The renewable energy industry needs to adopt the ideas of a circular economy, according to researchers at the University of Leeds.
In a new study published in the journal Sustainable Production and Consumption, the researchers have said that by creating an economy where equipment is reused or remanufactured when it reaches the end of its life it would reduce the environmental cost of the infrastructure.
The technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines and batteries often use copper, rare metals and novel composites which are damaging because of the way they are extracted and proceeded.
According to the study, currently, the industry is giving little consideration into what will happen to this infrastructure at the end of its service life – which for some technologies will be within the next decade.
According to the study, current practices rely on recycling, ‘sustainable incineration’ or material going into landfill.
Dr Paul Jensen, lead author of the study said: ‘It is increasingly crucial for decommissioning to be seen as a point of system regeneration, not an endpoint.
‘In a perfect world, we would have in the region of ten years to innovate and scale up industrial solutions that can ensure sustainable and resource-conserving solutions for offshore wind farms and many other low carbon technologies.
‘Given the early stage in which many of the end-of-use solutions still are, that is not a lot of time.’
Dr Anne Velenturf, a researcher at the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Leeds, added: ‘Low carbon infrastructure risks falling into the same mistakes as oil and gas and nuclear infrastructure decommissioning, resulting in significant losses of carbon savings and a clean-up bill that could be four to ten times higher than anticipated by the industry.
‘It is important to learn from previous decommissioning experiences and enable the integration of circular economy approaches into the design, operation and end-of-use management of low carbon infrastructure sectors.’
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