November 21, 2019

Resource-efficient dismantling of onshore wind turbines in Germany

Ramboll has developed an interdisciplinary study for the Umweltbundesamt, the Federal German Environment Agency, which considers all environmental aspects of the recycling of old wind turbines. The result of this demanding circular economy project shows a great need for action.

The German onshore wind farm consists of more than 27,000 wind turbines (WTGs), which make the largest contribution to electricity production from renewable energy in Germany at around 40%. As this is a relatively new industry (first commissioning in the 1990s), there is little experience in the field of plant deconstruction. Activity will begin to increase in 2020, as a result of improved functional efficiency, structural stability and cost-effectiveness among other reasons. In addition, we will see even more functional plants replaced by more powerful WTGs, the so-called repowering, which will lead to further dismantling activity.

With more turbines being decommissioned, strategies are required for the end-of-life process. In an extensive research project commissioned by the Umweltbundesamt, Ramboll investigated the current practice of dismantling wind turbines and disposing of the resulting waste. We developed a waste and cost forecast, technical requirements for environmentally compatible decommissioning and disposal, and discussed possible policy options.

Not enough recycling capacity or reserves for dismantling wind turbines

Ramboll’s study reveals a high need for action. "In addition to bottlenecks in recycling capacities, there are risks for people and the environment from improper dismantling. Therefore, the study provides recommendations for good practice that can serve as orientation for operators, companies and authorities to ensure that wind turbines are dismantled in a way that safeguards resources," explains Ferdinand Zotz (Senior Managing Consultant, waste and resource management, Munich, Germany).