Circular wind farms

01-02-2022 IRO news, Netherlands Suppliers Catalogue

Circular wind farms

Offshore wind farms are an important solution for generating renewable energy and in the upcoming years, their contribution to energy transition will increase considerably.

However, when looking at offshore wind farms with a much wider view on sustainability, lots of steps need to be taken to make this source of renewable energy carbon neutral. Circular wind farms could be a valuable solution here. The report ‘The Ideation Process Focused on Circular Strategies in the Wind Industry’, was recently published by ECHT, and Offshore Industry talks with this agency’s Owner and Managing Director Erwin Coolen.

Real contribution

ECHT was established three years ago by Erwin Coolen and Hans Timmers. The founders’ initials can also be found in the agency’s name. “Today,” Mr Coolen explains, “ECHT stands for Energy, Circularity, Human Capital, and Transition, as these are the topics we are dedicated to. I have always been involved in wind energy, among others at Vestas. Over the past few years, I became somewhat tired of the ample publications on energy transition that never actually led to any tangible results. We started ECHT with the goal to really contribute (editor: ECHT means ‘really’ in Dutch) to a more sustainable world. We are a young team of twenty enthusiasts working together with partners in various projects, all of us contributing to the acceleration towards renewable electrification.”


He continues, “Our efforts are initiated by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the so-called Earth Overshoot Day, which marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a year exceeds what earth can regenerate in that year. In 2020, for example, this day fell on 22 August.” In Mr Coolen’s opinion, circularity can highly contribute to extending this Earth Overshoot Day for as long as possible. “Our intentions might sound a bit lofty, but although we operate from an idealistic approach, we don’t forget a realistic economic view.” Mr Coolen gives an example, “You may have heard of the ten Rs of circularity. These are: Rethink, Redesign, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Refurbish, Remanufacture, Repurpose, Recycle, and Recover. All of these represent a way to make a more or less circular product. We have added an eleventh R to this, namely Respect. We should respect nature, but also each other. A product that is produced in a circular way could become more expensive when compared to non-circular alternatives. With respect for nature and each other, we should as a consumer accept a higher consumer price, or we should as a supplier take a lower profit to help a producer with a suitable business case for a circular product.”

Moonshot project

When looking at wind energy, both onshore and offshore, much can be said about the current lack of circularity of the entire supply chain of offshore windfarms. Mr Coolen elaborates, “Like CEO of WindEurope Giles Dickson recently said: in supplying a sustainable product, the wind energy industry should also look for a sustainable construction and installation of wind turbines. Take, for example, rotor blades. They are currently usually made of composites. Because of this, it is barely possible to recycle them. The first large scale offshore wind farms will soon be decommissioned, leaving us with around 15,000 rotor blades and no idea of what to do with them. The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy in August 2020 initiated the Circular Wind Moonshot project. Mr Coolen continues, “The goal of this project is to take concrete steps towards the integration of circularity in the wind industry and to realise transformations in the supply chain.” The project consists of three phases: elaborating on circular strategies and action agenda topics, working out concrete action agendas and finally, executing these agendas.”

Circular wind hub

“The Moonshot project,” Mr Coolen explains, “resulted in the report that we published in March of this year, which was presented to Kadri Simson, Commissioner of Energy of the European Commissiong. The report addresses the findings of phase 1 and makes suggestions on actions regarding phase 2. Phase 2 describes nine circular action agenda projects. As from spring 2021, these projects are initiated and aim – as from phase 3 – to accelerate the road towards a circular wind industry.” Phase 2 of the project describes a so-called circular wind hub consisting of a knowledge hub, policy hub, and industrial hub. These three hubs further develop demonstration projects, legislation, industry standards, cross-sector, and international collaborations. “A circular wind farm,” Mr Cooles voices, “starts with the collaboration of governments as they should look, for example, at their tender procedures and permit criteria. There should be a change from a cost-driven focus to a circular driven focus, a move towards criteria based on the reuse of resources, and a change towards economically, socially, and environmentally sound and responsible criteria.


When looking at the knowledge hub, we should aim at sharing knowledge and expertise. The industrial hub is focusing on the collaboration for a proposal that will be submitted to ERMA (European Raw Materials Alliance) to receive their support to extract, design, manufacture, and recycle materials; support with innovation, strategic investment, and industrial production across specific value chains; and support with implementing a circular economy for the wind industry.” For the latter purpose, the project was also presented in Brussels at an ERMA meeting in April. “Of course, the Netherlands has realised and announced various offshore wind projects, although for the parts, pieces, and the raw materials to be used, one should at least consider a European context for realising circularity. Today, around 98% of the raw materials is mined in China. Recent developments show that we should try to realise a less dependable situation for Europe. Circularity should play an important role in this, too.”

Pilot project

According to Mr Coolen, the project showed a high involvement from the wind industry. “The industry has highly contributed to the project, and now it is time for a next step to bring the ideas and suggestions from the industry into practice. This will obviously take time. Producing wind farms in a circular way will lead to a new industry requiring large investments and great opportunities. It is good to know that we can learn a lot from other industries, including the automotive industry, which are a lot further with circularity than our industry. According to the European Green Deal, achieving a climate-neutral and circular economy requires the full mobilisation of the entire industry. It also states that it will take on average 25 years to transform an industrial sector and its value chain. It is hence important to keep up the pace. Our next step is to establish within the coming years an industrial pilot project in which all aspects of realising a circular wind farm are implemented. From the learnings of this pilot project, we can further work towards a full-scale circular wind industry.”

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Credit – Andrew Saunders  – Copyright – equinor – Sheringham Shoal windfarm – 3061790
Photo courtesy of Equinor/Andrew Saunder
Yellow & Finch Publishers