Wind power is touted as one of the cleanest and most sustainable means of harnessing fossil-free energy from the environment. In use for decades, it’s now a significant energy source for many countries around the globe. When it comes to long-term environmental and ecological impact, however, wind power may not be as pollution-free as it appears.
Old Windmills Create A New Waste Problem
When wind turbines are no longer useable, they are disassembled and the blades and other components usually end up in landfills. These parts are made from composites that will take centuries to decompose and can pose some risks of pollution to soil and water. Many of the oldest modern wind turbines—erected in the 1990s and early 2000s—are now coming to the end of their operational life. So will follow many others: in Europe alone, 52,000 wind turbine blades will need to be disposed of by 2030. Unless a better solution is found, that’s a lot of waste material that will end up in landfills.
Proponents of wind energy and producers of turbines are not ready to denounce this means of energy generation. Siemens Gamesa, a turbine maker in Spain recently launched a new version of turbine blades that can be recycled. They are still made from composites, but carbon and glass fiber can be more easily recovered for reuse in various products, including automobile parts and monitors. Siemens has called their innovation a “major milestone in a society that puts care for the environment at its heart” and expects the recyclable blades to become a standard for wind energy.
Can Green Energy Become Truly Sustainable?
Apart from managing waste when wind power components come to the end of their lives, trade associations, environmental groups, and manufacturers are looking for solutions that make turbine production more sustainable at the front end of the process, including in the production of the steel, iron, and concrete required to erect a windmill.
Carbon capture and storage have been suggested as an option for getting wind power closer to carbon-neutral from start to finish. New restrictions on turbine landfill disposal have also been suggested as a means of spurring better recycling and recovery innovations.
What do you think of this issue and the problem of keeping green energy generation truly sustainable? Comment and share your thoughts.