Extending the Lifespan of Renewables

Efforts to make renewable energy systems last longer also make them more sustainable.

Replacing the fossil fuel-based economy with one powered by renewable energy such as solar and wind is a key part of the playbook to combat climate change. Yet, some climate change activists have questioned the efficacy of wind and solar energy sources and challenged whether they are indeed environmentally sustainable. Production of solar arrays and wind turbines require energy and materials, however despite major improvements to the durability of these systems, solar panels generally last for about 20 years, after which their productivity isn’t guaranteed. The blades of wind turbines have similar longevity. Both are difficult to recycle and failure to reuse the components can lead to waste problems. Though there’s much work to be done to improve these aspects of renewables, some companies are taking steps in the right direction.

Re-powering of Wind Facilities

Renewable energy-developer Longroad Energy is taking two aging wind facilities in Minnesota and investing $128 million with the goal of extending their usefulness by 30 years. The facilities are Community Wind North and Jeffers Wind and are geared to have a combined output of 70 megawatts after the rehabilitation. The work is being financed by KeyBank and HSBC, and the facilities will be purchased by Xcel Energy once complete.

“We are grateful for the support of the project landowners and communities. This is one of the first re-powering projects in Minnesota, so there was not a lot of precedent to rely on. The regulatory community was constructive and supportive,” said Paul Gaynor, CEO of Longroad.  “Xcel Energy’s support was also critical in getting the projects across the finish line. We are pleased to have come to an agreement to sell these assets to Xcel Energy once the re-powering is completed.”

The project was announced at the beginning of 2020 with an initial completion expected by year’s end, however it’s unclear if that timeline has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although oil markets experienced heavy losses from the onset of the shelter-in-place orders, renewable energy stock market earnings such as wind, solar and geothermal have risen. The increased investment could bode well for new renewable projects as well as the re-powering of old wind farms. The re-powering not only extends the life of some of the existing materials, it can also increase efficiency.

Enphase Microinverters Promise Longevity

Last month Enphase Energy and Sunlogics announced that they’re teaming up to deliver custom solar panel systems to residential properties in Belgium. Under the partnership Sunlogics will be installing its solar systems equipped with Enphase’s IQ 7 and IQ 7+ microinverters, which are designed to be longer-lived, backed by a 25-year warranty. They’ve also been tested to perform well under heat, high humidity, salty air and extreme cold.

“Our residential customers who purchase a solar system using Enphase microinverters are looking at the long term,” said Daniel Vanwetswinkel, CEO at Sunlogics. “When we meet with prospective customers, we are able to validate their potential return on investment by choosing Enphase microinverters. While an installation with string inverters might seem less expensive, the requirement to replace them after twelve years means the price advantage is lost. Enphase microinverters are backed with a 25-year limited warranty, making them more cost-effective.”