The Renewable Energy Foundation today published a new study, The Performance of Wind Farms in the United Kingdom and Denmark, showing that the economic life of onshore wind turbines is between 10 and 15 years, not the 20 to 25 years projected by the wind industry itself, and used for government projections.
The work has been conducted by one of the UK’s leading energy & environmental economists, Professor Gordon Hughes of the University of Edinburgh, and has been anonymously peer-reviewed.
The study applies rigorous statistical analysis to years of actual wind farm performance data from wind farms in both the UK and in Denmark.
The results show that after allowing for variations in wind speed and site characteristics the average load factor of wind farms declines substantially as they get older, probably due to wear and tear. By 10 years of age the contribution of an average UK wind farm to meeting electricity demand has declined by a third.
This 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 government alike.
Specifically, investors expecting a return on their investment over 20-25 years will be disappointed.
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.
As a consequence, the lifetime cost per unit (MWh) of electricity generated by wind power will be considerably higher than official estimates.