Wind power has been seeing more and more activity in the United States since the 1970s. In 2019, it became the largest generating source of renewable energy in the country. But what is the lifecycle of these wind turbines? And what’s the projected growth of the wind industry? How can your organization be prepared for this growth? We’ll cover all of these questions below.
What is the Lifecycle of a Wind Turbine?
Wind turbines work by converting kinetic energy into rotary mechanical energy. Windmills have been around for centuries, of course, but wind turbines allow the energy to be converted to electricity thanks to a generator.
How are they Made?
Wind turbines are made up of a few different components including:
- A tower: made of steel to support the blades and to be able to handle wind’s varying power.
- Blades: these can be made out of fiberglass, aluminum, or lightweight wood. Generally turbines can have two or three blades, with three being better suited for larger farms, and the more popular choice of the two. Smaller turbines, however, can be easier to maintain.
- Nacelle housing, which contains the drive train and generating equipment at the top of the turbine.
- Electronic tools and equipment: this includes sensors for temperature, wind direction, wind speed, and more.
The wind turbine’s structure begins with the tower; individual pieces of the tower are usually made in a factory, shipped, and assembled together on the turbine site. Next, the nacelle is hoisted to the top of the assembled tower, followed by the blades, which are affixed to the nacelle and connected to the generating equipment. Finally, supporting equipment like sensors, heating and cooling systems, and fire extinguishing systems are installed.
How Long Does a Wind Turbine Last?
Wind turbines generally work effectively for around 20 years. Although they are built to withstand hurricane force winds, their lifespan is quite short—the reason for this is due to the extreme loads they deal with during the 20 years. As wind speeds increase, the loads increase, putting the turbine under strain. In order to last longer, many wind turbines will shut down at higher wind speeds in order to protect the structure.
Other environmental factors like lightning, birds, and objects hitting the turbine during a storm can cause damage and prompt an immediate removal of the turbine.
To extend the lifespan, monitoring, assessments, and maintenance schedules need to be followed. These will vary from site to site depending on the environment and the materials used in the wind turbine’s construction. It is generally recommended that preventative maintenance check-ups be performed two to three times a year.
Additionally, with rapid advances in technology, some turbines are replaced in just 10 years to keep pace with the industry’s growth. However long the turbine remains in service, it requires regular maintenance to ensure the machinery is operating efficiently and safely. With a proper plan, the right environmental factors, and detailed maintenance procedures, some turbines could last well over 25 years.
What Happens to a Wind Turbine When it is Retired?
Whether it nears the 20 year mark, is being replaced by new machinery, it has sustained damage, or maintenance costs have become too high, a majority of the parts (up to 99%) of the retired wind turbine can be recycled or re-sold.
However, the blades are another story. Since they are built to withstand substantial force and weather, the blades aren’t easily crushed, repurposed, or recycled. Hundreds of feet long, many are being cut up and hauled to blade landfills.
There is some good news though: companies, like Global Fiberglass Solutions, have been breaking up these blades to use as pellets and fiberboards for walls and flooring. In Rotterdam in the Netherlands, there are actually old blades being used in a children’s playground. Other research projects are underway to uncover how older blades can be easily recycled.
What is the Projected Growth of the Wind Industry?
By 2030, Energy.gov believes that we will see 224.07 GW across 47 states, which is an increase of 110.66 GW since 2020. Between 2030 and 2050, it’s expected there will be an increase of 180.15 GW, for a total of 404.25 GW in 48 states. Some states that will see the most wind power capacity include Texas, Iowa, Montana, and Illinois.
One of the most renewable energy sources across the globe, there’s no wonder the market will continue to grow. Between 2020 and 2025, the global market “is expected to grow at a CAGR of approximately 7.9%.” North America will be one of the more competitive markets.
How can your organization be prepared for this growth?
With quite a bit of expected growth over the next 30 years, it’s important to have a plan in the wind industry to keep up and scale properly. Your organization should have strategies and documentation in place to assist with job performance, safety, growth, guidelines, policies, and work instructions.
This should also include plans that detail construction, assessments, monitoring, and maintenance to ensure your wind turbines are standing up to the challenges ahead, whether that be bad weather or strains over time.
We can help your organization develop documentation for all of these hurdles. Discover more about our services on our website.