As new innovations are constantly being developed in the rapidly evolving field of wind energy, solar energy and energy storage, older technologies need to be replaced. Repowering and decommissioning represents the final phase in the life cycle of our three technologies, following the initial development phase, the construction and installation phase, and the operation and maintenance phase.
During the project-development stage, experts forecast the useful lifespan of the entire renewable power generation system. But many of Canada’s existing wind and solar power generators are expected to outlast their contracted timeline, thanks to reliable technology and diligent operations and maintenance over the years. Just because a contract has reached its expiry date, it doesn’t mean the components have.
Many wind and solar projects coming up to the end of their operational life can be readily “re-powered.” That is to say, the site can be upgraded by replacing older wind turbines, solar panels, inverters or other components with newer, more efficient equipment, to take advantage of technological advancements that have taken place since the construction of the project.
For example, solar panels could be replaced with newer, more efficient models, with the same dimensions, to fit onto the existing racking system. For wind energy, more efficient blades, generators, or even taller towers could be established.
The ability to repower a site hinges on a few key considerations, such as the health of the foundations and other components on the site, the economics of the power being generated at the site, and the new technology available.
Repowering a site prolongs the life of the project and helps to postpone the need for new project development.
But eventually, the owner of the equipment may choose to decommission a site entirely. Due to economics, regular wear and tear or other factors, it may be necessary to remove the project and return the land to its original state.
Decommissioning consists of dismantling the site by extracting the recyclable materials like steel, concrete and glass, and properly disposing of any other components in compliance with local requirements.
Currently, the industry is beginning to ramp up capabilities to handle some of the unique parts of wind, solar and energy-storage projects, such as fiberglass wind-turbine blades, lithium-ion batteries and solar panels. [See CanREA’s “Recyling and Renewables” resources, here: Recycling wind turbine blades, Recycling solar panels, recycling lithium-ion batteries. ] We aim to be ready when these reverse-supply chains are needed. With sustainability at the heart of our industry, circular economy principles are top of mind.
To date, there have been very few decommissioned or repowered sites in Canada, due to our relatively young fleets, our technologies that are exceeding expectations, and our systems that are kept in top condition thanks to good maintenance practices advocated by CanREA.
Nevertheless, CanREA is already working with members to develop a responsible approach to the end-of-life process for the future, one that is true to the sustainability and safety offered at all stages of the life cycle of our technologies.
Explore all the content in the “Life Cycle” section of the website to learn more about the four phases of the life cycle of our technologies: Phase 1: Development. Phase 2: Construction and Installation. Phase 3: Operations and Maintenance. Phase 4: Repowering and Decommissioning.