As the power industry gets progressively more sustainable, you’re likely among those feeling upbeat about the future. There are good reasons for that, but the people working in the industry must ensure they plan for responsible end-of-life strategies for the equipment and facilities. Here are some thoughtful and effective ways to do that.
Hire a Company for Environmental Risk Transfer Services
The professionals working at coal-fired power plants usually know how to keep those facilities running but must learn how to decommission them. The United States is one of many nations that is progressively shutting down its power stations and will do so over the next several decades.
One of the most sustainable ways to take that approach is to transfer the task to a company specializing in environmental risk transfer (ERT) services. In such cases, that business acquires the power plant from the utility provider, handles the decommissioning, and tackles the necessary environmental remediation of the site according to applicable regulations.
Many utility providers choose this option over self-decommissioning because it eliminates all associated risks from decommissioning the utility’s balance sheet. That’s because the ERT provider assumes them.
In one case, Texas Municipal Power Agency decision-makers agreed to have an ERT service provider decommission the Gibbons Creek Steam Electric Station and Reservoir, encompassing a 6,166-acre property. One part of the strategy included recycling 650,000 cubic yards of ash materials. People working on this project will also convert 62.8 acres of ash ponds into natural wetlands.
Hiring an entity specializing in ERT services for power plants is a practical approach to ensuring the process gets done correctly and in ways that maximally benefit the environment. Although utility company representatives can proceed with an internal decommissioning strategy instead, that may be more time-consuming and less effective overall.
Prioritize Recycling the Materials When Feasible
Fortunately, many pieces of standard equipment in the power industry can be removed and recycled. People researching the possibilities for improved end-of-life management are always searching for ways to make recycling easier and faster.
Researchers in Sydney, Australia, want to extend the life span of solar panels to at least 50 years. They’ve also noticed a trend of some people replacing solar installations with new equipment, even though the initial products still work well.
The good news is solar panels have up to 95% recyclable materials. When panels get recycled in Australia, the most common process is to put them through a shredding machine that breaks them into smaller pieces suitable for various other uses. However, the researchers said the biggest issue with this process is it does not allow for the extraction of rare metals. They’re looking for realistic alternatives.
Another possibility is for government officials to enact product stewardship programs whereby manufacturers and other responsible entities share the duty of recycling or disposing of the equipment in environmentally sustainable ways.
Recycling options also extend to equipment such as wind turbines and transformers. However, another sustainable strategy is to consider replacing or repairing the equipment before assuming it’s at the end of its life. Many of the same companies that sell parts or offer repairs will also purchase power equipment clients no longer need, and then recycle those components appropriately.
Consider Second-Life Strategies
Automotive industry professionals know about second-life batteries. These power sources are no longer suitable for use in cars, but they still have 70-80% residual capacity that could be valuable elsewhere. Many of the eventual use cases show what’s possible in sustainable power once these batteries reach the end of their useful lives for car applications.
Consider one example of a 25-megawatt-hour grid-scale stationary storage system in California. It operates with 1,300 previously used electric vehicle batteries.
One of the perks of this system is the batteries can stay in their original pack casings when deploying. That makes this strategy more cost-effective than options requiring prior removal. The people behind this effort also said this approach works with any type of electric car battery, although they tested it with those from Honda, Nissan, and Tesla electric vehicles.
Elsewhere, a team from Nottingham Trent University is playing a significant role in a large second-life battery project. The goal is to prevent up to 9 million tons of battery waste from reaching landfills annually.
The project involves 11 European organizations working together toward several aims. These include a standardized labeling system for second-life batteries, a transportation proposal for their safe transportation, and the exploration of automated battery dismantling systems for more efficient recycling. Even if all the evaluated options aren’t fruitful, people will undoubtedly learn valuable takeaways.
End-of-Life Power Equipment Management Is a Shared Responsibility
It’s understandable for people to feel excited and hopeful about how many places worldwide are progressively more reliant on renewable energy. However, seeing the best outcomes of those projects requires people to remain aware of and forward-thinking about what to do with power equipment that can no longer serve its initial purpose.
These strategies are primarily for people in the power industry to apply. However, anyone interested in the future of modern energy should remain abreast of developments in this area and act to encourage the relevant parties to use them.