Being an environmentally friendly and renewable source of energy, wind turbines are currently the fastest-growing energy source worldwide. There are currently many research efforts to address the challenges that are being faced in wind energy generation.
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Benefits of Wind Energy
Wind energy is cost-effective. Wind is relatively one of the lowest-priced land-based utilities which cost 1-2 kW/h after the production tax credit.
Wind energy farms also create many jobs. In the United States (US) alone, the wind sector has employed an excess of more than 100,000 workers. A wind turbine technician is now one of the fastest-growing US jobs.
Wind energy is also a clean type of energy and unlike fossil-fueled power plants such as coal-powered plants, wind energy power plants don not pollute the air with particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, greenhouse gasses, smog, or nitrogen oxides. This pollution produced at higher levels can cause devastating effects such as acid rain, respiratory problems on humans, and damage to vegetation and aquatic life.
Wind energy can also be a domestic source of energy. In the US over the past ten years, the wind power capacity has increased at a rate of 15% each year. It is now considered the largest source of renewable energy in the US.
Wind power is also sustainable as it is considered a type of solar energy. Wind comes about because of the heating of the atmosphere by solar power from the sun, the earth’s rotations, and the irregularities of the earth’s surface. Therefore, if the sun continues to shine and the wind continues to blow, the wind will be used to produce a renewable type of energy using wind turbines.
Challenges In Wind Energy Generation
Wind power still faces several challenges that need to be addressed. Some of these challenges include wind energy still having to compete with the conventional power generation methods on a cost basis.
Despite the cost of wind power decreasing dramatically over the past several decades, wind projects can still compete economically with the lowest cost sources of electricity. It also must be noted that some of the locations may not be windy enough to generate enough power to compete effectively on a cost basis.
Another challenge that is faced in the wind industry is that wind areas that are ideal to build wind farms for power generations are often located in very remote areas which are far from cities where this electricity may be needed. This would add huge costs to build transmission lines from the wind farms to the cities. However, building a few transmission lines to already existing lines could massively reduce the cost of expanding the wind sector.
Wind resource development may not always be the most profitable use of the land on which the wind farms might be built. The land that can be preferably suitable for building a wind farm will have to compete with alternative uses for the very same land which might be more profitable than the generation of electricity.
Wind turbines are known to cause both noise and aesthetic pollution. Despite wind energy having some very positive environmental impacts when compared to other conventional power plants, concerns have been raised over the noise that is produced by the rotating blades and also the visual impact on the landscapes in which these farms are built.
Wind farms also tend to have impacts on wildlife. Birds and bats have been reportedly killed by the rotating blades and this has led to research to find ways in which such incidents can be reduced to protect wildlife.
Existing Recycling Blade Technologies
Wind turbines were first installed on an industrial scale in the early 2000s and many are approaching the end of their lifespan. Portions of these turbines have found themselves in landfills or being incinerated. Germany has already banned this practice and many other countries are following suit and have found innovative ways to use these turbine pieces.
In Denmark, blades are being modified to form bicycle sheds for its city's cyclists. Nine out of ten people own a bicycle and the same properties that make these blades difficult to recycle enable them to make strong and durable sheds.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, some of these retired blades are already being used in place of steel to reinforce concrete. Scientists have also tested the properties of these old blades for use in electricity poles.
The UK’s Wind Blade Recycling Project
Britain is developing the first wind turbine blade recycling project. The project is valued at two million pounds and is estimated to take three years. It is being led by Aker Offshore Wind, the lightweight manufacturing center, and Strathclyde University.
The initiative enables a more sustainable future for the wind industry and accelerates the drive towards net-zero waste and emission.
At the core of the project is the aim to commercialize a revolutionary fiber recovery method that has been pioneered by Nottingham University to separate the glass fiber and the resin component and recover glass fiber.
This can be further processed using a novel method developed by Strathclyde University, then molded to be used in other industries such as the motor and construction industry.
The environmental benefits of this project include waste generation minimization and encouraging the reuse and recycling of large volumes of turbine blades that would have otherwise found themselves in a landfill or being incinerated.
The ZEBRA Project
The ZEBRA project is being undertaken in France. This project brings together all the participants' value chain of wind turbines, including blade manufacturing, new materials development, operations, and decommissioning. The project aims to achieve 100% recyclable wind turbines within the next three years.
References and Further Reading
Glover, J. (2021) UK's first wind turbine recycling project secures £2 million grant. businessInsider. [Online] Available at: https://www.insider.co.uk/news/uks-first-wind-turbine-recycling-25491175
Buljan, A. (2021) New Pilot Project to Develop UK’s First Wind Turbine Blade Recycling Plant. [Online] offshorewind.biz. Available at: https://powerlinks.news/uk/news/new-pilot-project-develop-s-first-wind-turbine-blade-recycling
The University of Nottingham (2021) £2m pilot to develop UK’s first wind turbine blade recycling solution. [Online] Available at: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/news/2m-pilot-to-develop-uks-first-wind-turbine-blade-recycling-solution
Engie.com (2021) Can wind turbines be recycled?. [Online] Available at: https://www.engie.com/en/activities/renewable-energies/wind-energy/recycling-wind-turbines
Energy.gov. (2021) Advantages and Challenges of Wind Energy. Energy.gov. [Online] Available at: https://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/advantages-and-challenges-wind-energy