Recycling Wind Turbines: Taking Germany’s Energy Transition to a Logical Conclusion

Owing to the great diversity of turbine types and locations, tailor-made procedures will be required for scrapping and recycling the turbins. Because different sorts of turbines are made from different materials, various regulations will apply.

December 2019

By Flérida Regueira Cortizo, Germany Trade & Invest

In his laudation for Sebastião Salgado at the awarding of this year’s German Booksellers’ Peace Prize, filmmaker Wim Wenders praised Salgado’s work “Genesis” for “showing us that there can be no peace without us respecting the beauty and sanctity of our earth.” A glance at the current climate risk index makes clear that this sentiment doesn’t just apply to developing countries. Climate change poses a threat to much of the world, including countries like Japan and Germany.

At this writing, debates are being conducted at the UN Climate Conference about how to proceed in the battle against climate change. Germany recently passed a whole package of climate-protection legislation and is considered a pioneer on the issue. Indeed recent months have seen record levels of electricity in Germany generated from renewable sources. In 2018, almost 40 percent of electricity in Germany was produced by solar, wind and other renewables, and in 2019, that figure could easily be topped. According to calculations by the Fraunhofer Institute of Solar Energy Systems (Fraunhofer ISE), higher than average levels of wind allowed the more than 30,000 on- and off-share wind turbines in Germany to generate 108,000 gigawatt hours of electricity before 2019 was even over. That’s enough to cover the entire electricity consumption of every German household for a year. More than ever, wind energy is contributing to the success of Germany’s transition to non-nuclear sustainable energy sources. But what happens to wind turbines when they reach the end of their life cycle?

© Myriam Zilles on Pixabay

Starting in 2021, following 20-30 years of use, some 13,000 wind turbines in Germany will no longer be promoted by the Renewable Energy Law (EEG). Operators can continue to use them or move them at other locations. Some turbines will have reached their maximum life duration and must be dismantled. But according to the German Environment Agency (UBA), procedures for scrapping and recycling the turbines must still be developed. Under the Federal Emissions Protection Law, operators are primarily and technologically responsible for such proceedings. Owing to the great diversity of turbine types and locations, tailor-made procedures will be required. Because different sorts of turbines are made from different materials, various regulations will apply.

Take, for example, the case of drainage. Getting rid of used oils, greases and lubricants is part of the recycling process, and regulations concerning used petroleum and protecting the climate from harmful fluorocarbon gasses have to be followed. Under no circumstances are used industrial liquids to be released into the environment during the recycling procedure. Or when rotor blades are sawed apart, the process has to be contained so as to avoid contamination by splinters, dust or coolants.

In the state of Lower Saxony, which has the greatest number of wind turbines in Germany, authorities have already begun to react to recycling needs. The industrial association RDRWind was formed at the end of 2018. Its mission is to assist companies from Germany and abroad to repower, dismantle, remove and recycle wind turbines. The association also aims to encourage the development of new professional uses and sustainable procedures, standards and norms.

The webinar “Recycling of Wind Turbines in Germany” will cover how all the aspects of the process fit together, which data and facts are relevant and how Germany is pursuing its energy transition to a logical conclusion with its wind-energy policies. The webinar will take place on 5 February 2020. You can find more information and register to take part, here