The total costs involved in wind energy are colossal

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?
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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)


18 thoughts on “The total costs involved in wind energy are colossal”

  1. What about this BS piece of propaganda from the Guardian ?

    “Britain passes one week without coal power for first time since 1882.”

    But they have many gas fired power stations.

    All of the Energy agencies continue to report that wind and solar account for tiny quantities of energy produced.

    And some of their former coal fired power plants like the 4000 MW Drax plant responsible for more energy than all wind and solar at 7% of the UK’s generation potential uses wood chip pellets made by cutting down forests in the US and shipped across the Atlantic instead of coal.

    WOW – what an achievement – they cut down trees and ship them thousands of miles so they can boast “Britain passes one week without coal power for first time since 1882.”

    And these idiots think they’re environmentalists ?

  2. wow! I took notes. Those global warming fanatics haven’t a clue what they got themselves into, all for fear of fossil fuels! Thanks Robert!

  3. One only needs to stop long enough to consider the power density of wind to see how utterly useless it’s going to be in fighting “climate change”. Power is calculated as being proportional to the cube of the wind’s speed (which is why turbine towers are continuously being built taller and taller to take advantage of higher wind speeds.) But the density of air is so low (just 1/1000th that of water) that even with higher wind speeds there isn’t much embedded kinetic energy.

    NREL publishes US wind speed data here. On an annual basis there’s no place in the contiguous 48 states that has a 10.0 m/s (~22 mph) wind speed. Remember that for safety purposes wind turbines kick out when the air speed exceeds a certain point as well. Tim Hughes of the University of Oklahoma’s Environmental Verification and Analysis Center has a PDF demonstrating the math of wind energy and power. The final example he shows outlines that the size of the turbine doesn’t matter for power because it has everything to do with speed and air density. Against the energy density of coal or natgas, wind is a far distant second and why, over the stated lifespan of a wind turbine (30 years, which never happens) the energy it costs in manufacturing the turbine—and recycling its components after its useful life has ended—cannot be recovered.

  4. A couple of year old, online article titled “London Array Turns Two” offers a great perspective on just how expensive, how inefficient offshore wind truly is.

    With an effective output of only 350 Megawatts, the operation needs 92 workers and a fleet of 6 boats.
    For contrast, a standard 1,000 Megawatt Combined Cycle Gas Plant needs only a 30 person staff, is dispatchable 24/7 with a 10 minute ramp, and costs 1/2 or less to build than these offshore boondoggles.

  5. The article makes some relevant points. But the starting place should be the current estimated EROI, which is supposedly ~20. From there identify the weak areas; intermittency, grid support, JIT inventory system, etc.

    Commercial wind power works. That why it exists. But it is an accessory to a fossil fuel infrastructure, and is unlikely to significantly mitigate the global energy contraction.

    https://www.carbonbrief.org/energy-return-on-investment-which-fuels-win

  6. pity more people dont see the chinese rare earth production sites, and we dont see the mines at all, no ones managed to get into those. at least a coal or gas plant can have the turbines overhauled fairly easily, and their lifespans are extendable by doing so. their access roads and trainlines for hauling are often a huge bonus to areas without prior rail services as in Aus it boosts other local industries to use the lines also. i think the newest turbnes are using a multiple materials blade so recycling would be even less achievable than a steel one, steel can be cut and remelted at least, albeit an issue if its not a boat you can float to the indian wreckers…the rare earth magnets from the turbine motors? i dont think nyones worked out how to recycle any of that once its formed and hardened. even lithium batteries are only just touching on meaningful recycling and theyre in a more manageable form to begin with.
    the entire greenpower idea sounds good but in reality is just another moneyspinner for a limited few and a tax dodge for the investment/bankers cabal.
    ROBERT : see a link I sent you last night Austime on that topic;-)

  7. Does anyone have figures on the use of smaller wind turbines for the use of individuals families and farms as part of their overall energy strategy?

  8. It looks like the less you depend upon mega-producers of anything and the more you depend upon yourself and your neighbors for everything, the better you will weather any coming catastrophe. A word to the wise…

  9. 170 tons of coal coke is 1.7 million kWh. To create coke from coal we need half of its energy content. This is another 0,85 million kWh. Together 2550 MWh. So 1MW rated wind turbine needs around 7650 hours of service to break even. So it takes 11 months to break even. Assumed 30% average power production from nameplate. That is actually not so bad. Whole energy can pay off around after 5 years.

  10. Fake news.
    A wind turbine generates the energy used to built in less than 6 month at a 7 m/s average wind speed.

    All Cost included, thus also O&M and decommissioning, a modern wind turbine produces electricity for approximately USD cent 5 per kWh much cheaper than nuclear power and very close to gas. And btw main reason is that it does not produce CO2 green house gas which natural gas does!

  11. Peter and Bernard;

    Since windmills are so efficient and the energy return on energy investment (EROEI) is so swift, then why are my tax dollars needed to support the construction of these vast wind farms which now blight our once beautiful countryside?

  12. I posted the information below in a number of places where there was considerable comment about cost, bird and bat killing and other ecological damage, noise, landscape destruction, and problems induced into the electrical system. A couple of times there was a derogatory comment or two about my posting but the content of those made it quite plain that the respondent had not looked at any of the evidence; their detractions were completely off point.

    No one has ever bothered to respond to this information, a problem that could outweigh every other consideration because of the long term disability, health, and possibly miscarriage consequences. Perhaps people simply think those things not really important, even if completely certain. Perhaps they, like the Greens, simply discount anything so contrary to their core beliefs as fabrications, regardless of evidence. Or???

    If anyone is willing to look at this and point out why it isn’t worth paying attention to, I would be quite grateful.

    >>>>>> Infrasound is the frequencies of sound at or below the range of human hearing. The cutoff is normally considered to be 20 Hz but the problems may extend somewhat above 20 Hz. That infrasound can cause damage to internal organs has been know to some degree since early research in the 1960s.

    That frequent infrasound exposure causes unusual tissue growth in certain common protein structures, observable, verifiable, and repeatable, has been know for perhaps more than two decades. First discovered in autopsies, then biopsies, diagnosis eventually became possible by several less intrusive means in living humans and animals.

    These tissue changes occur in many parts of the body, including heart, lungs, trachea, inner ears, and brain. They modify how the organs work. Most are debilitating and often eventually fatal. The cause is not widely recognized because there are no unique symptoms; the tissue changes are not obvious without particular attention to fine structure. As with hearing loss from overly high sound levels, deterioration is gradual and often permanent if exposure goes on long enough.

    The tissue changes are consistently reproducible under laboratory conditions (animal experiments, obviously). They occur under 8 hour days, five days per week, (i.e. intermittent) exposure corresponding to normal factory work schedules. They progress faster under more frequent exposure. Infrasound can not be protected against with earplugs or stone walls. Infrasound from an outside source is often considerably more intense inside buildings than immediately outside because of structural resonances (which is sometimes also true of audible low frequency sounds).

    Birth defects and still births are common in some animals, uncertain but indicated in humans. Overall, this seems to be hard, repeatable science. I have come across no information, or even hints that any scientist has found conflicting results, yet most investigations of possible problems seem to be done in complete ignorance of published studies, concentrating on more touchy-feely aspects (how do you FEEL about living near wind turbines?) rather than the induced physical changes. Essentially all legal standards for determining sound pollution or noise disturbances are based on the Fletcher-Munson hearing curves developed a century ago and do not even detect the presence of the low frequencies that do the damage.

    Wind turbines came under investigation from this aspect only recently. Previous work on the medical results of infrasound exposure was from studies of other industrial infrasound sources. The wind turbine results are alarming considering how common wind farms are becoming in some areas and how near to dwellings they are often being built. Some of the relevant parameters have been roughed out but there is much that needs to be determined about the extent of the wind turbine problem. The particular infrasound signature of wind turbines has been measured as much as 20 Km from the source but at just what intensity level the problem may become insignificant has not been determined, as far as I know.

    earlier work on infrasound
    https://www.intechopen.com/books/acoustics-of-materials/acoustics-and-biological-structures

    wind turbines infrasound
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXCZ3OyklrE

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