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Spain faces ‘urgent’ end-of-life challenge as 23GW fleet ages

Spain needs to take “urgent steps” – including the introduction of incentives – to extend the life of its 23GW of onshore wind farms as almost half the country’s capacity will be 15 or more years old by 2020, according to the head of the Spanish Wind Energy Association (AEE).

Juan Virgilio Marquez, the AEE’s chief executive, told Recharge “it’s very important for us to make short-term decisions as we are now facing the last steps in the lifetime of many of these wind farms”, the majority of which use outdated technology.

“By 2030 we calculate that some 90% of the 23GW will be more than 20 years old, and 10GW will be more than 25 years old. So it’s not a problem which will be developing in the medium term, but a problem that will be happening in the short term.”

Marquez added: “Spain is one of the early European pioneers in wind farm development, because we started more than 15 years ago. There are almost 20,300 turbines installed in Spain, covering some 1,080 wind farms.”

Marquez said the Spanish government is not currently addressing any issues concerning life extension or repowering. “We think life extensions could be a very practical and cost effective solution for the future, that could help us to maintain our capacity.

“It’s very important to communicate to the government this power is not forever,” he says. “We have to extend the life or repower these assets, so Spain can meet the objectives of the different parts of the wider European clean energy package.”

Marquez says the AEE has not yet started talks with the government over any incentives for either life extension or repowering. “For repowering, although we are not yet clear about the detail, we think there will have to be some new incentives for any additional power installed.

“But on life extension we are talking about other incentives. For instance it could be helpful to have some different tax policies, such as tax relief for the additional investments made in extending a project’s life.”

Marquez said the last three or four years have been very difficult for Spanish wind companies which have mainly had to focus on technology exports due to the collapse of the domestic market, which has only recently seen the restarting of auctions for new capacity.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen to wind power in Spain, but now there is more light at the end of the tunnel. However there has now been a change as we move into new auctions, so developers have the opportunity to integrate conventional technology with the new technology which is coming.”

Wind turbine life extension involves prolonging the lifespan of a wind farm beyond its certified service life, via the replacement of certain components with the aim of maintaining minimum availability without having to make significant additional investments.

Repowering comprises dismantling and replacing existing wind turbines with new, more advanced models that are larger and more efficient, resulting in an increase in the overall generation capacity with the same level of wind availability. However, this option involves a high level of investment – sometimes as high as 85% of the cost of a new wind farm.