In the Netherlands, old wind turbines are currently being removed at a fast pace, mostly to make way for clustered, new generation wind turbines with more power. The Dutch company Business in Wind has specialized in this, particularly in very challenging projects.

Windpowernl spoke with Wim Robbertsen, Managing Director at Business in Wind since 2018. Robbertsen’s career started in earthworks and hydraulic engineering but in 2004 he was asked by the founders of Windbrokers, one of the first companies to trade in used wind turbines, to join them as project manager. That’s how he got into the wind industry. Through Windbrokers he ended up at the Indian company Global Wind Power who had just bought a license from Dutch wind turbine developer Lagerwey to start selling wind turbines worldwide. After one and a half years Robbertsen ended up at turbine manufacturer EWT where he set up the project and service department.

Meanwhile, Robbertsen continued to maintain a good relationship with Lagerwey. When Lagerwey itself became a manufacturer, he was asked in 2013 to set up the service and project department there as well. As Project and Service Director he was responsible for project realization and maintenance. One and a half years after Enercon took over, he left.

Business in Wind

At that time, the founders of Business in Wind, Peter den Braber and Johan Top, who traded in used wind turbines alongside their own businesses, saw that the, at that time still small, repowering market would grow in the Netherlands and decided to invest. Robbertsen already knew Den Braber and Top since 2005 and with his extensive network in the wind sector and international experience he was a good addition.

The first serious project was at Hoogstraten in Belgium for ENGIE in 2019. Business in Wind dismantled six Vestas V80 wind turbines here, all of which were given new uses. After this project, the company gained momentum. Robbertsen: “ENGIE wanted to promote its circular strategy at this project and therefore invited a lot of press. This provided us a very nice platform to promote Business in Wind.”

So far, Business in Wind has dismantled about 70 wind turbines. For this year, Robbertsen expects a total of about 80 wind turbines. At the moment Business in Wind disassembles mainly in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. The English and French markets are a little behind but are now coming up.

However, Business in Wind does not only work on the removal and trading of old wind turbines, Robbertsen emphasizes. “Our focus is to do the complete scope; from the removal of the wind turbines to the complete re-commissioning elsewhere in the world. For example, we are now working on a number of projects where we are doing everything for the new owners: building the roads, foundations, electrical infrastructure and performing the installation. We then transfer the turbines to a maintenance partner who will guaranteed carry out maintenance for fifteen years.”

Rather the best than the largest

Business in Wind currently has a permanent core of five people and a group of thirty persons around it. However, the company has no desire to go large-scale. Robbertsen: “The strategy of Business in Wind is to pioneer and lead the way. We would rather be the best than the largest. We want to have a core of knowledge in house and work with partners who form a good, reliable shell around this core.” The partners that Business in Wind works with a lot are Barneveldse Kraanverhuur, Koppejan Wind Services, Certion and Vlastuin Transport.

Quality and safety are paramount. The latter is still a grey area in the Netherlands. Because who takes what responsibility in this industry? There is a German DIN standard for decommissioning wind turbines and Business in Wind meets it, even better, says Robbertsen. Meanwhile, the company is doing what it can in terms of certifications. At the end of April it received the latest audit from the international certification agency DNV. Business in Wind is now ISO 9001 (management), 14001 (environment) and 45001 (safety) certified. Robbertsen: “There are not many companies that have these certifications. In that sense we have all processes in place and can work for any serious party.

The new customers are acquired by keeping an eye on the market and by being asked. They concern mainly repowering projects whereby old turbines are replaced by modern ones. In addition, the company also receives requests to remove a turbine with technical failure. The repair or replacement costs are then so high that it is no longer economically viable. Robbertsen sees this happening more and more now that the disproportionate growth of solar energy is causing an imbalance in the electricity grid, which in turn results in moderate electricity prices.

Business in Wind also provides budgets to parties such as developers, financiers and banks. For example, they calculate what it costs to dismantle a wind turbine at the end of its life. “Ultimately, it’s about money. Our strength is being able to do the sums to determine whether or not it can be done. We quantify the risks and convert them into euros,” Robbertsen explains.

Increasingly limited market for reuse

“I can’t predict it but I can do the math that in 25 years the current turbines will not be reused. Maybe some wind turbines will still get a life extension but they will not be re-built somewhere else in the world.” This, he says, has to do with the associated costs, such as in transportation and cranes. These costs are no longer proportional to the turbine’s remaining lifespan.

In addition, the cost price per kilowatt produced by new turbines is decreasing. Used turbines can no longer compete. Robbertsen: “Five to six years ago, you paid between 1,000 and 1,200 euros per kilowatt on land. That has now been reduced to 600 to 700 euros, about 30% less. I always say to potential buyers for used turbines; if you can do new and you can do big then you should not want to buy used turbines. They look surprised when I say this, but it’s all about what’s best for the customer.”

Also, the demand for used wind turbines is becoming more limited and particularly reserved for locations where there are restrictions on height and power output. National governments are increasingly imposing requirements on the age of a used wind turbine or even demoting its use by giving better power prices for new turbines. “At the moment, eighty percent is still reused and twenty percent goes into the recycling bin. In two to three years, my prediction is that these percentages will be reversed,” Robbertsen says.

The more challenging the better

What characterizes Business in Wind in particular, according to Robbertsen, is carrying out complex assignments. Even assignments that others don’t dare to undertake such as the removal of a burnt down turbine in Germany. “That’s a whole different ball game. We are there when things get complicated!”

His experience in complex projects predates Business in Wind. In 2012, for example, he helpedto install two wind turbines in Alaska for EWT to provide electricity for a small town of 3,200 inhabitants. The temperatures varied between minus 35 degrees during the day and minus 50 degrees at night. This called for a creative approach to transportation and installation. Everything had to be brought in by ship and then transported another eight kilometres over the frozen tundra floor to its final destination. Because of the frozen floor, the foundation had to be placed on top of it. An insulating layer had to ensure that the immediate surface did not thaw during the summer months with 24/7 daylight. The rotor blades were painted black so they would warm up quickly and allow the ice to melt off.

More recently, they received an application to dismantle wind turbines on the island of Ascension and install new wind turbines at St Helena, both in the middle of the South Atlantic. Or, closer to home, the installation of a wind turbine for a customer in South England where the access road is narrower than the generator.

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Vertical transport in South England

These are projects that suit us, says Robbertsen enthusiastically. The road was 3.60 meters wide but the generator 5.70 meters. Together with Vlastuin, with whom he has been working for years, a frame was developed that allowed the generator to be transported vertically instead of horizontally. With the same partner, Business in Wind also developed a frame in 2020 that allowed the same vehicle to transport two, in this case Vestas V80, rotor blades at the same time instead of one which is common. This allows for significant cost savings on international transports.

Like offshore, rotor blades for onshore wind turbines are also getting longer. This makes land transport increasingly difficult. Robbertsen: “Currently, the longest rotor blade is about 107 meters. In the Netherlands, according to the requirements of the Department of Waterways and Public Works, you cannot extend more than five meters behind your last axle for transport. This is technically not possible with this blade length. What you see happening now is that the blades are crossing fifteen meters and so far there is a policy of tolerance for this.” There are talks with the National Highway Administration, transport companies and turbine manufacturers to discuss this and see what should and should not be allowed. LM Windpower, part of GE, meanwhile, has come up with blades that can be transported in sections.

Installation and decommissioning challenges

“What we often come up against is that wind turbines have been installed somewhere and were then built around over the years,” Robbertsen says. A good example is the wind farm near the Hartelkanaal that was dismantled earlier this year. After construction, a motorway was widened alongside. This made it impossible to dismantle the wind turbines over land without temporarily closing the busy road. “They then come to me!” Robbertsen laughs, “Now it has been done via the water.”

Project in Belgium

He also cites the example of a wind turbine in Belgium where a large shed had been built next to it. “There was serious consideration to remove part of the building. I came up with a different solution. Those are the distinctive things we don’t run away from.”

Business in Wind is largely concerned with the removal of old, relatively small wind turbines and as such has not yet had any problems with crane availability and capacity. Things are different when it comes to installing the ever larger and higher wind turbines on land, Robbertsen says. The supply of cranes for these wind turbines is small and they are both large and heavy. “You’re talking about 1,500 tons on a small piece of land. The Dutch soil can no longer cope with that. Then you have to start piling, which is expensive and you also need a lot of space. In Finland, for example, we had to remove 200 metres of forest to be able to erect the installation crane.”

For a large crane, you easily need more than fifty trucks to bring the crane parts to the installation site. “You then spend a week building up a crane, then two to three days on lifting and installation, and then another week dismantling,” Robbertsen says. He thinks that with the higher onshore turbines, a climbing crane will eventually play a major role.

Offshore decommissioning & recycling

Although Business in Wind’s assignments are mainly onshore, the company is also preparing for the decommissioning of wind turbines at sea. For example, it is working with a number of other Dutch parties on a solution to completely remove monopiles from the seabed. Work on the project has been underway for four years and the partners hope to begin testing next year.

Business in Wind is also looking at how to deal with composite. The company has been discussing this with other market participants and is contributing to a report on the subject. It is even looking at the possibility of separating materials for recycling entirely at sea, via a so-called floating, recycling street. Robbertsen does not want to say much more about this at the moment. To be continued.

Text: Sabine Lankhorst

This article appeared in the September edition of Windpowernl magazine

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