We spoke to Finley Becks-Phelps, UK Development Director at Fred. Olsen Renewables, about the repowering opportunities in onshore wind and what his company is currently doing to support the UK journey to a net zero future…
Fred. Olsen Renewables has been developing and operating wind farms since the mid-1990s. The sector has grown significantly over the years, and the way that we design and develop wind farms has been changed considerably. The evolution of turbine technology is a story in itself.
As the sector has matured, the opportunities for repowering have grown. The benefits for repowering are very well known and are huge.
Demand for electricity across the UK is growing. There is going to be a huge increase in requirements for more electricity as part of our transition to net zero – our focus on electric vehicles and the electrification of heat place cement this.
To meet these demands, we need an increase in renewable energy generation. We will still need to design and build projects, but there is only so much potential in the country to continue doing so. As such, more opportunities will be realised by repowering old wind farm sites.
At Fred. Olsen Renewables we have explored what the opportunities could be to repower our operational sites. Our initial analysis of what repowering might look like shows that for roughly a third of the number of turbines we have currently, we could almost double existing generation.
For instance, we could refurbish a site that traditionally had 36 turbines of 56m height, with 9 taller turbines, improving the impact for the community, as well as reducing the amount of land used and maximising capacity with modern technologies. This would contribute substantially to renewable energy ambitions and net zero targets.
To realise these repowering ambitions, however, we need to be progressive and continue to collaborate across the sector.
We also need supportive planning policies. Repowering projects must still go through the usual planning processes, but the experience from previous operations in the area could enable faster delivery, with the right planning policy support. In Scotland, the National Planning Framework 4 is very promising and it would be great to see support for onshore wind in other parts of the UK as well.
When repowering a site, already being present in the area helps to provide insight into stakeholders and the community. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. At Fred. Olsen Renewables we keep the community at the core of everything we do. We want to act as a good neighbour, allowing people to benefit from having renewable energy in their area and enabling them to support sustainable community initiatives.
We are currently exploring the opportunities to repower Windy Standard Wind Farm. This was the first consented project in Scotland and has been operational since 1996. It really is exciting to have the opportunity to repower such a historic site.
As part of these plans, we are also investigating how to further boost benefits for the local community. While some great strides are being made towards recyclable turbine blades – which we hope to utilise in the future – we are seeking a solution to put into practice now.
That’s why we are exploring how to repurpose the old turbines within the community, turning blades into climbing frames, refurbishing the nacelle to create glamping pods, building bike shelters and even children’s playparks. We are also actively working with a local college that delivers a range of courses in climate change and renewable energy who is interested in using an entire nacelle, generator and blades to provide real-life examples of equipment in lessons.
This is an amazing opportunity to inspire creativity. Being able to not only repower a site but also find an entirely new avenue to benefit the community in ways that have never been done before in the UK, is incredibly exciting. Similar ideas have been implemented in other European countries, but it would be great to bring them closer to home, offering a great alternative until components can be recycled more efficiently.
Clearly, there are many potential ways that repowering onshore wind farms can offer advantages for the planet, the local community and the wider economy. Tune in to the RenewableUK Repowering UK webinar on Wednesday 23 June at 10am for more!
To hear more from Finley and our amazing line-up of onshore wind experts, attend RenewableUK's Onshore Wind Energy: Repowering UK webinar on 23 June. Register today at: https://events.renewableuk.com/onshore21-programme/onshore21-programme-23june.