New research blows away claims that aging wind farms are a bad investment

Feb 20, 2014
A wind farm in South Australia

Wind turbines can remain productive for up to 25 years, making wind farms an attractive long-term choice for energy investors, according to new research.

The UK has a target of generating 15 per cent of the nation's energy from renewable resources such as by 2020. There are currently 4,246 individual in the UK across 531 wind farms, generating 7.5 per cent of the nation's electricity.

There has been some debate about whether wind turbines have a more limited shelf-life than other energy technologies. A previous study used a statistical model to estimate that electricity output from wind turbines declines by a third after only ten years of operation. Some opponents of wind power have argued that ageing turbine technology could need replacing en masse after as little as ten years, which would make it an unattractive option in economic terms.

In a new study, researchers from Imperial College Business School carried out a comprehensive nationwide analysis of the UK fleet of wind turbines, using local wind speed data from NASA. They showed that the turbines will last their full life of about 25 years before they need to be upgraded.

The team found 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. This is comparable to the performance of gas turbines used in power stations.

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.

Dr Iain Staffell, co-author of the paper and a research fellow at Imperial College Business School, said: "Wind farms are an important source of renewable energy. In contrast, our dwindling supply of fossil fuels leaves the UK vulnerable to price fluctuations and with a costly import bill. However, in the past it has been difficult for investors to work out whether wind farms are an attractive investment.

"Our study provides some certainty, helping investors to see that wind farms are an effective long-term investment and a viable way to help the UK tackle future energy challenges."

Professor Richard Green, co-author and Head of the Department of Management at Imperial College Business School, added: "There have been concerns about the costs of maintaining ageing 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 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.

In the future, the team aim to study newer wind farms over a longer period to determine if advancements in turbine technology means that they are degrading less. This could help the researchers to determine more accurately how long newer wind farms will last so that they can calculate their potential long-term economic benefits.

Explore further: Localized wind power blowing more near homes, farms and factories

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Using fluctuating wind power

Mar 25, 2013

Incorporating wind power into existing power grids is challenging because fluctuating wind speed and direction means turbines generate power inconsistently. Coupled with customers' varying power demand, many ...

Shifting winds in turbine arrays

Oct 22, 2013

Researchers modeling how changes in air flow patterns affect wind turbines' output power have found that the wind can supply energy from an unexpected direction: below.

Recommended for you

Obama launches measures to support solar energy in US

Apr 17, 2014

The White House Thursday announced a series of measures aimed at increasing solar energy production in the United States, particularly by encouraging the installation of solar panels in public spaces.

Tailored approach key to cookstove uptake

Apr 17, 2014

Worldwide, programs aiming to give safe, efficient cooking stoves to people in developing countries haven't had complete success—and local research has looked into why.

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

jackjump
1 / 5 (5) Feb 20, 2014
They're a bad investment because if it turns out that very expensive wind power (expensive because it requires fossil fuel power backup) will not save the planet from a climatic meltdown (because the computer models that say it will are wrong: http://www.drroys...2013.png ) then the subsidies will be canceled, the windmills shut down and power will be supplied by the already available and much cheaper fossil fuel backups.
Caliban
not rated yet Feb 20, 2014
They're a bad investment because if it turns out that very expensive wind power (expensive because it requires fossil fuel power backup) will not save the planet from a climatic meltdown (because the computer models that say it will are wrong: http://www.drroys...2013.png ) then the subsidies will be canceled, the windmills shut down and power will be supplied by the already available and much cheaper fossil fuel backups.


This is so wrong that it's difficult to even know where to begin, jj.

Wind power does not require fossil fuel backup. It is a complimentary power source.

Fossil fuel is not "much cheaper", as the ACTUAL cost of fossil fuels are much greater than the per volume unit price of any of the fuels.

Just ask the people living in West Virginia downstream on the Elk River. Or on the Gulf Coast.

Instead, you ask Roy Spencer in an effort to justify your willful ignorance.

hangman04
not rated yet Feb 23, 2014
the reason why they need fossil back up it's becuase it's fluctuation. But as design advances and wind farm become "smarter" and also as solutions with high randament for storage are developed the volatility problem will be resolved. Basically wind is the same as hydro but we need to create a dam so we can control fluctuations....
ForFreeMinds
not rated yet Feb 23, 2014
While this study provides a better estimate on the loss of wind turbine efficienty over time, and finds the overall costs to be lower for this factor, nothing is reported about the cost of solar electricity vs. the cost of petroleum based electricity. Reading http://en.wikiped..._source, shows varied estimates for these values. But most of them show wind farms' electricity is more expensive than gas/coal.
kochevnik
5 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2014
But most of them show wind farms' electricity is more expensive than gas/coal.
Only if you think black lung is a bargain

More news stories

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...