We were proud to be part of the launch of the Coalition for Wind Industry Circularity (CWIC). CWIC was created by SSE Renewables, the University of Strathclyde (UoS), the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland and Renewable Parts Ltd. CWIC aims to work towards a more sustainable wind industry with an increased focus on reuse and remanufacture of parts to reduce waste and carbon emissions. As well as environmental benefits, there are significant financial benefits for the UK to lead the wind industry’s circular economy efforts.

Our work for the CWIC launch analysed the expected replacement frequency of 10 wind turbine components across 10 European markets, looking at both onshore and offshore wind to 2035. These components ranged from major components, such as gearboxes and generators, to minor components, such as slip rings and brake callipers. Components were chosen because they already have a well-established refurbishment supply chain.

We created capacity timelines of historic deployment and future forecasts for each country from 1990 to 2035. Combining replacement rates with refurbishment costs, salary costs, and avoided scrap, we estimated that for the 10 components in 10 markets, for the years between 2025 to 2035, there is a potential £9.6 billion market, with more than 20,000 FTE jobs created by 2035 and over 800,000 tonnes of avoided material to scrap.

These numbers only consider mid-life replacement. Including components of decommissioned turbines would significantly increase these numbers. For example, the same number of gearboxes are likely to be available through decommissioning as were replaced in the period analysed.

We did not attempt to establish how much of this opportunity was already being addressed with existing refurbishment efforts.

We also looked at political drivers and experience from other industries. Although there is a general alignment of policy around circularity in Europe, UK and Scotland – there is a general lack of legal or regulatory obligation. Lack of pressure results in slower uptake of refurbishment. This effect is supported by research completed by UoS into the barriers limiting circularity in wind. It found that although all 17 participating companies were aware of and use recirculated parts, only 40% have a specific policy in place to do so. In the near future, circularity regulations are likely to force adoption within the wind industry. However, the industry should not delay while regulations are developed – there is significant advantage and commercial opportunity in being an early adopter.

CWIC is likely to be a key driver of circularity in the wind industry. The aviation industry has had remarkable success in promoting circularity. Current practices see 90% of an aircraft’s weight reused or recycled. The Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association played a key role in achieving this. It set targets and standards, and accredited supply chain companies. Increasingly, aircraft parts are designed to account for post-design life journeys. CWIC could be the force behind these changes in the wind industry.

Industry synergy and co-operation will also be a significant influence. We need to find a way to increase our sharing of knowledge and operational data without compromising on protecting companies hard earned IP and value add. UoS found that 81% of companies in its survey were wary of the perceived higher risk in the recirculated parts – either assuming higher failure rates or lack of insurance compliance. This perception could be overcome by more transparency. Operators sharing failure rates could prove that recirculated parts are reliable. The greater data available, the more industry can understand failure, allowing for collaboration in finding solutions to common issues.

A similar argument can be made for design-related issues. More information accessible by third parties will allow for better remanufactured solutions not limited by the location of the OEM. This would also address operator concerns over procurement speed – the most costly aspect of a component failure is downtime caused. Locally available parts would significantly reduce downtime, as well as reduce CO2 from transporting the parts.

There is a significant opportunity to develop a market leading supply chain in the UK dedicated to the remanufacture of wind turbine components, for both domestic and export markets. Early movers in this market will benefit from limited competition and favourable consumer opinion driven by political and social pressures. The increased reuse of components will also help meet the industry’s overall goal of decarbonising the energy sector.

Stuart Whittingham