More and more countries are now approving the installation of wind farms. It makes sense. Green energy is the future. The big concern is how long each wind farm can remain in operation. So, what is the lifespan of a wind turbine?
Most wind turbines are designed to last between 20 and 25 years. This is under the assumption that the wind turbine undergoes regular maintenance (three times per year). Some suggest that wind turbines are less economically viable by the 12-15 year mark. Companies may replace a wind turbine at that point, but most should remain in operation for at least 20 years.
There is much to discuss about wind turbine life expectancy, so let's dive in.
What Is The Lifespan of a Wind Turbine?
A wind turbine can last anywhere from 12 years to 25 years. It will be dependent on the conditions that the wind turbine operates under, as well as whether the wind turbine has undergone regular maintenance. However, this doesn't quite tell the full story.
We know that older wind turbines tended to be scrapped around the 20-25 year mark. Some people claim that, for the older wind turbines, there were about 15 years of economical life. This means that after the 15-year mark, the increased maintenance meant that it would be much more profitable to replace it. However, there isn't much evidence that companies are doing this regularly. Most of these claims seem to come from anti-wind turbine groups.
Timeframes become a bit murkier with modern wind turbines. We are now installing wind turbines far faster than ever before. Efficiency is important for modern wind turbines, and this means that they need to be built bigger, taller, and with much more complicated components.
It is estimated that the average modern wind turbine has 800 components. Each marks a potential point of failure. Some of these components can be tricky and cost-prohibitive to fix too. This is before you even consider the fact that taller wind turbines are under a lot more wind pressure, which means that there is more chance of failure, at least without regular maintenance.
While we cannot know for sure, we would say that most modern wind turbines will last 20-25 years too. However, we will see what the future holds.
What Can Shorten The Lifespan of a Wind Turbine?
Wind turbines need to be tall. They need to have lengthy blades. The taller a wind turbine is, the more efficient it becomes. However, being tall can also cause huge issues.
A wind turbine has a single point of support. This is at the bottom of the wind turbine. When wind hits the top of the structure, it will bend and twist around. This puts a huge amount of strain on the structure and the internal components. While most wind turbines will have been designed with this in mind, there is only so much that can be done. This is why many wind turbines will automatically shut down if the wind gets too high.
Wind turbines are only going to get taller. This means that engineers will need to come up with new ways that wind turbines can deal with the pressures of the wind without having their lifespan drastically shortened.
Structural issues aren't the only problem here, either. Gearboxes and electrical systems are the main points of failure for wind turbines. Severe weather, or even intense bird strikes, may even cause the blades to crack.
Offshore wind farms don't get off lightly, either. They have all the same problems that a land-based wind turbine has to deal with, but they also have corrosive sea air and moisture issues. It doesn't help that offshore wind farms are tougher to maintain too.
A lot of these issues can be reduced by regular maintenance. The average wind turbine is maintained three times per year, but this can creep up to five times per year as it reaches the end of its lifespan.
What Happens To Wind Turbines When They Are Decommissioned?
At the moment, not a whole lot. It is a major problem in the wind turbine industry.
Most parts of a wind turbine cannot be recycled. The main issue is with the blades. Since they are made from fiberglass, they are not easy to recycle. There are some ways to recycle fiberglass, but no method is economically viable.
For now, there are graveyards full of decommissioned wind turbine blades, and this waste will keep piling up. On the plus side, this is still far less detrimental to the environment than fossil fuels.
What Is The Oldest Wind Turbine In The World?
The oldest wind turbine in the world is the Tvindkraft wind turbine. This is in Denmark. It has been in operation since 1975. But why has this wind turbine been around for almost 50 years? There are several reasons.
The Tvindkraft wind turbine was not constructed with profit in mind. It is an educational tool. A group of teachers and students designed the wind turbine to help save cash on energy bills during the long winter months.
The Tvindkraft wind turbine has only ever operated at half capacity. The components in the wind turbine are not being put under a huge amount of stress, which means they are not wearing down anywhere near as fast as other wind turbines.
The Tvindkraft wind turbine will eventually stop working. It probably has a good decade or two of life left in it, though. The school may even be able to extend this with some careful upgrades.
Most commercial wind turbines will last 20-25 years. Some wind farms may tear their wind turbines down earlier, but this is rare.
Offshore wind turbines have slightly shorter lifespans due to the conditions they operate in. They require much more maintenance to even come close to a 20-25 year lifespan.
It is unknown how long the more modern, taller wind turbines will last. However, it is likely that they will have roughly the same lifespan.