The extension of life of wind farms, a new challenge for wind energy in Spain

The development of renewable energies is key for the European Union to achieve a decarbonised energy model. Wind power in Spain represents 21.9% of the installed power in the generator park as a whole and ranks fourth in terms of renewable generation.

Spain is a pioneer in wind energy, so some of its wind turbines will exceed 15 years of life by 2020. The aging of these parks is a challenge for the second country in the European Union with the largest installed wind capacity.

According to the latest data from the AEE (Spanish Wind Energy Association) Spain has been the second source of electricity generation in 2018 at European level. With a total of 1,123 wind farms spread across 807 municipalities, wind turbines avoids the emission of 25 million tons of CO2 per year, with 20,306 wind turbines installed in Spain that cover 19% of electricity consumption. An undoubtedly fundamental energy that places the Spanish wind power sector as one of the most competent to achieve with full guarantees the 2030 European objectives.

Despite good data and the competitiveness of our country in terms of wind energy, Spain must face one of its biggest challenges: the aging of its wind farms. Together with Denmark and Germany, Spain must think about mechanisms to prolong the life of its wind farms. Many of them will exceed 15 years of life by 2020.

In this sense, development and technological innovation play a key role. The evolution of technologies to diagnose the real state of wind turbines, Big Data, Machine Learning, as well as improvements in maintenance models and processes are essential to take full advantage of existing assets, giving a greater profitability to the wind farm and a direct benefit to the consumer.

What alternatives exist before the end of the useful life of a wind farm?

The best known alternatives are the repowering or extend the life of the wind turbines of the wind farm. The repowering consists of replacing wind turbines with new, more advanced ones, in size, power and efficiency. On the other hand, the extension of useful life is based on extending the life of the park over the certified useful life, which supposes an operative improvement of the existing wind turbines, replacing some concrete components or implementing new protocols in the operation and maintenance, with the objective of achieving maximum safety in its operation.

There is no more or less adequate option to decide what to do with the wind turbines once their certified service life has been exceeded. It will depend largely on the type of business model of each company. In terms of the future, the need to evolve towards an intelligent maintenance model will be key to reducing the aging of wind turbines.

Whatever the decision, there will only be one element that will be maintained over time: security. Given the age of the parks and the current market conditions, the need to go to experts in the field of advice is essential.

Alberto Santos and David Torres, Experts in Technical Consultancy in Wind Energy of TÜV SÜD Spain affirm “According to our accumulated experience, most of the wind turbines can continue their operation after their useful life expires with a minor investment in repairs or replacement of components. In addition, an evaluation of the life extension of a wind farm allows the operator to draw a realistic picture of repair and maintenance costs for the remaining life of their turbines. A point to take into account in your service strategy.”