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Onshore wind turbine decommissioning set to blow in economic opportunities for Scotland, says nation’s circular economy expert in first-of-its-kind report

The first-ever forecast into onshore wind decommissioning in Scotland has been published by the nation’s circular economy experts, Zero Waste Scotland, today.   

10 Sep 21

Titled ‘The future of onshore wind decommissioning in Scotland’, the report finds that around 5,500 wind turbines will be decommissioned in Scotland by 2050 which, according to Zero Waste Scotland, represents a quantified opportunity to grow Scotland’s remanufacturing sector in line with NetZero ambitions.   

Today’s report launch coincides with the opening of Renewable Parts Ltd.’s new Innovation Centre, a Lochgilphead-based organisation supported by Zero Waste Scotland’s Circular Economy Investment Fund whose recent expansion signals positive domestic economic growth in Scotland’s wind turbine refurbishment sector.  

The ground-breaking report findings go on to identify a need for future reprocessing infrastructure and storage locations to support the demands of wind turbine decommissioning, as well as opportunities to increase skills and expertise in reuse and refurbishment in wind turbines in Scotland – all of which creating green jobs.    

Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity Lorna Slater said: 

“There is a huge circular economy opportunity in Scotland’s already thriving renewable energy sector. Scotland’s renewable energy businesses have already helped to deliver significant reductions in our energy emissions and provided high-quality green jobs. Now, with many of the first generation of turbines reaching the end of their working lifespan, we have an opportunity to repurpose those valuable materials into new energy infrastructure or for other high-value use. By embracing the circular economy, Scotland’s renewable sector can become even greener, while also delivering more high-skilled jobs in Scotland.” 

Iain Gulland, Zero Waste Scotland CEO, said: “Like anything else, wind turbines and their parts require maintenance, refurbishment and eventually reach an end-of-life.  In forecasting the scale of materials set to be released through wind turbine decommissioning, this report presents Scotland with a fantastic opportunity to embed circular solutions into the resource management of these materials. 

“Decommissioning and refurbishment of wind turbines will release valuable metals like steel and iron and component parts like gear mechanisms into circulation, thereby unlocking potential for economic gain.  However, as these materials are currently exported for recycling, the Scottish economy is losing the value of these resources.  Based on this report’s findings, we have quantified the scale of the opportunity and I hope we can act to seize the economic opportunities represented.   

“Onshore wind decommissioning is fast-becoming a practical problem for many European countries.  To date, across Europe, 34,000 turbines are known to be 15 years or older.  There will be a big market for decommissioning onshore wind farms over the next decade and, if we act now, Scotland is in a prime position to provide a circular solution and establish competitive advantage.”     

James Barry, CEO of Renewable Parts Ltd, added: “Wind turbine decommissioning presents an enormous opportunity for value retention within Scotland.  End of life for the first generation of wind turbines is now upon us and we must invest boldly in the infrastructure and capabilities needed to reuse materials for on-going wind operations.   

Refurbishment of component parts has already been successfully demonstrated through our work with wind turbine operators; decommissioning is the next step in this journey requiring major scale up to manage entire turbines.  Our strategy to lead in this important area, creating the high skilled jobs and economic benefits, requires joined up, cross-industry action, with operators, government and educational institutions all playing their part.  This timely report neatly sets out the opportunity we must realise within Scotland.        

This report follows Zero Waste Scotland’s recent publication of the first set of Material Flow Accounts for Scotland, which quantifies Scotland’s material footprint for the first time. It shows us the materials we are extracting from Scotland’s natural environment every year, as well as those which are imported, exported, and wasted.    

Zero Waste Scotland plans to continue its work in resource mapping across different sectors to unlock opportunities as part of Scotland’s NetZero transition and its development of a sustainable circular economy, as an essential response to the Climate Emergency.   


Notes For Editors

The key findings in ‘The future of onshore wind decommissioning in Scotland’ report included:  

  • Based on sites that were either consented, in construction, or operational in 2020, around 5,500 turbines will be decommissioned in Scotland. 
  • By 2050 onshore wind decommissioning in Scotland could have generated between 1.25M - 1.4M tonnes of materials 
    • By weight, the biggest material waste arisings from wind turbine decommissioning will be ferrous metals (steel, iron) which are currently exported for recycling. 
    • The forecast includes over 60,000 tonnes of fibreglass and 90,000 tonnes of resin + balsa, materials all currently landfilled. 
  • The lifespan of wind turbines should be maximised as far as possible with whole turbines and components being refurbished and reused in Scotland. Reprocessing infrastructure and storage facilities will be required to enable these activities. 
  • The development of a decommissioning hub at a port on the central-eastern coast could provide a suitable location for this infrastructure. 
  • A focus on increasing the skills and expertise of reuse and refurbishment of wind turbines in Scotland will be required to enable an increase in circularity.  
  • Where reuse and refurbishment are not an option the materials should be recycled. While the metals in wind turbines are already commonly recycled, only approximately 40% of recycled scrap metal is retained in the UK. Other materials such as resin, silica and fibreglass are less widely recycled and mechanical recycling technologies and facilities will need to be developed. 

To read the summary report visit Zero Waste Scotland's website, here

The single greatest cause of the climate crisis in Scotland is all the goods, materials and services we produce, consume and discard, too often after just one use. Switching to the circular economy will help make things last by first reducing, reusing, repairing, remaking and finally recycling. 

About Zero Waste Scotland: 

Zero Waste Scotland exists to lead Scotland to use products and resources responsibly, focusing on where we can have the greatest impact on climate change.   

Using evidence and insight, our goal is to inform policy, and motivate individuals and businesses to embrace the environmental, economic, and social benefits of a circular economy.   

We are a not-for-profit environmental organisation, funded by the Scottish Government and European Regional Development Fund. 

More information on all Zero Waste Scotland’s programmes can be found at https://www.zerowastescotland.org.uk/. You can also keep up to date with the latest from Zero Waste Scotland via our social media channels - TwitterFacebook | LinkedIn 

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