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Experts stress importance of process to squeeze more power from aging wind turbines: 'It's a key piece to the puzzle'

"Helps unlock a future where wind becomes a predominant source of power."

"Helps unlock a future where wind becomes a predominant source of power."

Photo Credit: iStock

Wind power represents approximately 10.2% of the renewable energy in the United States, but some of those turbines have been in use for decades. The Good News Network shared data from a study in Denmark that has shown upgrading or replacing old hardware and optimizing existing wind power plant layouts can dramatically increase output.

The process is called "wind repowering," and between 2012 and 2019, 38% of wind energy projects in Denmark fell under this classification. During the final year, a study shared by the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy analyzed the data and found that the projects really delivered. Repowering achieved 86% of the gross added capacity and 87% of added turbines. 

It's more cost-efficient to refurbish the existing infrastructure than start from scratch on new developments. Denmark saw an increased capacity of 576.8 megawatts from these projects, and a 1.3 gigawatt (GW) gain when you factor in new greenfield (vacant lot) projects as well.

The U.S. has been following suit, and according to the Department of Energy, there was a total of 14.2 GW of added capacity from wind power alone in 2020. It's been reported that there are now more than 40 active wind repowering sites in the U.S., with approximately 2,500 turbines actively undergoing refurbishment.

This has been a long time coming. 

Oil shortages in the 1970s triggered a boom in alternative energy sources, and thousands of wind turbines were installed across California by the early '80s. Based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, power from these renewable sources grew from just 1% in 1990 to the current standing of around 10.2%.

Old turbine tech that's been decommissioned can also be recycled, helping to boost green energy transitions by using the materials for new turbines, EVs, and even compact fluorescent lamps.  

As the Denmark study also showed, you can reduce the number of turbines at existing plants but still boost output. Newer turbines tend to be taller, more efficient, and cost-effective, allowing them to reduce their footprint while still increasing the overall power output.

Eric Lantz, a contributor to a study done by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, offered more insight into the situation and its role in supporting the potential of wind power.

"For future wind energy gains to take hold, we need to incorporate community insights into the construction and refurbishment of new wind power plants," Lantz said. "It's a key piece to the puzzle that helps unlock a future where wind becomes a predominant source of power."

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