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Reducing waste in manufacturing is imperative for the wind industry

image credit: Olivier Fontan, CEO at blade manufacturer LM Wind Power

With careful planning and utilising materials within a circular economy, the wind industry can reduce its waste during the production process, says Olivier Fontan, the new CEO at blade manufacturer LM Wind Power


According to International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) 2020 Global Renewables Outlook report, in order to set the world on a pathway towards meeting the aims of the Paris Agreement, energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions need to be reduced by a minimum of 3.8% per year – that is 70% less than today’s level by 2050, with continued reductions thereafter.

Within this scenario, the share of renewables would need to increase to 28% by 2030 and 65% by 2050. Wind power would be a major electricity generation source, supplying more than a third of total electricity demand, which would require 6 TW of onshore and offshore wind (compared to 650 GW installed as of 2019).

While the wind industry is poised for this growth, all industry leaders must ask: How can we deliver this growth – scaling up everything including product size, manufacturing footprint, equipment and logistics – in a safe, cost-effective, sustainable way?

As we push forward with innovations in materials and design, we cannot forget about the basics. We need to clean up our waste and to avoid creating that waste in the first place.

 

NOT ALL WASTE IS VISIBLE

When people think about waste, it is natural to first think about the objects that end up in the bin. That is the waste you can see. But we need to also consider the waste that is less visible, like excess electricity usage, CO2 emissions throughout the product lifecycle and manufacturing inefficiencies.

Regarding visible waste, all manufacturing businesses have some amount of wasted material in production. This represents both a waste of valuable resources and a cost to the business; why pay for materials and then pay again to dispose of them without using them in your product?

Blade manufacturers report approximately 20% waste during the manufacturing process. To continue to deliver on our clean energy and sustainability promise, it is imperative for the wind industry to reduce waste during manufacturing. At the same time, it must also develop materials that can be recycled into a circular economy following the production process and also at the wind turbine blade’s end-of-life.

In this sense, more value can be gained from the virgin materials, as they can be recycled into new blades, or recycled into another value chain. Extending the life of the materials also significantly reduces CO2 emissions from the wind turbine blade lifecycle.

When it comes to less-visible waste, improvement begins with strong data and processes. For this reason, LM Wind Power began reporting on sustainability indicators in 2010 as a signatory to the UN Global Compact and became the first carbon neutral business in the wind industry in 2018. Building on this data and processes, we were able to identify opportunities to save on emissions and cost. Through energy efficiency initiatives $2.6 million was saved on energy bills already in the first year of LM Wind Power’s carbon neutrality programme.

We need to stop talking about sustainability programmes or projects as separate from business objectives to reduce cost and improve efficiency. To me, emissions equal waste. Reducing these emissions is both a driver and result of a lean mindset.

 

SUSTAINABLE MINDSET

Being lean is neither a set of tools nor an initiative; it is a mindset that must become embedded in everything we do, as a way of working across the organisation, starting with the factories. The same should be said about sustainability.

I have worked in a manufacturing environment, including the automotive and power generation industry, for many years and applied a lean methodology to improve operational efficiency, reduce defects and create customer value. This practice can be applied in the wind industry to drive waste reduction and recycling, but also to improve productivity, quality, safety and overall efficiency, resulting in cost savings.

There are tools that you need to apply to get to the root of the problem and find a sustainable solution:

  • Identify the root cause of a problem through ‘Five Whys’ – This repeated questioning allows teams to diagnose problems without any statistical analysis and often identifies multiple root causes and the relationships between them
  • Continuous Flow – Call on teams to manufacture smaller batches to allow for regular examination of the output and make any necessary improvements for the next batch, thereby eliminating waste
  • Five Ss (Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardise and Sustain) – Focus on workplace efficiency and effectiveness. Dictate how teams should organise materials and keep workstations clean to maximise efficiency and reduce accidents in plants
  • Three Ps (Production, Process, Preparation) – Eliminate waste through product and process design

Once we embark on this journey, we bring about cultural change in the organisation, influence people’s behaviours and actions and empower them to incorporate sustainability into their overall priorities. I strongly urge wind industry captains to reduce both visible and invisible waste as a lever to achieve sustainable, cost-effective growth in the years to come.


Find more in-depth articles and expert opinion pieces on the energy transition on FORESIGHT Climate & Energy

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 15, 2020 9:25 pm GMT

Good point-- we've been hearing plenty about the end of life of wind turbines and disposal/recycling of the equipment, but sustainability needs embracing at the beginning of life too

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