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Time to renew our efforts

For the UK to meet its net zero targets by 2050, renewable energy will play an increasingly important role in the total energy mix, with wind power continuing to be a central focus. Steve Boyle, Regional Sales Engineer MRO at Schaeffler UK, discusses how important the MRO business is in creating truly green energy for the renewable industry, helping the UK meet its targets.

The Climate Change Committee recently reported that whilst the UK has published plans to tackle climate change, the country is not moving fast enough to reach its 2050 net zero targets. A critical part of the UK strategy is to transition to an electricity system with 100% zero-carbon generation, with much of this expected to come from renewable energy. The UK government has set energy providers a target for all electricity to come from 100% zero-carbon generation by 2035.

Today, there are four main renewable energy sources: wind, solar, hydroelectric and bioenergy. According to the National Grid, in 2022, wind power contributed 26.8% of the UK’s total electricity generation, with biomass 5.2%, solar power 4.4% and hydro-electric (including tidal power) 1.8%. The figures are certainly moving in the right direction: zero-carbon power in the UK’s electricity mix has grown from less than 20% in 2010 to more than 50% in December 2022. But we need to do more.

Renewable, clean or green?

As the terms are sometimes confused, it’s worth pointing out the differences between green energy, clean energy and renewable energy. Green energy is energy that can be produced using a method, and from a source, that causes no harm to the natural environment. Clean energy is energy that, when used, creates little or no green-house gas emissions. Renewable energy, sometimes referred to as sustainable energy, comes from sources that are constantly and naturally renewed, such as wind power and solar power.

The importance of renewable energy

According to the United Nations (UN), around 80% of the world’s population lives in countries that are net-importers of fossil fuels, making them vulnerable to geopolitical shocks and crises. In contrast, renewable energy sources are available in all countries, however their potential has yet to be fully harnessed. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that 90% of the world’s electricity can and should come from renewable energy by 2050.

Renewables are becoming an increasingly competitive power option in many parts of the world today and the prices are dropping rapidly. For example, according to the UN, the costs of onshore and offshore wind energy between 2010 and 2020 fell by 56% and 48% respectively.

Supporting wind power in the UK

Cost effective wind turbines require reliable components. As market leader and strategic development partner, Schaeffler has been supplying reliable bearing solutions for onshore and offshore wind turbines for more than 30 years. Rolling bearings from Schaeffler can be found in every second to third wind turbine worldwide.

The progression to multi-megawatt wind turbines is resulting in higher loads and torques, which place the components under even greater strain, while the costs associated with downtime and maintenance work in the event of a failure are becoming increasingly higher, particularly where offshore systems are involved.

Bearings with reduced friction

It is important that wind energy is not just renewable, but green too. This means looking at the whole lifecycle of the turbine, such as maintenance of products, this is where Schaeffler comes in. The uptime of a wind turbine depends on the reliability of its bearings. Bearings from Schaeffler are helping to improve the efficiency and reliability of many types of wind turbines. By using in-house calculation and simulation programs, we can ensure that bearing designs are optimised for wind power applications. The entire system is considered, from individual rolling bearings and their components through to the entire power transmission system.

It's not just about supplying the right bearing solutions though, it’s also about maintenance, repair and operations (MRO). We are working closely with wind turbine developers, manufacturers and operators. Schaeffler offers condition monitoring systems to help maximise equipment availability. Crystal Rig wind farm in Scotland, for example, has installed our condition monitoring systems on its turbines, allowing components to be remotely monitored by Schaeffler.

The process of remanufacturing bearings can also support renewable energy sources taking their next steps to becoming green. The characteristics and condition of rolling bearings have a considerable impact on an application. By remanufacturing a bearing, we can elongate the life of bearings, saving costs in purchasing new bearings, as well as ensuring minimal scrappage with parts that are in good working order. We can even requalify a bearing that may have been sitting on the customer’s shelf for a long period of time. Normally, the bearing would be scrapped after a certain number of years on a shelf, though by inspecting the bearings, we can often requalify them as fit-for-purpose without having to carry out any reconditioning. With the systematic remanufacturing of rolling bearings, we are offering our customers an important service in terms of the sustainable circular economy.

Being a global lead for component supply in wind energy, we understand the need to ensure a full circle in order to make renewable energy truly green. In the UK the aim is not for renewables to be the UK’s sole provider of energy, though to play a major part in the energy mix alongside other clean and green energy sources – which is right up our street.

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