gobbled up some of the best sites for wind production. But turbine efficiency continues to improve, and costs have dropped by two-thirds since 2009.

“The energy capacity factor of the average turbine has jumped from 30 percent in the early 2000s to anywhere from 40 to 50 percent now,” Wanner said. “Compare that to a typical coal plant, which has about 54 percent.”

With the advancement of technology—and incentives in the form of federal tax credits—more wind farms are now choosing to replace blades and turbine parts, rather than the entire 300-foot structures.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has estimated that U.S. wind repowering investments like these could reach $25 billion a year by 2030.

MidAmerican Energy recently announced plans to spend $1 billion repowering 700 older turbines across Iowa by replacing blades and rotors, which would reportedly allow each turbine to create between 19 and 28 percent more energy.

Some developers are trading fleets of older turbines for fewer, more advanced ones that require less maintenance and offer more energy generation. Leeward’s Mendota wind farm in Lee County, Illinois—the state’s largest wind farm, about 100 miles west of Chicago—is replacing 63 older Siemens Gamesa turbines with 29 new ones. The company says the process will create 115 construction jobs, plus maintenance jobs once it’s complete at the end of this year, and boost capacity from 50 megawatts to 76 megawatts.

Wolf said his company’s Texas upgrades have already saved Leeward up to 20 percent of its cost of producing power, and he expects major savings in Illinois as well.

Major wind turbine manufacturers like GE and Siemens have been focusing on wind repowering efforts in the last two years, and they’re seeing benefits to their business. Along with turbines, Siemens makes blade tip extensions to improve energy generation in lower-wind areas and has developed upgrades that make turbines more aerodynamic, said Justin Torpey, group lead for modernization at Siemens in Denmark.

“What we’re doing is ramping up so we can get better power at lower winds,” Torpey said. “We can tweak it so it becomes a different machine.”

According to GE, the largest wind turbine installer in the U.S., repowering wind turbines can increase a fleet’s output by 25 percent.

Improving Wind Power’s Bottom Line

The federal renewable energy production tax credit has sweetened the deal for U.S. wind farm operators looking to upgrade their fleets, though it’s phasing out at the end of 2019. A wind farm can qualify as long as at least 80 percent of the property’s value is new—which means developers can more cheaply repower existing turbines without replacing them.

With the credit, AWEA expects that wind energy can grow to supply 10 percent of U.S. electricity by 2020.

By updating, developers are also reinvesting in the communities around wind farms, like Illinois’s Lee County. “We share with landowners on leases, so for us it’s not just a benefit for us but each of the communities were in benefit as well,” Wolf said.


12 Responses to “Renewing Renewables: Older Wind Turbines get New Life with Repowering.”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Oh yeah?! Well what about the risk of environmental damage from *wind turbine blade* spills, huh?

  2. Renewable energy brings dollars to communities, not to the pockets of the already rich to stash in tax-sheltered Far-off-istan bank accounts.

    Functioning Planetary life support systems are not a Left or Right issue but rather a Human Survival Issue.
    Capitalism unencumbered by the requirements of functioning planetary life support systems = mutually assured destruction. More than 50% of our tax dollars directly or indirectly subsidize this planetary carnage. Why must “We the People” tolerate this atrocity? To enrich the already so rich Pollution Profiteers to the point that they can buy Government with pocket change is morally and ethically indefensible.

  3. redskylite Says:

    Renewables are forging ahead and making economical sense;

    BNEF study: Falling renewables’ costs are ‘chilling’ news for fossil fuel industries

    ‘Spectacular’ reduction in cost for wind, solar and batteries is threatening fossil fuel dominance in the global energy mix, according to latest BNEF report

    The “spectacular” ongoing cost reduction of renewables technologies such as wind, solar and batteries is threatening the dominance of fossil fuels in the global energy mix, a new analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) suggests.

  4. Abel Adamski Says:

    Meet the company that singlehandedly halved one country’s CO2 emissions

    We all know that the private sector, and heavy emitting companies in particular, have a critical role to play in helping countries deliver their national climate targets under the Paris Agreement. But when the actions of a single business cuts the emissions footprint of an entire country by more than half, you know companies are stepping up like never before.

    Ørsted (formerly DONG Energy) has done just that. The company completely has transformed itself from its origins as Danish Oil and Natural Gas to a leading renewable-focused power utility with an installed offshore wind capacity of 3.9 GW. With operations across Denmark, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands, Ørsted is also expanding its offshore wind business to the United States and Taiwan.

    In the process of this transformation, Ørsted has reduced its CO2 emissions intensity by 67 percent since 2006, which accounts for over half of Denmark’s entire CO2 reduction over the same period. What’s more, it has done this while delivering strong growth and great value for shareholders. In fact, Ørsted’s net profit jumped 53 percent to $3.37 billion in 2017, from the previous year.

    • L RACINE Says:

      What they have done is a shell game… for example, they have taken credit for cutting coal emissions but fail to include the emission from the substituted renewables and the carbon footprint of the infrastructure for these renewables. For example, the use of biomass has emissions, not just from the combustion but also from the gathering, transportation (in some cases with this company the biomass is transported 1/2 way around the world and the lack of consideration for the destruction of a carbon sink)!

      An example would be the claim that “my foot (or other body part) is bigger than yours” but lack the means to do a measurable/repeatable comparison.

      IMHO, it is bullshit “green wash”. We must have the means/standard protocol to measure the total Carbon Emission from the various processes/techonology. This does not exist today.

      Without that you cannot effectively determine the best use of your resources to lower Carbon emissions.

      I find this type of hype disingenuous at best and it boarders on propaganda.

  5. Abel Adamski Says:

    Good, I had to post via my fake facebook account (never trusted the sleazes so no real info in the site), now Wordpresds allows under my real Nom de Plume (Give Google bugger all also)

    Extreme’ fossil fuel investments have surged under Donald Trump, report reveals

    Sharp rise globally in the dirtiest fossil fuel investments reverses progress made after the Paris agreement, with tar sands holdings more than doubling in Trump’s first year in office
    Bank holdings in “extreme” fossil fuels skyrocketed globally to $115bn during Donald Trump’s first year as US president, with holdings in tar sands oil more than doubling, a new report has found.

    A sharp flight from fossil fuels investments after the Paris agreement was reversed last year with a return to energy sources dubbed “extreme” because of their contribution to global emissions. This included an 11% hike in funding for carbon-heavy tar sands, as well as Arctic and ultra-deepwater oil and coal.

    US and Canadian banks led a race back into the unconventional energy sector following Trump’s promise to withdraw from Paris, with JPMorgan Chase increasing its coal funding by a factor of 21, and quadrupling its tar sands assets.

    Chase’s $5.6bn surge in tar sands holdings added to nearly $47bn of gains for the industry last year, according to the report by NGOs including BankTrack, the Sierra Club and Rainforest Action Network (RAN).

    RAN spokeswoman, Alison Kirsch, accused banks such as JPMorgan Chase of “moving backwards in lockstep with their wrongheaded political leaders”.

    “If we are to have any chance of halting catastrophic climate change, there must be an end of expansion and complete phase-out of these dangerous energy sources,” she said. “Banks need to be accountable and implement policies guarding against extreme fossil fuel funding.”
    Sign up for Guardian Today US edition: the day’s must-reads sent directly to you
    Read more

    JPMorgan Chase has asked the US securities and exchanges commission for support in its bid to block a shareholder resolution calling for a bank report on financial and climate risks associated with tar sands projects.

    Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto Dominion remain the biggest tar sands backers, with $38bn of holdings between them.

    Kelly Martin, a campaign director at Sierra Club, said: “Tar sands and other fossil fuel projects threaten our climate, public health, and communities, and until they stop supporting them financially, major banks … are complicit in this destruction.”

    The bulk of new “extreme” investments came in a doubling of loans and bonds to Canada’s government-backed tar sands industry, even though its success would be disastrous for climate mitigation efforts, according to the former Nasa chief James Hansen.

    Bank funding for tar sands production and pipelines more than doubled last year – compared to the 2015-16 period, when then-US president Barack Obama nixed the Keystone pipeline project, which Trump subsequently reapproved.

  6. dumboldguy Says:

    News of a huge solar project in Saudi Arabia. Of course, it’s not being done so much to cut CO2, but rather to allow them to sell their oil to other countries rather than burn it at home.

  7. Sir Charles Says:

    Study: wind and solar can power most of the United States

    Wind, solar, and storage could meet 90–100% of America’s electricity needs

  8. They may refurbish a relatively small percentage but the big money is in building bigger turbines in new locations, furthering the blight of the planet. There’s nothing small or thrifty about this industry. It prides itself on bigness and expansion, just like the quasi-enviros who praise it in blogs.

    Here’s an article stating that wind could power the whole world (at least the electricity component) but it would require an area twice the size of Alaska!

    Of course they’d be scattered all over the habitable world, further mechanizing its scenery, never in one convenient patch, out of sight. And guess what type of energy it would take to build and maintain that absurd juggernaut?

    Wind power looms large wherever you put in, going against basic environmental principles like Tread Lightly. Here’s just one random photo of what it’s doing to mountains, which wind fans claim are only ruined by coal: (New Creek Mountain, WV)

    The disrespectful damage from that project is only about 0.01% of what wind power has done to landscapes around the world. There’s another project just west of it called Mt. Storm, spiking ridges for 12 miles. What kinds of environmentalists make nothing but excuses for these assaults on nature, and keep exaggerating how well wind actually works?

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