There has been some debate about whether wind turbines have a more limited shelf life than other energy technologies. However, a new study suggests that wind turbines can remain productive for up to 25 years, making wind farms an attractive long-term choice for energy investors.
Conducted by researchers at the U.K.-based Imperial College Business School, the study notes that the U.K. has a target of generating 15% of the nation's energy from renewable resources by 2020. There are currently 4,246 individual wind turbines in the region across 531 projects, generating 7.5% of the nation's electricity.
The report says a previous study used a statistical model to estimate that electricity output from wind turbines declines by a third after only 10 years of operation. Some opponents of wind power have argued that aging turbine technology could need replacing en masse after as little as 10 years, which would make it an unattractive option in economic terms, the report adds.
But through a nationwide analysis of the U.K. fleet of wind turbines, using local wind speed data from NASA, the researchers found that the turbines will last their full life of about 25 years before they need to be upgraded.
In fact, the research found that some of the U.K.'s earliest turbines, built in the 1990s, are still producing three-quarters of their original output after 19 years of operation, nearly twice the amount previously claimed, and will operate effectively up to 25 years. According to the study, this is comparable to the performance of gas turbines used in power stations.
The study also found that more recent turbines are performing even better than the earliest models, suggesting they could have a longer lifespan. The team says this makes a strong business case for further investment in the wind farm industry.
‘There have been concerns about the costs of maintaining aging wind farms and whether they are worth investing in," comments Professor Richard Green, co-author and head of the Department of Management at Imperial College Business School. "This study gives a 'thumbs up' to the technology and shows that renewable energy is an asset for the long term.’