Study finds flawed economics of wind farms

Glyndebourne wind turbine
Glyndebourne wind turbine

The economic life span of wind turbines is between 10 and 15 years, not the 20 to 25 years projected by the wind industry itself, a new study finds.

The Renewable Energy Foundation’s study, The Performance of Wind Farms in the United Kingdom and Denmark, found that after ten years an onshore turbine’s electricity contribution will decline by as much as a third.

The findings make stark reading, revealing that the lifetime cost per unit (MWh) of electricity generated by wind power will be ‘considerably higher’ than official estimates.

Study author Professor Gordon Hughes, of the University of Edinburgh, also revealed that larger wind farms have a ‘systematically worse performance than smaller ones’. Since the average size of wind farms has increased, this has reinforced the deterioration in the performance of new wind farms.

REF say the decline in performance means that it is ‘rarely economic’ to operate wind farms for more than 12 to 15 years. After this period they must be replaced with new machines, a finding that has profound consequences for investors and the government.

Policymakers expecting wind farms built before 2010 to be contributing towards CO2 targets in 2020 or later must allow for the likelihood that the total investment required to meet these targets will be much larger than previous forecasts have suggested.

Dr John Constable, director of Renewable Energy Foundation, commented: “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.

“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.”