We too often hear that electricity from wind is zero carbon. Compared with traditional coal, it almost seems that way. In terms of CO2/MWh of energy produced, wind typically produces 5-10kgCO2/MWh. This compares to coal’s 7-900kg CO2/MWh. But 5-10kg still is not zero. As the world pushes towards net zero reducing the kg/MWh rightly will become a much-increased focus for wind projects.

Most of a project’s carbon intensity is during manufacture. Extending project life will reduce this as the manufacturing carbon is amortised over more MWh. Similarly, increasing the annual energy production through actions such as controller modifications, smarter analysis and hardware augmentation will also reduce the carbon during the project’s operational life.

When it comes to the end of life, maximising the net residual value of materials is key, as value is a strong proxy for carbon production in manufacture. There is a growing market for recycling metals which can offset a significant amount of carbon impact at manufacture. Minimising energy use at this step is key to minimising carbon intensity. The wind industry is only now stepping up collaborative efforts to minimise the lifecycle impact of composites, especially wind turbine blades. We are involved in the SusWIND initiative, led by UK’s National Composites Centre. Through a multi-disciplinary project, it is seeking to establish new, higher value sales of recovered blade materials, as well as working on lower impact, easier-to-recycle materials for future blades.

For owners of operational projects, refurbished spare components offer opportunities to reduce both costs and carbon intensity. Often, components are replaced due to the failure of a seal or electrical part, with all metal parts in full working order. Replacement of the failed part can allow for cost-effective ongoing use or even upgrading of the failed part. As an example, the business Renewable Parts is growing by offering robust refurbished solutions that are cheaper than new components.

Watch this space – there will be much to see in the upcoming months and years as the world moves to the net zero by minimizing cost and carbon intensity from low carbon technologies.


Bruce Valpy