June 21, 2023

Revitalizing the Future of Energy: The Benefits of Repowering Turbines

Image of a crane attaching wind turbine blades to the shaft. Image of a crane attaching wind turbine blades to the shaft.

Renewable energy has gained significant momentum over the past decades, with many wind and solar farms approaching the end of their initial life cycle. Rather than decommissioning, repowering is a great opportunity for project owners to continue benefitting from these renewable energy sources. Additionally, recent new tax incentives under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provide an opportunity to review active plants for potential upgrades to newer technology. According to ACP Clean Power 2022 Q4 report, there were over 2.3 GW of partial or full repowering of wind projects in 2022. This number will only increase as older projects reach the age for potential repowering. 

Let’s explore the benefits of repowering turbines and how these efforts positively impact the renewable energy industry. 

What is Repowering?

Repowering involves updating the technology and infrastructure of existing wind farms to extend their lifespan, improve efficiency, optimize power output capacity, reduce operation and maintenance (O&M) costs, and capture tax credit benefits. This process can be accomplished through either partial or full repowering, depending on factors such as the age, condition, and profitability of the wind farm. 

Partial Repowering

There are two common types of partial repowering: major retrofit or full nacelle replacement. 

Partial repowering with a major retrofit involves the complete replacement of each turbine’s rotor, blades, and the replacement of at least one major component within its nacelle, typically the gearbox or the generator. This option is selected to enhance performance and extend a turbine's life.

Partial repowering with a nacelle replacement includes the complete replacement of each turbine’s nacelle, rotor, and blades. Its tower and foundation are retained, and in some cases, its electrical collection system can be retained as well. This option is often selected when a turbine’s overall structure and foundation remain in good condition. Partial repowering can also include software upgrades to improve a turbine's efficiency and power output.

Full Repowering

Full repowering involves the decommissioning and replacement of the turbines with new turbine technology. This option is often chosen when the entire turbine infrastructure is outdated or in poor condition. Full repowering allows project owners to take advantage of the latest technology advancements and maximize the wind farm's efficiency and power output capacity through new layouts and larger turbines. Full repowering also allows project owners to utilize existing land agreements, civil infrastructure, and the grid interconnection point, while installing all new turbines.   

Why Repower?

The most common reason to repower turbines is to leverage the improvements in turbine technology to extend the financial life of a project. Over the past decade, wind turbine equipment manufacturers have increased the rotor diameters and hub heights of their turbines to capture more energy at higher speeds and with more efficient wind flow found at greater heights. This has resulted in higher nameplate capacity for wind turbines. For wind projects built 10+ years ago, turbines were rated around 1-2 MW. Today, turbines rated between 2-3 MW account for 30% of the upcoming pipeline capacity, with another 16% rated between 3-4 MW.* While utilizing the same project footprint, modern technology can reduce the number of turbines for the site with the same output capacity. Fewer turbines can reduce the environmental impact and streamline O&M activities.

What are the Benefits of Repowering Turbines?

There are several benefits of repowering turbines, which can positively impact the renewable energy industry, local communities, and the environment. These advantages include:

1. Increased Efficiency and Power Output Capacity

Repowering turbines with modern technology and equipment can result in increased efficiency and power output capacity. Newer wind turbines are designed to capture more wind energy and generate electricity more efficiently, which results in higher energy production. By upgrading the technology, project owners can optimize the performance of their wind farms and the energy production potential.

To begin this process, project owners can contact an engineering and environmental firm, such as Westwood, to conduct energy production audits, assess the current performance of their wind farms, and identify areas for improvement. This can provide valuable insights into the efficiency, power output capacity, and overall profitability of a wind farm, helping project owners make informed decisions about their repower options.

Additionally, optimizing the turbine layout through preliminary energy yield studies can further enhance the performance of a repowered wind farm. By carefully analyzing factors such as wind patterns, topography, and turbine spacing, project owners can enhance the layout of their wind farms to maximize energy production.

2. Extended Lifespan

While repowering turbines can increase power output, it can also extend the life of a wind farm by an additional 20 to 30 years, delaying the need for total project decommissioning and increasing the overall return on investment. This extended lifespan allows project owners to continue benefiting from renewable energy production and contributes to global efforts for decarbonization.

3. Reduced O&M Costs

Upgrading wind turbines can lead to a significant reduction in operation and maintenance (O&M) costs. Modern wind turbines are designed with better materials, improved technology, and require less maintenance compared to older models. In the end, upgrades improve overall project profitability.

4. Tax Credit Benefits

Repowering turbines can enable project owners to capture additional tax credit benefits. In the United States, the Production Tax Credit (PTC) provides financial incentives for wind energy production. Wind project owners can plan for additional credits through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Qualifying for these tax credits can help offset the costs of the repower process.

5. Reduced Environmental Impact

By repowering turbines and extending their lifespan, project owners can help reduce the environmental impact associated with total decommissioning and waste disposal. Repowering can minimize the amount of waste generated, as many components can be reused, recycled, or repurposed. This approach reduces the overall environmental footprint of wind energy production and supports global efforts for clean energy.

Another environmental benefit is the reduction of noise pollution. Older turbines can produce a significant amount of noise, which can be a source of concern for nearby residents. Repowering turbines with modern components can significantly reduce noise levels, making wind turbines more acceptable to the local community.

Ready to Repower?

As the renewable energy landscape continues to evolve, repowering turbines will remain a crucial strategy for maximizing the potential of wind energy production. Through careful planning, ongoing technological advancements, and a commitment to sustainable practices, repowering turbines can help revitalize the future of energy and create a cleaner, greener world for generations to come.

Reach out to our skilled, full-service engineering and environmental teams and take advantage of our repower expertise.

*Source: American Clean Power Association | Clean Power Quarterly 2023 Q1

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