Ageing Giants of Wind Power

Across Europe’s landscapes, the ageing giants of renewable energy are faltering. As the continent faces an unprecedented race against climate change, nearly a fifth of its onshore wind turbines are now grappling with the wear and tear of time, resulting in higher maintenance costs and reduced efficiency. This threatens to derail efforts to achieve Net Zero Emissions by 2050. In Spain, the situation grows even more dire, with half of its wind parks now past their 15-year lifespan, posing critical questions about the future of our energy infrastructure.

Pushing the Limits of Wind Technology

As Europe accelerates towards a sustainable future, its reliance on renewable energy sources becomes ever more critical. Despite the challenges, wind energy stands out as a promising and essential solution, particularly significant in our collective effort to achieve the ambitious Goal of Net Zero Emissions by 2050. Wind is an abundant and inexhaustible resource, that provides electricity without burning fuel or polluting the air.

The evolution of onshore wind technology has been remarkable, maximizing electricity production per megawatt of installed capacity. This has made it possible to harness wind energy from more sites, even those with lower wind speeds. Similarly, offshore wind energy is on the brink of rapid expansion, leveraging the stronger winds found overseas and oceans. These advancements lay the foundation for the ambitious scale-up required to meet future demands.

The Environmental Impact of Wind Energy

In 2022 wind power had already avoided 250 million tons of CO2 emissions in Europe [1], equivalent to those emitted by 54 million cars [2]. In the same year, wind energy experienced a record surge in electricity generation, demonstrating its vast potential to bolster renewable capacity growth. However, to meet future demand, annual capacity additions need to escalate from approximately 75 GW in 2022 to an impressive 350 GW by 2030 [3]. Achieving this level of capacity growth requires concerted efforts from both policymakers and the private sector. These efforts should focus on streamlining permitting processes for onshore wind projects and reducing costs for offshore wind projects.

So, where do we go from here? Increased support for both onshore and offshore wind farms is crucial. Efforts should concentrate on facilitating permitting, garnering public support, identifying suitable sites, reducing costs, and shortening project development timelines. However, the path is not devoid of challenges.

Challenges in Modern Wind Farm Design

Current wind turbine and wind farm designs do not fully account for real climate conditions, such as precipitation, sand, and clouds. They are traditionally designed with models based on standard wind conditions that don’t account for the complex physics of atmospheric flows or the adverse weather impacts like precipitation and sand. These models fail to capture how such elements can affect turbine efficiency and durability, especially with turbines reaching tip speeds of 480 km/h, where impacts like raindrops can cause significant material wear. This oversight leads to inaccuracies in predicting energy output, operating costs, and lifespan, thus increasing financial risks and variability for investors and project developers. Consequently, this increases the uncertainty in investment, restricting the growth of new installations and potentially raising the Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) as developers struggle to adapt designs to non-standard environmental conditions.

The AIRE Project

The AIRE Project is a pioneering initiative that aims to address these challenges. It considers real climate conditions such as precipitation, clouds, sand, shear, and inflow, into the design of wind turbines and farms. By utilizing data from four experimental sites and four commercial wind farms, AIRE seeks to develop and validate new numerical models that accurately reflect these diverse environmental impacts. The project will also create a robust open-access knowledge hub filled with experimental data and develop new tools and standards for wind turbine and farm design. These advancements are aimed at reducing the erosion of turbine blades from environmental exposure, optimizing wind farm performance, and ensuring the designs are suited to their specific locales in both onshore and offshore sites, thereby enhancing the reliability of wind energy projects and stimulating further investment in the sector.

As Europe grapples with the ageing giants that once led its renewable revolution, the AIRE Project steps as a pivotal innovation, tailored to extend the life and efficiency of these crucial assets. By integrating cutting-edge research and real-world climate data into wind turbine design and management, AIRE enhances the efficiency and durability of wind farms. The initiative is setting new standards that will help ensure Europe’s energy infrastructure can meet future demands sustainably.

In our next blog, we will delve deeper into the objectives of the AIRE Project. We will discuss how it plans to overcome the challenges and optimize wind energy production. So, if you’re interested in this topic and want to stay informed, we invite you to join us as we explore this exciting and innovative project!




Author: Oria Pardo
Editor: Lucia Salinas
April, 2024