Wind farm longevity questioned

The Scottish Government has considered 79 energy projects since May 2007. Of these 56 have been for renewable energy projects including 32 onshore wind farms, of which ministers have refused planning permission for six. Another 46 applications are being considered, 44 of which involve renewable energy projects. However, recent research is questioning the economic viability of wind farms.

The Scientific Alliance Scotland recently organised a seminar in Edinburgh at which Gordon Hughes, Professor of Economics at Edinburgh University, reported on his recent work on the longevity of wind farms in Scotland. His research indicates that the average load capacity of wind farms in the UK drops from 28% when new to below 19% when 10 years old, then further to 15% at 15 years old. Larger wind farms do even worse, dropping on average from 35% effective to 5% in 15 years.

Wind farms in Denmark have a slower decline, from 22% to 18% at 15 years. This may be because they are smaller and are subjected to less stress than wind farms in the UK. However, offshore wind farms in Denmark are showing a load decline from 45% to 10% within 10 years. A study in Texas indicated a decline from 30% to 12% in 10 years.

The average turbine in the UK is now much larger and although they perform better over the first 8 years they then degrade much more rapidly. With an overall decline of 50% in efficiency over 15 years.

It is therefore argued that the true economic lifespan of the average wind farm will be no more than 10 -15 years, far shorter than the 25 year lifespan on which Government and industry investment decisions have been based. This will add fuel to the other arguments used by critics of wind farms including cost, lack of job creation and intermittent supply.

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