Re-powering ageing wind farms with bigger turbines could generate extra 3-TWh of electricity

Upgrading wind farms that will reach the end of scheduled operation in the next five years with the latest and most efficient turbines would increase the UK’s generating capacity by more than 1.3 gigawatts (GW) – compared with a scenario in which turbines are taken down at the end of their lives.

Analysis of a database of onshore wind farms across England, Scotland and Wales shows that there are close to 60 projects with over 750 turbines that will reach their 20th anniversary within the next five years.

These include some of the country’s best sites for wind energy. Failing to stimulate re-powering risks these sites closing, according to a new report by the independent Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.

The London-based think-tank also said that re-powering could also benefit local communities through payments from developers, with a potential pay-out of more than £100 million from this first wave of projects, more than 80% of which would flow into rural regions.

This would yield more than 3 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity per year, enough to power nearly 800,000 homes. It would save consumers more than £77 million per year on energy bills, compared to generating the same amount of electricity from gas-fired power stations, and help put the country back on track to meeting climate change targets.

The electricity would be significantly cheaper than that from current onshore wind farms, which received generous support at a time when less-developed technology needed higher subsidies.

Dr Jonathan Marshall
Dr Jonathan Marshall

The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit is a non-profit organisation that supports informed debate on energy and climate change issues in the UK.

Report author Dr Jonathan Marshall, ECIU Energy Analyst, said that with onshore wind the cheapest source of new electricity generation, re-powering is a cost-effective way to secure new capacity.

He said: “Britain installed its first wind farms during the early 1990s when the technology was in its infancy, and the electricity generated was significantly more expensive than that from fossil fuels.

“The industry has developed rapidly, however, and modern turbines generate vastly more power than older ones at costs competitive with coal and gas fired generation, especially when located onshore.

“It makes sense to repower sites of the earliest wind farms, which tend to be in locations that have the best wind resource. Existing infrastructure including network connections can also be re-used or upgraded at costs lower than for new sites.”

29 Mar 2018

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