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Ageing offshore wind turbines could stunt the growth of renewable energy sector

The University of Kent has led a study highlighting the urgent need for the UK’s Government and renewable energy industries to give vital attention to decommissioning offshore wind turbines approaching their end of live expectancy by 2025. The research reveals that the UK must decommission approximately 300 and 1600 early-model offshore wind turbines by 2025 and 2030, respectively.

Urgent focus is needed now to proactively use the remaining years until turbines installed in the 1990s and early 2000s are no longer safely functional in 2025, to prevent safety lapses, potentially huge costs and the irretrievable loss of the skillset required for safe decommission.

The research shows that these original turbines have an approximate lifetime of 20 to 25 years, but this expectation is vulnerable to factors that occur whilst in use. Within each early-model turbine, there exist thousands of components and parts that have worn down, become replaced and fixed without estimates on their installation time frame, and are nearing the end of their life expectancy.

There is no existing breakdown of the potential costs of the activities that would surround decommissioning offshore wind turbines, nor is there is an alternative plan to their decommission.

As the turbines exceed their safety remit, the sector is also set to lose the unique skillset of engineers that originally installed and maintained these early models, as they are now approaching professional retirement. To combat this loss of skills, researchers advise the imperative creation of a database of era-specific skills and operation-techniques to offset such a loss.

The study also finds that profitable operations can be established to counter the cost of decommission. Recycling of existing parts into new wind turbine operations has the potential to be hugely cost-effective for the sector, as well as ensuring that renewable means of production are at the forefront of future operations.

Dr Mahmoud Shafiee, Reader in Mechanical Engineering at Kent’s School of Engineering and Digital Arts said: ‘Without a dedicated effort from the UK Government and renewable energy sector into planning the safe and efficient decommissioning these offshore wind turbines, there is a risk enormous and potentially unsalvageable cost to the renewable energy sector. The cost of maintaining outdated turbines is multiple times that of new installations, so for the benefit of our future hopes of renewable energy, we call on the Government and sector leaders to act now.’

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The paper ‘An economic assessment framework for decommissioning of offshore wind farms using a cost breakdown structure’ was published in Springer Link (Dr Mahmoud Shafiee, School of Engineering and Digital Arts, University of Kent; Tosin Adedipe, Department of Energy and Power, Cranfield University).

DOI: 10.1007/s11367-020-01793-x

For further information or interview requests, please contact Sam Wood at the University of Kent Press Office.

Tel: 07713087981

Email: s.wood-700@kent.ac.uk

News releases can also be found at http://www.kent.ac.uk/news

University of Kent on Twitter: http://twitter.com/UniKent

Notes to Editors

The University of Kent is a leading UK university producing world-class research, rated internationally excellent and leading the way in many fields of study. Our 20,000 students are based at campuses and centres in Canterbury, Medway, Brussels and Paris.

With 97% of our research judged to be of international quality in the most recent Research Assessment Framework (REF2014), our students study with some of the most influential thinkers in the world. Universities UK recently named research from the University as one of the UK’s 100 Best Breakthroughs of the last century for its significant impact on people’s everyday lives.

We are renowned for our inspirational teaching. Awarded a gold rating, the highest, in the UK Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), we were presented with the Outstanding Support for Students award at the 2018 Times Higher Education (THE) Awards for the second year running.

Our graduates are equipped for a successful future allowing them to compete effectively in the global job market. More than 95% of graduates find a job or study opportunity within six months.

The University is a truly international community with over 40% of our academics coming from outside the UK and our students representing over 150 nationalities.

We are a major economic force in south east England, supporting innovation and enterprise. We are worth £0.9 billion to the economy of the south east and support more than 9,400 jobs in the region.

In March 2018, the Government and Health Education England (HEE) announced that the joint bid by the University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University for funded places to establish a medical school has been successful. The first intake of undergraduates to the Kent and Medway Medical School will be in September 2020.

We are proud to be part of Canterbury, Medway and the county of Kent and, through collaboration with partners, work to ensure our global ambitions have a positive impact on the region’s academic, cultural, social and economic landscape.

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