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The After-Life of Renewables in the US

The After-Life of Renewables in the US
November 3, 2021 Hannah McNaul

The United States (US) have invested over 200GW of renewable capacity in solar and wind since 1980, but the main problem the US faces today is the question of where the materials go after they are no longer needed. 

The US government have concentrated their efforts on decommissioning fossil-fuelled power plants but have not attributed the same attention to the decommissioning of renewable plants, leaving developers questioning how to effectively dispose of the disused materials. 

Companies are investing in renewable energy plants without a long-term plan for decommissioning them. The US government are considering the implementation of requirements in which companies planning to develop such a power plant must have strategies in place to decommission them before they are constructed. This helps alleviate the problem once built, but the same question of ‘how’ still remains. 

Renewables After Life

Figure 1: Wind Farm [1]

Solutions

The primary concern is the legality of the issue, specific rules and regulations determine how developers navigate the situation, but in the same instance the lack of regulation in the up-and-coming sector poses an issue of the same magnitude. 

Solutions to some potential legal issues faced include:

  • New procedures need to be passed as legislation to aid developers and ensure they are working with the government when decommissioning plants. If such protocols are not in place, the industry may start to develop their own solutions that may be untoward for the US government, such as underhand purchase agreements or bonding requirements.
  • Terms regarding decommissioning of developments must be included within purchase agreements and contracts to ensure there is a strategy for dealing with materials at the end of their working life and also enables liability to be placed accordingly when these strategies aren’t carried out correctly. 
  • Developers must ensure they have the correct land use approval status for not only constructing the power plant but also for the disposal of waste materials. 
  • Environmental and utility legislation need to incorporate the renewables sector so developers have guidance with regard to the materials they are handling.
  • Investing in departments within companies that concentrate their efforts on the disposal of waste materials and creating a circular pathway of production will help provide a more cost-effective solution with other departments continuing work with construction whilst another department relieves any litigation pressure.

The Future

The US Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) is funding research into the materials used to make solar photovoltaics (PV). The research hopes to lengthen the life-span of a solar PV module while using recyclable materials to reduce any pollution at the end of their life.

Between 2016 and 2018 SETO donated $1.75 million to companies focused on recycling materials used in renewables. The donations were made with the purpose of providing aid to the research into finding uses, some unconventional, for hard-to-dispose materials. SRI International was awarded $900,000 of the $1.75 million to develop a more effective method to recycling the silicon waste generated during the production of the solar PV modules. 

The Rest of the World

Its not just the US that face this problem, Siemens Gamesa, a company based in Spain, have developed the world’s first recyclable turbine blade in efforts to combat the issue, coined the ‘RecyclableBlade’. The blade is constructed using a different resin which is dissolvable due to its chemical structure; this means the materials can be manufactured into consumer goods. With this advancement it won’t be long before the remains of old wind farms are seen in our homes as everyday items such as televisions and suitcases.

About Pager Power

Pager Power undertakes technical assessments for developers of renewable energy projects and tall buildings worldwide. For more information about what we do, please get in touch.

References:

[1] Wind Turbines on Brown Sand (March, 2020) from Pexels.com. Accessed on: 2nd Nov 2021. Available at: https://www.pexels.com/photo/wind-turbines-on-brown-sand-3877660/ 

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