Dr Gordon Hughes is a Professor of Economics at the University of Edinburgh and a while back produced this cracking study which destroyed yet another wind industry myth about the longevity of their giant fans: windfarm peformance UK hughes.19.12.12.
Instead of the much touted 25 years, the output from modern turbines starts to drop significantly after about 8 – and they’re well and truly ready for the scrapheap by the time they hit their teens. Here’s a story on Dr Hughe’s findings by The Courier.
Wind turbines’ lifespan far shorter than believed, study suggests
29 December 2012
SCOTLAND’S LANDSCAPE could be blighted by the rotting remains of a failed regeneration of windfarms, according to a scathing new report.
A study commissioned by the Renewable Energy Foundation has found that the economic life of onshore wind turbines could be far less than that predicted by the industry.
The “groundbreaking” research was carried out by academics at Edinburgh University and saw them look at years of windfarm performance data from the UK and Denmark.
The results appear to show that the output from windfarms — allowing for variations in wind speed and site characteristics — declines substantially as they get older.
By 10 years of age, the report found that the contribution of an average UK windfarm towards meeting electricity demand had declined by a third.
That reduction in performance leads the study team to believe that it will be uneconomic to operate windfarms for more than 12 to 15 years — at odds with industry predictions of a 20- to 25-year lifespan.
They may then have to be replaced with new machinery — a finding that the foundation believes has profound consequences for investors and government alike.
Members of the renewables industry have attacked the findings, questioning the Edinburgh University research and describing them as “misleading”.
Scottish Renewables for one said that its oldest commercial windfarms in Scotland were around 16 years old and that none of them have been decommissioned or repowered.
Nonetheless, anti-windfarm campaigners believe that the evidence should be enough to halt the pace of development and force the Scottish Government to rethink its backing of the energy source.
Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said that parts of the USA, where the industry is further advanced, were already home to what amounted to windfarm graveyards.
And he said the difficulties associated with the decommissioning of such machinery could blight the Scottish landscape for years.
“We already know that the average wind turbine must be in operation for a minimum of two years to pay back the carbon cost of construction,” he said.
“If the average lifespan of a wind turbine is only 10 years then the Scottish Government must seriously question wind energy’s role in displacing carbon emissions.
“However, the rapid wear and tear of wind turbines comes as no surprise. We need only cast our eye across the Atlantic to see 12,000 turbines rotting in the Californian desert.
“I have particular concerns surrounding the environmental costs of decommissioning and exactly who bears these burdens.
“With question marks raised over intermittency, noise, cost, efficiency, placement and now lifespan, when will the Scottish Government see sense and pull at the reins of wind energy?”
The Renewable Energy Foundation is a registered charity promoting sustainable development for the benefit of the public by means of energy conservation and the use of renewable energy. It claims to have “no political affiliation or corporate membership” and believes its findings have worrying implications for the investment being made in the UK in wind power.
The study also reports that the decline in the performance of Danish offshore windfarms had been greater than that of UK onshore windfarms.
Director Dr John Constable said: “This study confirms suspicions that decades of generous subsidies to the wind industry have failed to encourage the innovation needed to make the sector competitive.
“Put bluntly, wind turbines onshore and offshore still cost too much and wear out far too quickly to offer the developing world a realistic alternative to coal.”
California has something like 14,000 giant fans that have been abandoned – erected in the late 1980s they lasted less than 20 years – most were clapped-out by 1998 – before the enormous cost of maintaining them saw them left to rust:
In Hawaii a stack went up at Kamaoa in 1985 – by 2004 they too were left to the elements:
So, you’re thinking, only in America could wind power outfits get away with leaving thousands of giant fans to rust in the paddock. Well, think again.
The company that wind power outfits use to hold the land holder agreements with farmers is usually a $2 company with no real assets and, therefore, the “promise” contained in those agreements to decommission turbines isn’t worth the paper it’s written on: the parent company will simply let the company with the land holder agreement be wound up in insolvency; and host farmers were too gullible to obtain decommissioning bonds to ensure the clean-up costs are covered. And planning authorities were just as stupid – they could have easily forced developers to provide decommissioning bonds as a condition of granting planning consent, but generally failed to do so.
So, once these things are past their economic use by dates, their owners will cut and run in a heartbeat. Expect to see fleets of dilapidated fans rusting on Australian ridge-lines in the not too distant future.