Clean Power

Published on June 19th, 2014 | by Joshua S Hill


Wind Turbines Yield Almost Immediate Net Benefit

June 19th, 2014 by  

Wind energy has often been heralded as one of the saviours of planet Earth, as well as being economically beneficial and efficient: it is the oft-unmentioned winning-point for renewable technologies that they are not only environmentally friendly, but also cheaper to run and invest than traditional energy generation methods.

Adding insult to injury, therefore, for those who dismiss renewable energy — and wind energy in particular — as an effective means of moving forward, is new research published in the International Journal of Sustainable Manufacturing which has determined that a wind turbine with an estimated working life of 20 years will offer a net benefit within five to eight months of being brought online.

US researchers Karl R. Haapala and Preedanood Prempreeda from the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, at Oregon State University, conducted an environmental lifecycle assessment of two 2 MW wind turbines and found that the cumulative energy payback will take place within a year of being turned on. 

A life cycle assessment like the one conducted in this research looks at the net environmental impact across the whole spectrum of construction, installation, and running; raw materials, transport, manufacturing, installation, ongoing maintenance, recycling, and disposal at the end of its life.

The final analysis showed that the largest environmental impacts were caused by materials production and the manufacturing process, but this impact is paid back within 6 months. Even in the worst-case-scenarios, it is expected a wind turbine will pay for its environmental impact within the first year of its use.

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About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

  • Jared

    If you guys enjoy talking about wind power and other alternative power generation methods, then I think you should check out CrowdSolutions, a new forum I have created: . It’s meant to facilitate the discussion, research, and development of technological solutions to global issues like climate change and food scarcity. I think that a global community of creative individuals, all sharing, creating, and combining ideas can really catalyze our progress towards a clean and sustainable global civilization. Sorry if this sounds like an ad.

    • Bob_Wallace

      You get one freebie…. ;o)

      Good luck with your site.

  • Sirk

    Would you agree with the same condition for tidal energy, with the additional benefit that it is predictable?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Thing is, tidal is still underdeveloped. It will be a while before we know how reliable and how expensive tidal will be.

      The predictable part is great. And since tides peak at different times along a coast the slack tides don’t all happen at the same time.

      Tidal won’t be a major player. There’s simply not enough coastline to supply a large percentage of the world’s power. But it could turn out to be an important minor player.

      • Sirk

        I agree about your point that tidal is still in the early stages, but they are making major progress in Scotland at the moment.
        As far as the limited coastline is concerned, I’d like to point out that I am speaking from the perspective of Indonesia, where I am presently located. The country has over 17000 island and one of the largest gulfstreams in the world from the Pacific to the Indian ocean.
        I believe that tidal energy should be a very feasible powersolution here especially for communities on outlying islands with the only available electricity from generators running very expensive diesel.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Indonesia might be unique in the amount of tidal it could generate. You also have a tremendous amount of geothermal potential as well as excellent sunshine.

          I haven’t look at your resources but wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve got good wind potential as well.

          With the price of solar so low it would seem like places running diesel generators would be installing lots of solar and shutting down the generators several hours per day.

  • Noise near wind turbines near dwellings can be a real problem.

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  • You can have a wind turbine on your house and save energy, especially where I live in NM.. Just have to make them quiet so you could have them in residential community and everyone could and would have them installed. Just like solar is growing, so will wind power.

    • Hans

      Small wind turbines in the built environment are mostly not very productive. Average windspeeds are low and the wind tends to be turbulent. Manufacturers make big claims for their, often exotic, designs, but field tests always show them wrong.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Wind power will grow. But almost certainly the size and height of turbines will increase. Wind is one technology where small is not better.

      People are much better off putting solar on their roofs and purchasing wind power from wind farms.

  • Charlotte Omoto

    I wonder if impact on birds of prey and bats were considered as environmental impacts. I heard of people being paid to go below wind turbines to pick up dead birds and bats. However, there doesn’t seem to be a requirement for companies to document the number of fatalities. In some poorly located wind farms, there are significant number of deaths, such as in Wyoming where Duke Energy paid a $1million in fine for killing golden eagles.

    • sault

      Well, considering that pollution from fossil fuels kills way more birds than wind turbines ever could, wind energy provides a near-instantaneous benefit in this area as well. But really, in a world where domestic cats, buildings and industrial pollution all kill thousands of times more birds than wind turbines, fretting about bird deaths caused by the wind industry is just a red herring. Please look at the hard numbers before spreading baseless rumors.

      • Charlotte Omoto

        I totally agree about the impact of other factors in bird/bat fatalities. That does not mean that siting of wind turbines should avoid birds of prey migration sites. Duke Energy knew about before they located the one in Wyoming, which is why they had to pay the fine. What I mention is not baseless rumors, but established fact. Wind energy is good, but like any other energy production, should make sure that all environmental impact are considered, not just dismissed as red herring.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Duke screwed up. Altamont Pass, our first wind farm, was also a screw up.
          One does not damn an entire industry based on two mistakes. If a wind farm is killing even half as many birds as the equivalent amount of coal then it probably needs to be shut until corrections are made.

          • Charlotte Omoto

            I don’t think I damned the entire industry. Just that siting should take into consideration migratory path, especially for birds of prey.

          • MorinMoss

            Nowadays, that is a standard part of the environmental assessment. Wind farm sites are chosen and assessed years, sometimes a decade in advance of construction.

    • Bob_Wallace

      FUD, Charlotte. You should be ashamed of yourself for spreading FUD.

      • Charlotte Omoto

        What I mentioned is fact, not FUD. It is important that proponents of alternative energy do not sweep potential issues as FUD.

        • Bob_Wallace

          What you did is to make an outrageous claim. One that is often made by anti-wind organizations.

          You took one problem wind farm and used it to attack all wind farms.

          If you had a question about whether impacts on birds and bats are considered prior to wind farm construction you could have taken a couple minutes to look up the environmental study requirements.

    • Buildings already kill orders of magnitude more birds, than do wind turbines. Feral cats are next after buildings, and then high voltage transmission lines, and then (I think) general pollution and pesticides.

      Somewhere down the list is wind turbines, and most of those from one place. Bats are an issue, but I’m sure we can use our big brains to solve this. It is far better for us to use wind turbines – and avoid climate change and other major pollution.

      • Charlotte Omoto

        I just wanted to bring the issue up so that it is not ignored, not because I was against wind power.

        • Smokestacks and the pollution and climate changing carbon dioxide that comes out of them kills *far* more birds – and lots of other species as well – than do wind turbines. I hope you are proportionally concerned about smokestacks ruining our shared earth.

          • Charlotte Omoto

            By your argument, would you not try to make foods safe because wars kill more people?

          • No, that misses the point. The way we are generating electricity *now* already kills far more birds, than does wind turbines. And most of the bird kills with turbines were in a couple of places, that have now figured out how to minimize this problem.

            If we generated ALL our electricity with wind and solar and wave and tidal power, etc – we would kill far fewer birds and all other species – than we do now!

            Wind turbines are a huge improvement over what we are doing now. And we can use our big brains to figure out how to make it almost nil.

            Your concern is misplaced – you should be working to stop using ALL fossil fuels. Because climate change is causing a mass extinction.

          • eveee

            The point is that modern life is at odds with wildlife. If we want any of the benefits of modern life, we need the methods that produce the least impacts on biological ecosystems. That means wind. Literally, you could increase wildlife by putting up more wind turbines, because it displaces fossil fuels. On the non energy side, raptors are killed by lead bullets from hunters game, power lines. and pesticides. Coal emits lead and mercury that winds up killing raptors, too. In general, human encroachment is bad for wild raptors. In the overall context, wind lowers bird deaths. We should put up more wind turbines in the right places to aid bird populations.


          • eveee

            Sometimes anti wind sentiment comes from …. questionable sources. That might be why people think wind turbines kill so many birds… and don’t know how 1000 of times more birds are killed by fossil fuels and mankind’s other inventions.

            “Still, wind has its detractors. One of the most prominent is Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a New York City-based, pro-market, anti-government think tank backed by ExxonMobil and Charles Koch, the billionaire co-owner of the coal, oil and gas conglomerate Koch Industries. Over the last few years, Bryce has been bashing wind energy in the pages of the New York Post, Wall Street Journal and other publications, charging that wind turbines are, among other things, ugly, noisy and a threat to public health.”


  • mk1313

    Yep, what is needed now is large scale storage so excess energy when produced isn’t sold at an excessively discounted rate or wasted.

    • With wind turbines distributed over a wide area, the output is quite steady and predictable. Wind tends to compliment solar PV, and when they are combined, they required much less storage to buffer excess than was first thought. Pumped hydro is a storage option that is tried and tested.

    • Hans

      Most studies on wind energy integration agree that at least 20% of wind energy can be integrated into the grid without the need for additional back-up or storage. We are not at this point yet, so we still have some time on the storage issue.

      • mk1313

        Unfortunately we here in Ontario are finding the night time wind production is having to be sold at very low prices some of the time, given away or even paying someone to take it. Pumped hydro isn’t universally available.

        • Hans

          Almost all electricity producers in Ontario get a a fixed, subsidised or guaranteed price, which distorts the electricity prices. So it is not just wind turbines that keep producing during low demand events.

          Blaming only wind turbines for the negative prices is therefore weird.

          • mk1313

            Wasn’t blaming only them by any means just noting this is the case. Am fully aware of the fact that only about 5% of the rate increases over the last few years have been due to wind/solar FIT’s and it is an investment in the future. Unfortunately the popular perception is otherwise and this, selling the expensive energy cheap, is one of the main “selling” points of the anti-wind people which I would like to see taken away. People would rather accept untruths said loud than the truth and a bit of inconvenience.

          • Hans


            Ontario has the rather unique position that it has a lot of nuclear, run-of-the river hydro and wind energy. All three sources get guarantee prices and have no incentive to gooffline if production exceeds demand. New transmission lines to Quebec would allow the resevoir hydro of Quebec to serve as virtual storage.

          • Mint

            Other producers in Ontario either produce roughly constant power (nuclear, most hydro) or power on demand (natural gas). And they don’t get 11.5c/kWh guaranteed for 20 years.

            Negative prices are a minor issue we see quite rarely. Wind gets 11.5c/kWh (and solar gets 25-40c/kWh) year round for every kWh they produce. That’s the real cause of the overall price increase seen in your second link.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Ontario, like pretty much anywhere in the world, can build pump-up.

          Got an abandoned rock quarry? Probably do. The US has about 1,000 on federal lands alone.

          Got an abandoned subsurface mine?

          Got a place where the elevation changes rather abruptly?

          Any of those places are candidates for closed-loop pump-up.

          • Mint

            Numbers, Bob, numbers.

            It’s not worth building pump up to store excess energy you see only a handful of hours per year.

            And a 90% renewable US grid will need, literally, orders of magnitude more storage than you can get from thousands of Eagle Mountain or Raccoon Mountain facilities. A simple elevation change isn’t enough to make cheap PuHS, because hollowing out a reservoir or building walls for one drastically raises the price of PuHS. It’s only cheap when nature throws us a bone.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Topic, Mint, topic….

            “Pumped hydro isn’t universally available.”

          • Mint

            Practically speaking, it has to be cheap and plentiful to be available.

            Your suggested locations do not meet both of those requirements, especially for storage used as infrequently as it would be for the topic at hand: times of surplus energy in Ontario.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Do you wish to take the conversation past whether or not Ontario has any place to build pump-up?

            We can do that.

            Obviously we would need enough surplus or a large enough peak/off-peak price spread to make additional storage a wise investment.

            Since we already have a fair amount of storage and a good deal of dispatchable generation it will likely be while before we reach the need point. And with solar prices continuing to fall we’re likely to see less peak/off-peak spread.

            Do you wish to discuss the least expensive places to site new pump-up? That may well be some of the thousands of existing dams that could be converted to pump-up. All they need is a pump/turbine and a modest sized lower reservoir. Although sites like Bison peak with its a maximum head of 927m are interesting.

          • Mint

            Do you wish to take the conversation past whether or not Ontario has any place to build pump-up?

            Not particularly, because I never see any real numbers from you. It’s always “fair amount”, “thousands”, etc.

            And with solar prices continuing to fall we’re likely to see less peak/off-peak spread.

            In the short term, I’m pretty sure it’ll be the opposite. Solar creates the “duck” curve, barely reducing peak load if at all, but substantially reducing the duration of near-peak. If peakers are used for fewer hours, but still needed, then their cost per kWh goes up.

            It’ll be up to 4-6h batteries to reduce the spread after that.

            That may well be some of the thousands of existing dams that could be converted to pump-up. All they need is a pump/turbine and a modest sized lower reservoir.

            I’m gonna throw you a bone here: They really don’t need either. All they need is a big enough upper reservoir that can handle large level changes, and it will fill by simply reducing water flow through the existing turbine. Upgrades are only needed if they were built with no headroom.

            But again, man-made reservoirs aren’t cheap unless nature (or a mining company) has done most of the work for you. And I bet that’s rarely the case. Every electricity plant owner in the world would love a higher fraction of their output being sold during peak hours.

          • Bob_Wallace

            What’s your problem? You have a burr in your saddle because I don’t share your love of nuclear energy?

          • Mint

            I think it’s pretty clear who has a problem. You’re the one changing topics and bringing in unresolved issues from other threads, and you’re doing it repeatedly.

            I, mk1313, and Hans were talking with others about Ontario, and you change it to the US. I address your points without any ill intent, and you throw an insult at me while dragging in talk about nuclear from another thread and completely irrelevant to this discussion. In that other thread, you accuse me of claiming <5c/kWh nuclear without basis.

            Nobody is talking about nuclear here. We're talking about wind power in Ontario. Compared to the US, in Ontario CF is low, poorly matched to load, and subsidies are way higher.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Gee, Mint, I respond directly to a sentence in a post and I’m changing the topic.

            I ask if Ontario might have abandoned rock quarries and point out that they are very prevalent in the US (which most would take as a hint that there might also be some in Canada) and that’s changing the location of the discussion?

            If you look back up this sub-thread the discussion topic was –

            “Yep, what is needed now is large scale storage so excess energy when produced isn’t sold at an excessively discounted rate or wasted.”

            The topic was storage.

            What’s the matter with you?

          • Mint

            I already addressed your quarry suggestion. There aren’t enough to even make a dent in addressing the problem of paying for surplus wind energy, and storage used a few percent of the year can’t pay for itself. If you want more detailed numbers, then ask.

            If you look back up this sub-thread the discussion topic was –

            Why should I look up there? If you want to address that, then why not reply to that post? mk1313 was talking specifically about Ontario, as was I, and then you said “Ontario can build pump up”. The topic was clear.

            The topic change was not only solar (cheap in southern US, not Ontario) or Bison Peak, but more egregiously this:

            You have a burr in your saddle because I don’t share your love of nuclear energy?

            What does that have to do with anything? What sentence are you directly replying to?

            And you have the nerve to ask what’s the matter with me, and what’s my problem?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Asking you what your problem is obviously won’t produce any sort of reasonable answer. That, we’ve established.

            If you don’t like what I post then just skip on over.

          • Mint

            Same to you.

            It’s pretty clear why you didn’t answer a single question I asked.

          • Hans

            It is probably cheaper to improve transmission to Quebec, and use their reservoir-hydro as storage.

          • Bob_Wallace

            “On the wind-swept ridge of a mountainous slag heap, Northland Power Inc. plans to construct a miniature Niagara Falls to store power and provide it to Ontario’s grid when the province’s proliferating wind turbines are asleep.

            For 24 years, U.S.-based Bethlehem Steel Corp. pulled iron ore from an open-pit mine a dozen kilometres south of this town of 6,400, situated halfway between Ottawa and Toronto. When the mine was closed in 1979, the company left a gaping hole that is now filled with water. Above the pit, vast piles of boulders and crushed rocks lie where they were discarded after the ore had been extracted.

            Toronto-based Northland is proposing a $700-million, “pumped storage” hydroelectric project that would create a waterfall five times the height of Niagara Falls – though with a fraction of the volume – descending from the slag mountain to the mine pit below.”


          • Mint

            In case you’re interested in some stats:

            400MW for 5 hours (2GWh), $700M. So that’s $350/kWh, i.e. more expensive than batteries. Building massive reservoirs isn’t cheap.

            Granted, this should last longer than a battery system, but you still need daily cycling to get good amortization of cost.

          • Bob_Wallace

            On the plus side it’s cheaper to add long term storage capacity to pump-up by simply increasing reservoir size.

            Pumps/turbines/dams/raceways pay for themselves via daily cycling but there’s the ability to store multiple day energy by simply digging larger holes.

            Multiple day storage with most battery systems would be very expensive. Flow batteries might be an exception.

            And one doesn’t need to dig the holes in all situations. Which I was attempting to point out by mentioning quarries, mines and existing dams.

            Warning: I’m going to shift locations in order to provide an examples.

            A study of potential pump-up sites in Europe found “(in) the cases where a PHS can be built based on linking two existing reservoirs (topology 1), the European theoretical potential is 54 TWh (11.4 TWh in the EU) when a maximum distance of 20 km between reservoirs is considered.”

            And –

            “When a PHS is built based on one existing reservoir and on a nearby, appropriately non-sloping site for a second existing reservoir, the theoretical potential at a maximum of 20 km reaches 123 TWh in Europe”


            We have approximately 80,000 existing dams in the US of which we use about 2,500 for power production.

            I took a look at head and reasonable distance data for 212 non-producing dams on federal lands and found that 29% (61) had at least 50′ of head. 9% (19) had at least 100′ of head. And 4% (8) had at least 190′ of head.


            Out of 77,500 existing US dams we might expect over 3,000 to offer 190′ or more head. Almost 7,000 with 100′ of head. We’re currently storing 20 GW in the US on 150 sites.

            The dams are in place. The upper reservoir is in place. In most cases there is going to be a non-occupied ‘safety zone’ below the dam, a place for the lower reservoir. The cost involved would be installation of pumps/turbines and excavating a large enough pool below to hold a few day’s outflow.

            Japan has built at least one pump-up by excavating a reservoir on top of an ocean side bluff. They pump up sea water in their “turkey nest” system. No dam, no lower reservoir. Just an upper pool and tunnel back down to the beach.

            Now, I’m not saying that pump-up storage is the technology we should use. I’m saying that all around the world we’re likely to find places where pump-up could be created without the expense of building the entire system from scratch.

          • Mint

            Digging holes isn’t cheap, though. I’m pretty sure that’s where the majority of the cost comes from. Consider your 190′ head figure: 1 cubic meter added to each reservoir gives you only 0.16kWh. You probably need to excavate 6 tons to do that, and even at a cheap $10/ton, that’s over $300/kWh.

            Thanks for the study (I think you linked to the wrong hydroworld page, though). I’m not claiming that there are no PuHS sites at all, but it seems to me that the majority are quite expensive (20km of tunnel/canal isn’t cheap), and I know environmentalists don’t like flooding land, especially in a way that varies water levels because it screws up nesting grounds.

            Returning to the Marmora Pumped Storage Project, isn’t it reasonable to assume that Northland Power spent millions on research to find the most economical location and solution? Wouldn’t it be odd to choose that location if cheaper alternatives were available?

            I don’t think cheap PuHS is as widely available as you do. That’s all I’m getting at.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Sorry, the link was wrong. Here’s the correct…


            Right now converting existing dams is likely our least expensive large scale storage option. That and connecting the “5 km” two existing reservoirs in Europe type installation.

            I don’t think the two of us can have a reasonable discussion about cost as you have already signaled that you are going for worst case costs when I would go for the lowest hanging fruit, which is what would be done in the real world.

            My personal guess is that battery storage will win out over PuHS. But we clearly have more than enough places to install all the PuHS we would ever need if that’s the route we take.

          • Mint

            How is the Marmora project not real world? You think Northland Power is intentionally wasting money by choosing the “worst case”? How does that make any sense?

            FYI, your paper shows vastly reduced resources for pairs of existing reservoirs 5km or closer: only 0.83 TWh (insufficient). Like almost any natural resource, there’s a lot more if you’re willing to pay more.

            Anyway, you’re probably right about batteries, mainly because they can be placed on site at any generator. I think they’re going to like being able to control when they sell their power. Even CCGT, coal, and nuclear plants will find them useful: Imagine if you can take an efficient 3GW plant running roughly at steady state, pair it with a 7GW/35GWh battery system, and you effectively get the same output as a 10GW peaker that ramps up and down every day. Batteries are just barely getting cheap enough to do that.

            But that’ll be for short term storage. Long term storage is a different matter, because its cost is hard to amortize. You look at Budischak’s graphs, and >90% of it is used less than 10% of the year. I don’t think anyone will build that voluntarily.

          • Bob_Wallace

            ” >90% of it is used less than 10% of the year. I don’t think anyone will build that voluntarily.”

            If it’s needed it will be built. Just like we now have gas peakers that run only a few hours per year. If the grid needs it to operate then it will be paid for.

            The question is what we will use. Will we use more than Budischak’s 0.1% of NG? Based on IPCC “40% to 70% reduction by 2050” we could tolerate a much larger role for NG. Or will we use something else? Larger PuHS reservoirs, extra tanks for flow batteries, synthetic fuel for turbines, something yet to be invented? It’s a long time before we’ll seriously address that question.

          • Mint

            Your last paragraph is what I was getting at.

            Once short term peakers are replaced by batteries, and renewables displace maybe half of NG/coal without much excess generation, there’s much less economic incentive to replace the rest.

            I wasn’t specifically referring to Budischak’s 0.1% scenario, but it was the only visual illustration showing the distribution of storage use. Some storage is used frequently, and others much less.

            If you go into the numbers, consider the 30% 2030 scenario. Table 3 shows the storage needs 28GW output ability, but only averages 1.4GWa. Table 8 shows that that same storage has energy storage of 90GWh (again, that’s the 30% 2030 GIV scenario, same as Table 3). 1.4*8760/90 = 136 cycles per year on average. In the real world, that means some of that storage is cycled 300 times per year, and some 50 times per year or less. The former is just getting commercially viable now, while the latter is not even close, even with “lowest hanging fruit” PuHS.

            That’s the difference between optimizing an entire system at once and evolving it on the margin, which is how the market works.

            I think we’ll hit a point of diminishing returns when it comes to long term storage. Once wind replaces maybe 50% of our FF, on the margin new wind will be uneconomical if it spills 20% of power without long term storage, and long term storage will want much more frequent and regular spillage to get built. Sort of a chicken and egg problem.

          • Bob_Wallace

            We’re looking at 20 to 40 years to get most fossil fuel use off our grids. I find it hard to speculate even 10 years out, our technology can advance very quickly in ways few anticipate.

            My position on PuHS is that if we don’t invent something better pump-up would do the job. Probably at an affordable price. And we have plenty places to install.

            Coal plant replacement by renewables will come from the fact that our coal plants are old and will need to be replaced with something. New coal is expensive, more expensive than renewables and storage.

  • MichelleWSanchez

    Even in the worst-case-scenarios, it is expected a wind turbine will pay for its environmental impact within the first year of its use.

    • Matt

      Please delete above (Michelle) link, it is a sales click thru and totally unrelated to any cleantechnica topic.

      • Bob_Wallace

        This A-hole shows up under a different name daily. If you see one of these posts just flag it and I’ll take it down.

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