The Wind Industry: Grinding to an Early Halt

Suzlon S88 Gearbox adopts ‘early retirement’ plan at Jamestown, SA.


Among the grab bag of lies pedalled by wind power outfits, and especially fan makers, is that these things will run on the smell of an oily rag, without the need of so much as a shifting spanner, for more than 25 years.

The pitch is made to beguile the gullible (read, ‘planning authorities’, ‘politicians’, ‘bankers’ and ‘investors’) into believing that the costs associated with operating these things, can be readily covered out of petty cash – which fits with the other great line about there being nothing as ‘free’ as the wind.

Mechanical wear and tear, including bearing failure is one of the most common reasons for turbines to be put out of action; and is one of the key factors that accounts for the fact that the ‘economic’ life of wind turbines is 10-12 years, which runs contrary to wild claims about them lasting for “25-plus years” (see our post here and this paper).

Top flight German fan maker, Siemens booked a €223 million write down (ie loss) last year due to the fact it has had to replace bearings in a fleet of turbines that are less than 2 years old. Siemens talking about the loss said: “The charge is related to inspecting and replacing bearings due to the early degradation in certain turbine models. We believe this is related to recent batches of bearings and we are in discussions with the supplier” (see our post here). And Siemens’ ‘luck’ has been no better in the US, where its – barely-out-of-nappies – turbines are literally falling apart in the Californian desert:

2 Year Old Siemens Turbines Falling Apart: Wind Farm Investors, Get Out While You Can

Our favourite whipping boys, Infigen run a fleet of dilapidated and fast-deteriorating Suzlon S88s at Woodlawn and Capital in NSW – just about the worst designed and built turbine there is.

Suzlon – aka Suzlon REPower, aka Senvion – have planted hundreds of its S88s all over the Australian countryside: in addition to those Infigen operate in NSW, Trustpower planted 47 at Snowtown, in South Australia’s Mid-North; and AGL speared a hundred or so into SA’s Mid-North, around Jamestown and Hallett.

To keep their workings lubricated and operating, wind turbine gearboxes have oil-reservoirs, like the sump in a car engine, and – like a car engine – the oil needs to be drained and changed on a regular basis.

At Woodlawn and Capital – the wind farms Australia’s Treasurer, Joe Hockey rightly called “utterly offensive” – STT hears that the maintenance crew – charged with the job of changing the oil in Infigen’s Suzlon S88 turbines there – are finding the task getting more difficult over time.

Apparently, the gearboxes are wearing out a whole lot faster than expected, with metal filings gumming up the oil-reservoirs; which has required the mechanics to make special efforts to first clear away the munched-up metal, in order to get the metal/oil mixture to drain out of the oil-reservoir.

Repairs, general maintenance, metal fatigue, wear and tear, blade and bearing failure all cost – and, together, help make intermittent, unreliable and intermittent wind power insanely expensive; and smash to bits the wind industry’s nauseating falsehood about wind power being “free”.

Wind farm operating costs are typically in the range of $25 per MWh dispatched to the grid. That is, every additional MWh delivered, costs an additional $25 to produce; therefore, the marginal cost of production is (at least) $25 per MWh, not zero. And – due to the need for repairs to blades, gearboxes, generators, cooling systems, etc – or wholesale replacement thereof – that cost naturally increases over the life of the turbines used.

In this glossy tissue of lies (click here for the pdf) Infigen sets out the financial “performance” of its American and Australian operations. From page 26, here’s Table 16 relating to its Australian operations, where it reports “Operating Cost (A$/MWh) as $23.93 for 2012/13 compared to an “Average Price” of electricity sold of $96.57 per MWh.

Infigen operating costs


From page 29, here’s Table 20 where, on total operating costs of $36.3 million, $17.2 million is attributed to “Turbine O&M” (ie operation and maintenance); $0.9 million to “Balance of plant”; and $7.5 million to “Other direct costs”. Infigen’s US operations reported similar operating costs of US$24.18 per MWh for 2012/13 (refer to Infigen’s report at page 20 and Table 15 on page 24).

Infigen costs 2


Bear in mind that wind farm operating costs of $25 per MWh compare with the ability of Victorian coal fired power generators to profitably deliver power to the grid at less than $25 per MWh.

The bulk of wind farm operating costs are taken up by maintenance and repairs: see Table 20 above (and see our post here for more detail).

Although some ‘repairs’ are more costly than others – if a ‘repair’ is possible, that is.

In this post we reported on a cluster of Suzlon S88s at a wind farm in Nicaragua that burst into flames and threw their blades to the four-winds – after which, one of them collapsed and hit the deck – all in spectacular fashion: the cause was said to be a “failure in their emergency braking systems”.

Then there’s the cost of a more mundane class of ‘repairs’.

The top picture is of the gearbox assembly of a Suzlon S88 that literally ground itself to a halt at (what was then) AGL’s Hallett 2 wind farm in SA. The main ring-gear in the planetary section split into multiple pieces, destroyed the housing and sent about 250 litres of gear oil – contained in the housing – raining down the inside of the tower.

The turbine in question was out of action for over 3 months: the replacement was under warranty, meaning Suzlon was liable to stump up for the cost of doing so. That it took so long is no wonder, as Suzlon – which suffered India’s biggest convertible-bond default in 2012 – was seriously struggling then and isn’t in any better shape now – even a name change to “Senvion” hasn’t helped. Senvion – aka REPower – is so thoroughly strapped for cash, that it recently dropped its plans to spear 90 of these things into the hillsides around Rugby in NSW (see our post here).

As well as the gearbox self-destruction episode at Hallett 2, the 34 Suzlon’s S88s used there suffered a raft of generator failures, all requiring complete replacements.

Worn out Suzlon S88 generators; not generating much action at all.


But it’s not just Suzlon’s rubbish that has a life-span shorter than a half-starved mayfly.

Oh no.

‘Reliability’ and ‘longevity’ are words that won’t ever be used in earnest when it comes to describing these things, whoever cobbles them together. Here’s another ‘spin’ on the greatest fraud of all time.

Wind Turbines: More Ghosts in the Gearbox
22 August 2015

There is a wall of silence from the wind industry regarding wind turbine reliability. But once in a while data seeps out through the wall to the general public. A little bit of new seepage has just come to my notice.

The last time I blogged about wind turbine reliability was after I had come across an obscure department within the USA government National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) called the Gearbox Reliability Collective (GRC). The purpose of this U.S. government sponsored department is to address the appalling and largely hidden reliability problems with wind turbines, particularly gearboxes.

The GRC has their own website here:

My first post on the GRC is On This Link

The GRC is not alone. Clearly there are several European agencies and groups working on this problem too. Unfortunately information on them is very obscure. I am unaware of any public access to their data other than when it is mentioned by the GRC.

What has just caught my attention is a 2013 paper from the GRC. The paper is titled: Report on Wind Turbine Subsystem Reliability ─ A Survey of Various Databases.

The paper is available here: NREL Report on wind turbine subsystem reliability

If you look at the linked document above you will find a survey of many wind turbine failure databases held in Europe and the USA.

As far as I can ascertain there is no public access to any of this data except to that presented in this paper. If I am wrong I would be grateful for any links – I have found none.

The figures from Europe in this survey stop short of fully quantifying failure rates. They do though hint at a failure rate increase for larger turbines and crucially, also for direct drive turbines.

We also have the USA data in the same document. Some of the USA data goes right up to 2013. This American data is far more open and definitive. It gives failure rates for all major components not just the gearboxes.

Here is the table (see page 31) relating to expected annual gearbox and generator failure rates for on-shore turbines.

gearbox graph


The NREL reckons for gearboxes this averages out at 5% per year for the first ten years. Notice that in year 5 it hits 10%.

Whatever way you cut it statistically around about 50% of turbines will suffer a gearbox failure within 10 years. Remember this is for properly maintained, serviced and generally “looked after” turbines.

But also remember – that is ONLY the gearbox. The generator is “slightly” more reliable coming out at an average failure rate of 3.5% per year or 35% over ten years.

So for an onshore turbine in the USA the chances of a properly serviced and maintained turbine failing due to gearbox or generator issues within 10 years is 85%.

If you include the other potential failure areas (say the blades – failure rate quoted at 2% per annum) then statistically, it is almost surely that a properly maintained and serviced wind turbine will suffer a major failure within 10 years. It looks like most failures will occur in year 5 or 7.

All rotating machinery can (and will) break down. But wind turbines are operating in a chaotically changing and hostile environment (offshore turbines even more so). A gas plant by comparison is operating in a closely controlled and regulated environment. So per Megawatt-Hour, the wind turbine will require much more maintenance.

The energy return from a wind turbine is simply inadequate to pay for the very high demands placed on maintenance and repair. As the machine gets older more maintenance and repair will be required. Eventually the point will be reached (7-10 years?) where the maintenance/repair bills exceed the returns.

The often hyped 25 year life span for a wind turbine would appear to be hopelessly optimistic.

Currently the only way round this problem is to hugely increase the price of the electricity generated by the machine from day one. This is essentially what the current government subsidies do.

But one day the subsidies will have to fall. When this happens, or as the turbines get older and more unreliable, the wind farms will end up being be sold on – and on.

The new owners will be ever more dubious organisations. Eventually the turbines will be run until they suffer the final major failure that renders the turbine beyond economic repair. Then they will be abandoned.

When the last one fails and the payments stop, the bailiffs will arrive to claim the “guaranteed” decommissioning fund. But by then the main company office will be a post box in Belize and the decommissioning fund will be long gone.

Remember almost all of the data in the above paper is for on-shore turbines.

When you go offshore the maintainability and reliability falls off a cliff. The consequent subsidies sky-rocket.

Another short-lived species ….

14 thoughts on “The Wind Industry: Grinding to an Early Halt

  1. If the IWTs produced any power to speak of (they can only run at 25% efficiency) they wouldn’t have to spear so many of them in, in the first place. That they are completely useless at reliable power generation, makes them all the more reprehensible, notwithstanding the fraudulent manner that they are being promoted and are considered necessary by the gullible politicians that have foisted them on us all. Making us pay obscene amounts on our power bills to support this scam is criminal. The IWTs have been called by my neighbor “government money laundering machines”. They suck dirty power off the grid, run it through their meters, and then claim to have produced x amount of green power, thereby entitling the owners to collect their RECs and PTCs, that we must all anti up. Any effort to cut the subsidies to the so-called “renewables” must be supported, and the criminal wind power spruikers be “run out of town”.

  2. The 29 turbines at the Cape Bridgewater wind farm in Victoria, Australia, currently owned by Pacific Hydro, are getting noisier as they get older (7 years approx). Not only do the yaw motors screech, but now they are making some strange “moaning siren” like noises. At times it even sounds like a WWII dive bomber!

    See what you think? Link below…

    Not bad for an area that was once unspoilt and enjoyed peace and quiet, as well as some of the freshest air on earth when the weather is from the south west off the Southern Ocean.

    Now we are dealing with industrial problems from noise, health, blade shadow flicker, and other proximity issues like oil leaks from the turbines getting in to our rain water supply. And this can be on a 24/7 basis. No night curfews here!

    This is a SCAM! These are the big energy companies behaving the way big energy companies always have. Get out of our way, we’re coming through!

    Take AGL for example. Do you really think that AGL who part owns the Macarthur wind farm “nightmare” gives a toss about the environment when they also own a brown coal fired power station on the other side of Victoria, and are gas fracking in NSW! I don’t think so. They’re in it for one thing, and one thing only…the MONEY! And the Australian Greens are providing the likes of AGL with free advertising. They are being used by the massive energy companies to do their bidding. Talk about a pyramid selling scheme. Avon calling…no it’s your local Green member! This must be one of the biggest pyramid selling schemes in history!!!

    Trees not turbines! Tourists not turbines! Trains not turbines!

    Or TNT!!!

    1. I drove down to the first hearing of the Federal Senate Inquiry into windfarms in Australia.

      I stayed in Portland and spent a few nights there, then went for a drive to Cape Bridgewater .
      I was shocked that turbines were present in such a pristine and beautiful environment.
      From my stated observations alone, how on earth could any planning department approve this turbine abomination?
      This is a place for those of us whom peace and tranquility are important will be drawn to.
      This is a place of geological historical importance.
      The monstrous turbines are on the edge of the bitumen road that one has to travel and are far too close to people.
      The granting of approval is wrong from every reasoned argument and I truly hope that the utterly corrupted public “servants” and politicians will be held to account, whether it be of this world or beyond, but I would like to see these people squirm.
      If they were made to explain there decisions, I have no doubt they would squirm.

  3. Seems in all countries, it is the same story. No decommissioning funds in the U.S. either.
    In our twp. ordinance, we put a clause making the farmer responsible for decommissioning, or forfeit the land to the twp. to pay for it. Turned the table around on them.

    During the last month, I have seen turbines leaking oil down the sides and down blades, you can even see the splatter patterns as the oil disperses onto the blades as they are turning.

  4. In the construction and mining industry, the average life of a machine is 10 – 15,000 hours, depending on how well it has been looked after and serviced. Machines often do 20 – 30,000 hours, some even more, but in that time they have had major rebuilds.

    Caterpillar used to recommend that their machines be totally rebuilt at 10,000 hours.

    There are 8,760 hours in a year, so for arguments sake, if a machine worked 6,000 hours a year, allowing for some downtime, it has effectively reached the end of it’s working life in two to three years.

    I see no reason to suggest that a wind turbine would be any different, it does work in a clean environment, but there are huge stresses on the components. The generators should not be the problem as much as the gearboxes, this is where the major stress is.

    To suggest that a wind turbine can work for 25 years without major component replacement is absolutely ludicrous and as we are seeing, 10 to 12 years is about their limit and many, as STT has shown, are having major failures much earlier.


  5. In Ireland, our planning authorities aren’t even imposing a decommissioning bond on the developers. It is assumed the developers ” will do the right thing when the time comes”..

  6. I regularly complain that the UK wind industry collects incidents of failure from its members but guarantees confidentiality. This should simply not be allowed. The very fact that they do this proves they are afraid of revealing the truth.

  7. I’ve still got some ground up windmill bearings sitting on my desk. They are the one tangible thing I brought home after visiting Danish companies repairing windmills – the gearboxes are constantly breaking.

    The reason is that the variation in wind speed and hence force, is a bit like getting a car to drive over rough terrain rather than a road.

    And the easiest way to put it in context, is to tell you that the blade tip goes around 1million miles a years. That’s like building a car to have one service every 50 years.

    And … that’s why I was looking at setting up a maintenance company because I knew there’d be a lot of lucrative business maintaining them. (But then I read the science … and unfortunately I’ve got a conscience)

  8. Do they calculate the cost of hiring massive cranes along with their transport to and from site each time replacements are needed as well as ‘down time’ for the general maintenance staff and non production time?

  9. Mines are required to rehabilitate the site after mining is finished. What obligations do wind mill operators have? Are they required to lodge a bond?

      1. The bond needs to be legislated into and part of the application approval
        It needs to cover the total amount of decommissioning at the said time of “end of life”.

        This means the amount of value in dollar terms is whatever is quoted as the longevity of said turbine plus CPI and all other possible contingency costs.

        Therefore when the inevitable onsale of the windfarm occurs these costs and further risks are purchased by the new owner.

        End result. Nobody buys second-hand windfarms.

        This then shows the true market value of the windfarm at the time of commissioning and this is the business model that should be adopted.

        Also, in determining the potential future value of the windfarm at the time of commissioning, all subsidies such as REC’s should be discarded as part of value assessment as they can never be guaranteed over such a long time frame.

        They are in essence a completely false evaluation of income generation potential and therefore actuality.

        Unlike other market forces the REC’s are purely dependent on the political whim of the day.

        Here today, gone tomorrow is not a sound business proposition unless of course, you are in the funeral business, which draws some comedic parallels.

  10. ‘Fraudulent’ barely describes what is happening with this great ‘wind farm’ scam, particularly when you add the ‘impacts’ on the lives of human beings (and animals) that are forced by policy makers to live or die with these things. As I have said before we would be a lot better off if the ‘penalties’ that apply under the RET scheme are simply paid by the general community than if these absurd machines are actually built. Recent press reports from AGL, Origin and Energy Australia indicate that our major retailers have also come to that conclusion — having regard to the figures revealed in this post it is the only sensible conclusion to reach.

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