Lifespan of windfarms shorter than industry projections

The economic life of onshore wind turbines is significantly lower than previously estimated and it is rarely economic to operate windfarms for more than 12 to 15 years, according to a report published today.

The Renewable Energy Foundation has published findings that reveal onshore windfarms only have an economic lifespan of between 10 and 15 years, not the 20 to 25 years projected by the wind industry and used for government projections. 

After allowing for variations in wind speed and site characteristics, the results show that the average load factor of wind farms declines substantially as they get older.

The findings could have significant impacts on investment in wind power as policymakers expecting wind farms built before 2010 to be contributing towards CO2 targets in 2020, must allow for the likelihood that the total investment required to meet these targets will be much larger than forecasted.

Energy and environmental economist Professor Gordon Hughes of the University of Edinburgh conducted the study, which found that by 10 years of age, the contribution of an average UK wind farm to meeting electricity demand had declined by a third.

Hughes said: “Some investors will be aware of the decline in performance, but nevertheless continue to invest, suggesting that the subsidies are so generous as to compensate for the fall in output. Therefore there is probably room for further subsidy reductions to cut cost to the consumer.”

As well as suggesting subsidies should be cut, Hughes indicated that a much higher level of wind capacity and capital investment than current projections imply would be required in order to meet the UK Government’s targets for wind generation.

Renewable Energy Foundation director Dr John Constable added: “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.

“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.”

Conor McGlone

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