Some 65 GW of onshore wind turbine capacity in Europe will reach their end-of-design life by 2028, according to new research from Wood Mackenzie.

In a new report, ‘European Onshore Wind Lifetime Extension Outlook’, Wood Mackenzie says that over the next decade, an average of 4 GW of onshore wind turbines per year will be suitable for lifetime extension (LTE).

However it says that while upgrading components to extend the life of a turbine is much cheaper than alternative options available, not all asset owners will choose to implement a LTE solution.

"The decision to extend the operational lifetime of turbine assets depends on asset owner strategies, project economics and site and turbine operating conditions,” said Daniel Liu, Wood Mackenzie Principal Analyst. “Distributed sites – those with three or less turbines – are economically less suitable for operating beyond design lifetime with considerable refurbishment and/or upgrade work.

“Larger sites need to balance regulatory issues, financial risks, technical challenges and operational challenges to make lifetime extensions economically viable.”

According to the report, complete turbine repowering is one of the solutions proposed to maintain the existing capacity of the European onshore wind turbine fleet. This involves the wholesale replacement of old turbines with new technology.

However, the costs of new technology, permitting issues, regulatory hurdles and asset owner resources make repowering a daunting proposition for many operators. LTE is an alternative to decommissioning or complete repowering.

“We have identified 42 GW of turbines reaching end-of-life by 2028 that have a commercially available LTE solution,” added Liu.

In the report, Wood Mackenzie adds that Europe’s leading onshore wind energy markets – including Germany, Spain, the UK and France – are unlikely to meet their 2020 renewable energy targets, and so new regulation is needed to prevent wholesale removal of wind capacity.

“Currently, minimal regulatory support is offered for repowered and LTE projects, forcing asset owners to operate in a merchant power market,” said Liu. “However, the introduction of the post-2020 Renewable Energy Directive should provide clarity for asset owners to decide on whether to decommission, repower, or extend the lifetime of their onshore wind assets.”