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Embracing Circular Economy: A Renewed Approach to Renewable Energy Infrastructure

Writer: Jonathan PHILLIP, Krishnan SRINIVASAN

Social Media Team: Irina LIN

In the race towards a sustainable future, our commitment to renewable energy is resolute. As countries unite to achieve net-zero emissions the monumental growth in renewable energy infrastructure presents both promise and challenges. The darker side of progress reveals the mounting waste from outdated models, such as discarded solar panels and wind turbine blades. As the demand for clean energy escalates, it becomes imperative to not only revolutionize our energy sources but also redefine the way we conceive, construct, and deconstruct the infrastructure that supports it. Below are some of the approaches towards Renewable Energy Infrastructure:

1. Designing for longevity

Extending the lifespan of existing technologies, like wind farms and solar installations, reduces material demand. Prolonging a 500 MW wind farm’s life by a decade could cut copper demand by 4,400 tons over a century, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity impacts linked to copper mining. Another simple example of lifetime extension is regular maintenance in Wind farms. Repairing and updating equipment is also impactful. With all these opportunities of maintaining and refurbishing renewable components, this could add 10 years to the lifetime of the renewable technologies.

2. Material Innovation and Recycling

Circular economic thinking prompts a shift towards sustainable materials and recycling practices. In the realm of renewable energy infrastructure, this could mean exploring alternative materials that are not only eco-friendly but also conducive to recycling at the end of their life. By establishing efficient recycling loops, we can transform decommissioned infrastructure into valuable resources, reducing the burden on landfills and ensuring a stable supply of secondary materials for future designs, enhancing the sector’s resilience to supply chain disruptions. Incorporating these end-of use scenarios in the design phase, companies can position themselves strategically, ensuring resilience in the face of evolving market dynamics and regulatory landscapes.

3. Environmental Policy Revolution

Policies act as essential enablers for integrating a circular economic approach into renewable energy infrastructure. Regulatory frameworks set by governments provide the necessary guidelines for businesses to adopt circular practices, emphasizing recyclability, longevity, and responsible end-of-life strategies. In China, for example, where the government has launched policies to promote circular economy in the renewable energy sector including subsidies for the recycling of renewable energy products and materials, and tax breaks for business that develop and use recycled materials and tax breaks for businesses that develop and use recycled materials.

4. Localized Production and Community Engagement

Localized production in renewable energy, such as establishing solar panel manufacturing or wind turbine assembly plants within communities, not only reduces transportation emissions but also stimulates job creation and economic growth. Community engagement further supports circular economy practices by involving residents that own and operate renewable energy projects, ensuring equitable distribution of benefits. Collaborating with local developers allows communities to advocate for environmentally friendly practices, such as using recycled materials, and promote community-owned projects for affordable, sustainable energy solutions.

In conclusion, integrating circular economy principles into the redesign of renewable energy infrastructure is not just a choice; it's a necessity. This approach offers a blueprint for a future where clean energy is sustainable in every aspect of its existence. By prioritizing longevity, recycling, closed-loop systems, and community involvement, we can pave the way for a resilient and regenerative energy landscape that benefits both the planet and its inhabitants. Let's power the world sustainably, leaving no waste behind!

Source: Ellen Macarthur Foundation – We need to talk about renewables Part 2



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