August 10, 2020 Renewables
How to Know It’s Time to Repower Your Wind Farm

From Aug. 9 through Aug. 15, 2020, the wind energy industry celebrates American Wind Week. It’s a time to celebrate accomplishments and to reflect on what’s ahead as our country shifts from legacy coal energy to cleaner alternatives such as wind and solar. These stunning facts, offered by AWEA, reveal the potential of future wind energy development:

  • There are now 59,300 wind turbines operating in the U.S. The industry added 3,581 wind turbines in 2019, with an average capacity rating of 2.55 MW.
  • Wind power has been one of the single largest sources of new electric power capacity in the U.S. over the last decade, representing 30% of all new generating capacity installed during that time.
  • U.S. wind power capacity has tripled in the last decade and quadrupled since 2008.
  • The 300 million MWh of wind electricity generated in 2019 is equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of roughly 27.5 million American homes, or enough electricity to power all the residential households in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, and Wisconsin combined.

Amid the excitement of seeing new wind farms going up across the United States and the stories about America’s growing utilization of renewable energy, there’s another story – the growing trend of repowering older wind energy facilities.   

Since Ulteig worked on its first large scale wind energy project in 2006, great strides have been made in wind energy technology. New designs, new materials, larger blades, and improved interconnections with power grids — all add up to more power generated at a lower cost.

Back then, the average wind turbine generated 1.5 megawatts of energy per year. Today, with newer technology and equipment, wind turbines can output 5+ megawatts — nearly 4 times as much energy per turbine.

Let me put it another way: A single, typical wind turbine installed in 2019 can generate enough electricity to power 900 average American homes for an entire year — a significant increase over the average wind turbine built in 2015 that could power approximately 610 homes.

These results are not just limited to newly built wind farms using the latest technology.

Factors to Consider for Repowering

An important part of our wind energy business is consulting with project owners on the efficacy of repowering older turbines with the latest wind energy technology, which, in our opinion is night and day compared to what was available even five or 10 years ago.

So how do you know it’s time to repower your wind farm with the latest technology? Here are some considerations, assuming wind patterns have continued to remain consistent in the area where you built your wind farm:

  • Age – If your wind farm was built 10 years or more ago, it’s highly likely that the turbines are smaller than what is available today. Larger turbines capture more wind, and therefore, can generate more power. If you have been contacted by a manufacturer of wind technology about upgrading your facility, you should conduct an analysis on the performance of your existing turbines before you consider repowering.
  • Performance patterns – If you see the power generated by your wind farm decreasing over time, it may mean there are some issues with your wind turbines.
  • Maintenance costs – If you notice a trend in the rising costs of maintaining your wind turbines — cracked or damaged blades, mechanical issues — it may be time to analyze all of your turbines to determine if it would be more cost effective to repower the turbines.

When we conduct an analysis to determine whether to repower a wind farm or not, we often look at several factors:

  • Maintenance costs — rate of maintenance costs compared to the aging of the infrastructure
  • Replacement costs — cost of replacing parts
  • Opportunity costs — analysis of generating more power and income with newer equipment vs. maintaining existing equipment
  • Interconnect agreement assessment (if you produce more power with newer technology, a new interconnect agreement is likely needed)

Repowering wind farms is one of the most economic and environmentally friendly strategies wind farm operators should consider as they build and maintain their portfolio of wind energy assets. Periodically assessing their performance is a smart approach to reducing costs and understanding the value of when to upgrade to newer and more profitable technology. As one of the pioneers in wind energy development, the Ulteig renewables team has the experience and expertise to help owners and operators better understand their options.

The future is here, now. Ulteig engineers are experts in planning and solving complex problems. Allow us to put our expertise to work in creating well-designed plans for implementing improvements to your wind power facilities using modern wind energy technology.

By Jake Hermanson, Technical Manager, Ulteig

Jake Hermanson is Ulteig’s leading expert on the repowering of wind energy facilities and Technical Manager of Ulteig’s Renewables team that performs collection system design and electrical studies. Hermanson has more than 18-years of experience in renewable energy and has worked with Ulteig clients across the United States on designing over 30 GW of underground collection for wind projects across the United States.  

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