One of the most important reasons to choose renewable energy over incumbent technologies is because renewables take the long view. They meet our most immediate needs without jeopardizing the next generation’s livable future.
However, this entire well-intentioned mission can’t work if renewable technologies themselves aren’t built to last and don’t receive the upkeep they need for long and productive service lives. Here’s a look at some of the best ways to prolong their use so our assets continue serving us faithfully into the future.
1. Perform a Lifetime Extension Assessment
Wind turbines are fairly robust pieces of machinery. Most design specifications call for a service life of around 20 years. However, even low-cost maintenance and repairs can extend this life if the right care is taken. If an operator is faced with the decision to decommission a wind turbine or evaluate it for extended service, a lifetime extension assessment can help.
Several official groups, including the German Association of Wind Energy, have published sets of technical requirements to be considered during lifetime extension assessments. Receiving a positive result from a lifetime extension assessment requires access to the right information.
2. Collect the Right Data
In addition to performing ongoing maintenance and repairs, extending the service life of a wind turbine requires data. Its structural integrity is determined over time by several measurable factors, one of which is the intensity and duration of wind experienced over its service life to date.
Operators can, and should, retain all 20 years’ worth of historical data regarding environmental conditions and the general operation of the equipment. Physical examinations of the turbine will turn up obvious issues, but this information is invaluable during end-of-life evaluations when you need trustworthy data.
3. Consider Terrain From Day One
Solar panels and wind turbines are considered ecologically friendly ways to power the built world. However, like anything else, failing to develop solar or wind farms in harmony with their surrounding environment can create problems. One issue that may crop up, and disrupt or shorten the lifetime of a renewable energy installation, is soil erosion.
Because they shade portions of the ground, solar panels slow down plant growth in the area. Because there are fewer plants, there’s less vegetation keeping the soil in place. It’s possible that, over time, the effect will compound itself and make the site unsuitable for generating energy.
To avoid some of the worst erosion and prolong the life of the site and equipment, many solar installers and landscapers recommend planting a mixture of shade-loving and full-sun grasses. Over time, these plants will self-select to cover the area with the most suitable candidates and ensure there’s plenty of vegetation to keep the soil in place.
Failing to take stormwater management into account early in the project can also cut its life dramatically shorter. Solar farms are attractive investments because they make use of sloped land that isn’t useful for very many other applications. However, it’s important to understand the topography, drainage, runoff, peak water flow and numerous other characteristics before choosing a site and developing it.
4. Implement Industrial IoT Solutions
Whether it’s a renewable energy installation or a piece of industrial machinery, the Internet of Things offers an unprecedented look into the performance and condition of difficult-to-see and out-of-reach components. Multiple sensors can monitor how efficiently power is transferred, or whether temperature is within tolerances. Then, it’s possible to foresee maintenance issues before they become bigger problems and cause downtime and lost profits.
Power generation and distribution facilities will only grow more geographically dispersed over time. Whether it’s hydropower, geothermal, wind or solar, clean energy can enter the power grid from just about anywhere. Remotely monitoring each of these assets with IoT sensors and automated controls is a great way to reduce the stresses of mechanical failure over time.
Planning for a Long Service Life
Renewables come to us at an important moment. Clean energy can help us prevent the worst of climate change, but we have to build solar, wind, geothermal and hydro plants with longevity in mind. Every renewable energy installation will reach its end of life eventually. Still, it’s possible to minimize the number of times we start anew on the same sites and reduce the materials we use in the process.