Wind energy and the environment | WindEurope
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Wind energy and the environment

Wind energy offshores big environmental benefits

Wind is a clean source of energy.

  • Wind is a clean, free, and readily available renewable energy source. In 2019 wind energy saved 118 million tonnes of CO2 in Europe and could save up to 270 million tonnes in 2030 – the equivalent of Spain’s annual CO2 emissions.
  • Wind does not need to be mined or shipped and the more we use, the closer Europe gets to real energy independence.
  • Operating wind turbines do not emit greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide ( CO2) or any other air pollutant such as nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulphur oxide (SOx), or particulate matter (PM).

Wind energy is sustainable.

  • Wind energy’s water footprint is almost zero, unlike most other forms of electricity generation.
  • Although there are CO2 emissions associated with the construction, transport, operation and dismantling of wind turbines these emissions are paid back in less than one year of operation.
  • Wind turbines are made of standard materials such as concrete, steel, and composite materials for blades. The cement used for turbine foundations is an inert material that does not pollute the soil.
  • The wind industry and its supply chain are working to develop resource-efficient and sustainable materials, such as low-carbon steel and recyclable composites for blades.
  • Different turbine models use different quantities of rare earths, mainly in permanent magnets. WindEurope is part of the European Raw Materials Alliance which is working to develop a permanent magnet supply chain for Europe. The industry is working to improve material efficiency, recycling, and substitution.

Wind farms allow for a sustainable use of land and sea.

  • Wind turbines can be built on farms and coexist with many forms of agricultural and other activities.
  • Wind farms can have positive effects on biodiversity by helping to preserve habitats and ecosystems. Once wind farms have been built their sites are left undisturbed for many years. Many onshore wind farms contain areas of pollinator-friendly habitat.
  • At offshore wind farms bottom trawling and dredging cannot take place, which helps us preserve the seabed.
  • The wind industry works with local partners to maximise this positive impact. This has led, for example, to artificial reef substructures being added in between offshore wind turbines to further enhance biodiversity.

We know how to manage and mitigate our impacts

We can prevent impacts by adequately planning, siting, and designing wind farms.

  • We are committed to protecting the natural environment (wildlife and plant life) where we develop our projects. We consider the impacts of individual wind farms and their cumulative long-term impacts and do everything we can to prevent, manage and mitigate them.
  • Before construction all our projects are assessed by a rigorously independent planning and approval process. We carry out Environmental Impact Assessments to identify all the potential impacts of the wind farms and their supporting facilities such as access roads.
  • We work proactively with local communities, environmental NGOs, scientists and authorities to take their specific concerns into account when assessing the impact of a wind farm. Whether this means avoiding bird migratory corridors or minimising visual impact, we leave no stone unturned.

We have measures in place to minimise our impacts during installation.

  • The installation phase of a wind farm is time-limited, and we have an array of measures and techniques to minimise its impact.
  • We avoid building a wind farm during bird nesting season and reduce noise pollution for marine life in offshore wind farms using technology such as air bubble curtains and hydro sound dampers.

We take additional measures to protect birds and bats.

  • The impact of wind farms on birds and bats is extremely low compared to the impact of climate change and other human activity. It is also far lower than the impact of other forms of power generation – research shows 0.3 bird fatalities per gigawatt-hour of wind compared with 5.2 bird fatalities per gigawatt-hour of fossil fuel generation.
  • Some species are more vulnerable than others, such as birds of prey and sea ducks. We work closely with local authorities and bird specialists to prevent and / or reduce the impact of wind farms on these species.
  • Through good planning and siting, we take measures to deter birds and bats from wind turbines. Where appropriate, we use sound or ultrasound or decoy systems. When required by the specific local context, we can even equip wind turbines with a special feature that stops the rotor from spinning when birds or bats fly too close.

We take the issue of noise very seriously.

  • The latest wind turbine models are much quieter than older ones. We have made major improvements in design and technology and have almost eliminated mechanically generated noise. We have also significantly reduced aerodynamic noise created by the motion of blades through wind and continue to work on this.
  • Noise levels are strictly regulated and assessed during the planning process and operational life of wind farms. National regulations restrict the sound of wind turbines. The maximum allowable limit varies between 40 to 55 decibels by day and is reduced by 5 to 10 decibels by night depending on the country.

We take care of wind turbines at the end of their operational lives.

  • The standard lifetime of a wind farm is around 20-25 years, with some wind turbines now lasting up to 35 years through lifetime extension (by upgrading some of the components of wind turbines).
  • Wherever possible, wind farms are repowered (by replacing old wind turbines with new ones). The latest wind turbine models are 6-10 times more powerful than early ones. When we repower an old windfarm, we generally treble its output while requiring a third fewer turbines, which is far more sustainable.
  • When wind turbines reach the end of their life, project developers take them down and restore the site to its pre-existing condition. 85 to 90% of a wind turbine’s total mass can be recycled. Most components of a wind turbine – the foundation, tower, and nacelle components – are treated according to established recycling practices.
  • Rotor blades are made of composite materials. We treat them according to the EU’s waste hierarchy:
    • We prioritise their reuse. We upgrade and reuse them in lifetime-extension projects. When we do not reuse them in lifetime-extension projects, we repurpose them for urban furniture such as bridges, playgrounds, or benches.
    • For decommissioned blades that cannot be reused or repurposed we can do “recovery” e.g. through cement co-processing: part of the blades is used to replace the raw materials needed for cement, while the rest is used to generate heat for the cement manufacturing process.
    • We are working to make the blades fully recyclable. This is a cross-sectoral challenge. Composite materials are also used by the marine, transport, aeronautics, construction and building sectors. Wind will account for only 5% of total composite waste by 2025.
    • WindEurope has called for a Europe-wide landfill ban on decommissioned wind turbine blades by 2025. This means the European wind industry commits to re-use, recycle or recover 100% of decommissioned blades by 2025. WindEurope has teamed up with Cefic (the European Chemical Industry Council) and EuCIA (the European Composites Industry Association) to create a platform dedicated to seeking the best technologies, processes, waste flow management, value chain reintegration and logistics for recycling blades and composites more generally.
Electric City 2021