What about decommissioning of 20-year-old turbines and disposal? What do you do with millions of tons of rusted steel blades … melt them down? What with? … Fossil-fuel energy?
The total costs involved in wind energy are colossal
Interested reader in Australia
How science works: Someone claims to know something and everyone else’s job is to put them on the spot by interrogating every part of their claim.
I don’t have the full facts at hand to falsify Benjamin Napier’s graphic (below), but I have found information at: http://www.aweo.org/faq.html, which I think is helpful in evaluating his claims.
To begin with, the claim that the steel in a 2MW wind turbine masses 260 tons is supported independently. The Danish-built 1.8MW Vestas V90, for example – nacelle, blades, and tower – weighs 267 tons. (Actually, the 2MW Gamesa G87 from Spain requires 334 tons of steel!)
So, immediately, we have at least partial corroboration of Mr Napier’s graphic. Only partial, but a good start. And it implies the rest of the graphic may also be based on facts.
The foundations of these massive structures need to be considered as well. The reference site I’ve provided says: “The base of the steel tower is anchored in a platform of more than a thousand tons of concrete and steel rebar, 30 to 50 feet across and anywhere from 6 to 30 feet deep. Pylons may be driven down farther to help anchor the platform.”
The materials for this have to be mined, processed and transported to the site also. And since hydrocarbons (fossil fuels) are used in every part of that process, we have to include that cost in the overall bill for each wind turbine.
And there are other big costs which most people never stop to consider:-
1) First of all, new roads have to be built, or existing ones need to be extensively “upgraded.” It requires more than an old dirt logging track to get a 150-ft blade, a 70-ton nacelle, or the huge crane needed to put it all together, up a mountain. The road needs to be wide, straight, and very strong.
2) Expensive land clearing (an environmental issue in itself) is another issue – the 1.8MW Vestas V90 needs 111 unobstructed acres around it for best performance.
3) Miles of security fencing are required – access to the area around the turbines must be strictly limited because of physical danger.
4) A facility may also require a new substation or two, as well as new transmission lines. In some cases, the new power lines could be hundreds of miles long.
5) Neodymium, a rare-earth element, is used in every wind turbine. On average, 1 ton of the metal is needed for every 1MW of wind turbine electricity output. The current price of pure neodymium oxide is around $US100,000 per ton and rising. Its mining and refining are heavily dependent on coal-fired power – mainly in the Chinese region called Baotou, where the-thirds of the world’s rare-earth elements are produced at hideous environmental cost. (Look it up.)
6) Fossil-fuel power stations provide base-load power. Wind turbines do not. So back-up fossil-fuel power stations must be kept ticking over for the frequent occasions on which wind (and solar) fail to deliver.
The wild swings in wind-turbine output mean the spinning base-load plants, kept constantly at the ready, must be brought in and out of production. These plants therefore continue to burn their fossil fuel. And the continual fluctuations of wind power add enormously to the cost and inefficiency of that burning.
7) Two more problems, usually overlooked by wind farm advocates, involve the high cost of wind turbine maintenance – especially the offshore units, which are subject to swift degradation in the salty marine environment – and the cost of the decommissioning of wind farms at the end of their 20-year lifespan.
It’s difficult to get figures for maintenance, since the wind farm lobbyists are reluctant to publish that information. But the fact that many of the larger turbines have helicopter landing pads on their nacelles gives us some idea of the problem and the expense involved.
Decommissioning of 20-year-old turbines is a burgeoning problem in Germany, which was among the first countries to embrace wind-power. Over 7000 of their units are due for dismantling next year at a cost of €30,000 each. Offshore units will cost vastly more to dismantle, since their towers must be detached from the sea floor and all components brought ashore for disposal.
And what of the disposal costs themselves?
What do you do with millions of tons of rusted steel blades … melt them down? What with? … Fossil-fuel energy?
What about the cost of disposing of millions of gallons of high-pressure gear oil used in the gearboxes? What about the cost of recycling expensive rare-earth metals from the electrical systems?
What about the cost of building and erecting the new or reconditioned turbines?
And the above is not necessarily an exhaustive list.
The total costs involved in the wind energy experiment are colossal and are mostly kept low-key by vested interests.
The price of the electricity produced MUST include the amortisation of ALL these costs over the complete life of the wind farms to obtain a fair comparison.
If we include all these costs honestly, it seems more than likely that Benjamin Napier’s graphic is entirely plausible.
(Graphic also at Windmill Feasibility)