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OWOE - Blog
Wind Waste
March 3, 2020

Guest blog by S. A. Shelley: There still is continuing debate in California as to how much of what kinds of renewable energy are needed in order to achieve net-zero energy by 2045 . California is blessed with an abundance of renewable energy resources, especially solar, wind and geothermal, and California is still the 6th or 7th oil and gas producing state in the country (see also ShaleXP). But California has not yet harvested any of its significant renewable offshore energy resources.

There has been a lot of licensing and planning activity for offshore wind in California and we've already discussed the main issue with that (i.e., too expensive) in prior blogs (see California does not need big, very expensive floating offshore wind farms and Gung-ho for Geo) while other folks are pointing out other environmental problems with massive California offshore wind farms. To these challenges, I'd like to add another concern: Wind turbine waste.

Fig. 1 - Pieces of wind turbine blades being buried in a land fill (bloomberg)

It turns out that wind turbines generate a lot of non-biodegradable, non-recyclable waste at the end of their 20 or 25 year operating life. In particular, wind turbine blades made from composite materials are discarded straight to a landfill (Fig. 1).

While there is some research on ways and means to re-use turbine blades, this re-use by chopping up blades into smaller pieces will eventually introduce another kind of long-life, indestructible micro-material into the environment. While climate activists argue against CO2 emissions, they ignore that CO2 is essential to plant life whereas micro-plastics and micro-materials have negatively adverse effects on all life.

Let's consider just the mass of wind waste that will be generated by the proposed Morro Bay Widfarm of about 1.0 GW rated capacity assuming that it uses 8 MW turbines. A typical 8 MW wind turbine consists of three blades, each with a mass of about 35 tonnes. Thus for a 1.0 GW wind farm, with 8 MW turbines, in about 20 to 25 years, California will need to bury over 13,000 tonnes of non-biodegradable, non-re-usable turbine waste in a landfill.

But it gets worse. Every 18 to 24 months, an offshore wind turbine suffers a major failure, requiring either a gearbox change or a blade replacement. Giving the industry proponents the benefit of the doubt, let's say that every 48 months, one blade is replaced on each turbine. This means that during operations, California will then need to bury an additional 2,000 to 2,600 tonnes of non-biodegradable, non-re-usable wind turbine waste in a landfill during the lifetime of the project.

That's a lot of waste for just one offshore wind farm, and I've yet to see anyone address that future problem now.

So what are some of the alternatives to floating offshore wind farms in California?

Solar for one. Until every third home or every third business has solar on its roof, there really is no need to go offshore California with big, expensive wind farms. Solar panels are still made from recyclable materials, and can actually be made with some bio-degradable components.

Another choice is geothermal. Geothermal systems are made with recyclable materials such as steel piping, and geothermal buildings can be made with carbon neutral building systems.

Yet a third choice, not yet considered by California to any great extent, is going offshore with ocean current or ocean wave energy. Again, ocean current or wave energy equipment is built almost 99% from steel or concrete. Plus, because the energy density in waves and currents is factors greater than the energy contained in an equivalent volume of air, the footprint of ocean wave or current energy systems is significantly smaller than the footprint of offshore wind. You get the same power output with a much smaller physical space in the ocean.

Combine any of the above with energy storage systems and California will be revved up to thrive for centuries with a completely carbon neutral and green energy network.

Many years ago, wind turbines were small, local and biodegradable (Fig. 2a); now they're big, ubiquitous and tough to recycle (Fig. 2b).

Fig. 2a - Old wind tech (pinterest), Fig. 2b New wind tech (career-wind-energy)

We've gone from distributed, renewable power using recyclable and biodegradable materials to copying industrial power, but instead of coal and smog, we're concentrating power using high tech, low recyclable and non-biodegradable materials. Is this really a better way forward?

California does need some small amounts of offshore wind that can more readily and holistically be integrated into its energy and environmental goals. But as I've argued before, California does not need massive offshore windfarms: Massive farms lead to massive cost and waste problems.

Vive le California plus Intelligente!

Vive l’Alberta Libre!

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