Clean Power

Published on February 21st, 2014 | by James Ayre


Wind Farms Blow Away Old Criticism — Research Shows That Wind Turbines Remain Productive For Up To 25 Years

February 21st, 2014 by  

While wind energy has become an increasingly common development choice in recent years, there has been some criticism of the technology — of particular interest in that regard was a study released relatively recently that suggested that electricity output from wind turbines declines by a third after only ten years of operation.

It turns out, though, according to new research from the Imperial College Business School (utilizing local wind speed data from NASA), that that worry is unfounded — wind turbines can remain productive, with no need of upgrade, for up to 25 years. The previous work, which was based entirely on a (questionable) statistical model, simply didn’t reflect the reality in the field.

Blacklaw Wind Farm, the UK's most powerful onshore wind power installation

Blacklaw Wind Farm at dawn

The new work was simply a “comprehensive nationwide analysis of the UK fleet of wind turbines, using local wind speed data from NASA” — an analysis that showed that the “UK’s earliest turbines, built in the 1990s, are still producing three-quarters of their original output after 19 years of operation, nearly twice the amount previously claimed, and will operate effectively up to 25 years.” So much for the doom-saying. πŸ™‚

The new findings show that wind turbine longevity is directly comparable to that of the gas turbines used in power stations.

Imperial College London provides more:

The study also found that more recent turbines are performing even better than the earliest models, suggesting they could have a longer lifespan. The team says this makes a strong business case for further investment in the wind farm industry.

The researchers reached their conclusion using data from NASA, collected over a twenty year period, to measure the wind speed at the exact site of each onshore wind farm in the UK. They compared this with actual recorded output data from each farm and developed a formula that enabled them to calculate how wear and tear of the machinery affects the performance of the turbines. This is in contrast to the previous study, which only used the average estimates of nationwide wind speeds to determine the effects of wear and tear on wind farm infrastructure.

Professor Richard Green, co-author of the new study, stated: “There have been concerns about the costs of maintaining aging wind farms and whether they are worth investing in. This study gives a ‘thumbs up’ to the technology and shows that renewable energy is an asset for the long term.”

The researchers are now planning to continue their work by monitoring newer wind farms, over longer periods of time — looking to determine more accurately exactly how long newer wind farms will last.

Image Credit: Lockie (CC BY-SA 2.0 license)

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • ToddFlach

    The “tilting at windmills” movement started with Don Quixote about 400 years ago. Windmills were a very common part of the landscape in many windy locations around Europe in the 1600s. Don Q. was a very entertaining nut case which made for a fantastic novel even to this day. However why any modern anti-wind nut cases today cannot see that they are fighting the same hopeless, meaningless battle that Don Q. fought is beyond me.

  • JamesWimberley

    The absurd 10-year claim was made by Professor Gordon Hughes of Edinburgh ( It was apparently made on the basis of data from one very early Danish wind farm. The Imperial College scientists have confirmed what many of us thought, that Hughes is a biased crank. I doubt if policymakers and investors in London or Edinburgh were listening to him anyway.

    • Bob_Wallace

      It’s worse than that. People have taken the inputs that Hughes reported he used and can’t replicate his findings based on his methods.

      I suppose Professor Hughes’ computer must have made a very large error…. ;o)

  • Ronald Brakels

    Pretty much anything with moving parts can lose some efficiency as it ages and wear and tear sets in, but as long as the thing still works and people are maintaining it the loss usually isn’t much. For example an old gasoline mobile may might become a little less efficient and might start burning a little oil, but provided any major mechanical problems that crop up are repaired the loss is probably going to be limited to a few percent. I would guess that if there is any significant loss of efficiency as a windfarm ages would most likely be wind turbines standing idle for longer periods of time as they require more maintenance and repairs, and some turbines may suffer a major failure earlier than others and may not be reguarded as economical to repair and so not contribute anything towards the end of the wind farm’s life. And since upgrading wind farms is popular in Europe I would guess that sometimes a wind farm may even be intentionally allowed to run down to save on maintenace costs since they intend to replace it soon anyway.

    • John Vonderlin

      Just passing through, trying to educate myself on this issue. Yours seems to be the most thoughtful comment here, so I thought I’d append my own thoughts to it.
      I am not familiar with the critical study, but I did notice several what I call weasel words or phrases in Mr. Ayres’ refutation. His usage of three quarters production after 19 years is odd. Was it exactly 75%? If it was 74 or 73 or 72% and he used the technique of switching to a rounded-up fraction to make it perceived as being larger my skepticism goes up. Besides, is a twenty five percent (or whatever a quarter actually represents? 25, 26, 27%?) percentage decline over 19 years supposed to be good? It is comparable to well-constructed PV panels, but how about other power sources?
      Likewise, saying they will operate “effectively” for up to 25 years is the kind of language one sees in a TV commercial, not a scientific analysis. What does effectively mean in an economic analysis?
      If my present auto had lost a percent a half MPG per year over its lifetime it would be in the junkyard, not being crowed about as a solution to an energy problem. (My 16 year old Subaru still runs like a Japanese watch (sorry Swiss) and gets within 2 MPGs of what it did new. When windmills can face the usage it has had and deliver the kind of protracted performance that it has, I might be more impressed with them.
      While I have hopes renewables will be a growing part of the world’s power mix, I’ve seen enough willfully blind analyses by the overly optimistic and those with a vested interest in the industry to get on wind power’s Band Wagon at this time.

      • Bob_Wallace

        “The researchers reached their conclusion using data from NASA, collected over a twenty year period, to measure the wind speed at the exact site of each onshore wind farm in the UK. They compared this with actual recorded output data from each farm and developed a formula that enabled them to calculate how wear and tear of the machinery affects the performance of the turbines.”

        But that data does not match your opinion based on (nothing?), so you’ll just wave it away?

      • Ronald Brakels

        I live in Adelaide, South Australia. Around 40% of our electricity comes from wind and solar. One third from wind and about 6% from solar. No additional ancillary services (spinning reserve) were required to cope with this build up in wind and solar power and the high penetration of renewables has lowered average wholesale electricity prices. So no willfully blind analysis here, just reality.

  • sault

    I see questionable studies like the one mentioned in this article showing steep declines in wind turbine output pop up all the time. You can usually trace a lot of them back to somebody with ties to fossil fuel companies or a think tank that thrives on these “man bites dog” type of stories. Remember the whole “A Hummer is better for the environment than a Prius” nonsense that came out a bunch of years ago? Or how about all the bogus studies about “Wind Turbine Syndrome” and whatnot? You can almost always follow the money or the faulty logic to see why the people writing these studies arrived at the conclusion they did. It’s a shame, but the people that commission and write these stories know it is all too easy to confuse the public.

    • Ronald Brakels

      Yes, the “reality works the way I think it does regardless of the evidence of our senses” crowd is really good at producing bizarre justifications for why things they don’t like don’t work. There are a lot of people around who practice reverse Tinkerbellism which is where they think that if they disbelieve in something hard enough it will die.

    • Rufus Truthwright

      right on Sault

  • Will E

    In the Netherlands we have windmills over hundreds years old still operating.
    Well known all over the world. with proper maintenance Wind Turbines can operate
    4 times 25 years and longer. Why not??

    • Dave2020

      The same can be achieved for all marine renewables . . .

      “Designed to last 200 years; the plaque on the barrier bears the inscription: Here the tide is ruled, by the wind, the moon and us.” – Oosterscheldekering.

      It is only a question of engineering design and political will.

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