As disputed alternative energies go, wind is one of the most battle-hardened. However, one recent report may have taken some of its detractor’s ammunition.
One of the biggest arguments against the value of wind farms is the suggestion that wind turbines lose about one-third of their ability to generate power after only 10 years, while wind turbines are supposed to be able to remain productive for up to 25 years. This kind of efficacy degradation would mean those wind turbines would need to be replaced much earlier than anticipated.
However, researchers at the Imperial College Business School in London, using wind speed data provided by NASA, conducted a comprehensive analysis of the United Kingdom’s wind turbines. They found the wind turbines in their study will, in fact, last and remain productive for their full lifespan of 25 years. The turbines the study looked at are still producing three-quarters of their original output after 19 years. The Imperial research team suggested wind turbines being manufactured today are only improving in longevity.
The study was only possible using data provided by NASA, which included wind speed in the region for the previous 20 years at the precise site of each of the U.K. onshore wind farms. Combining this information with the actual output data from each farm, the team developed a formula to calculate wear and tear on the components and machinery affecting the turbines’ performance.
According to Iain Staffell, Ph.D., co-author of the paper and a research fellow at Imperial College Business School, there had previously been no comprehensive study of wind turbine’s performance as they aged. A previous study had been based on estimates, not actual collected data.
“Our study provides some certainty, helping investors to see that wind farms are an effective long-term investment,” Staffell said.
The team plans to continue studying wind farms to answer two questions: are new technologies increasing wind farm longevity, and how long will wind turbines last? The answers will help investors determine the potential long-term benefits of wind-power installations.