Study Gives Wind Turbines a 'Thumbs Up'

Researchers in the U.K. found wind turbines put out nearly twice the power in the long term than some critics have claimed. 

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Wind turbines churn out as much as 75 percent of their original capacity in the long term, researchers in the United Kingdom have found.

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Wind turbines are getting some serious airtime.

A new study from the United Kingdom has found wind turbines generate more power in the long term than some critics have claimed.

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Some have argued turbines lose a third of their electrical output after just 10 years of operation, the paper said. Researchers from the Imperial College Business School, however, determined that turbines still churn out about three-quarters of their original capacity for 19 years – nearly twice as long.  

“There have been concerns about the costs of maintaining aging wind farms and whether they are worth investing in,” professor Richard Green, a co-author of the study, said in a statement. “This study gives a 'thumbs up’ to the technology and shows that renewable energy is an asset for the long term.”

The team used wind-speed data from NASA from the past 20 years and compared it with the actual recorded output from each wind farm. They then developed a formula to calculate how wear-and-tear affected the turbine's performance, finding that the wind farms were putting out more power than had been previously thought. A key reason: the high-end engineering of the turbines.

“They’re designed to be as light and as strong as possible, and to be able to survive and withstand and use really powerful winds,” explains Dan Kammen, professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley. “Anything that’s designed in that way, kind of optimizing lightness, strength and performance, it’s not surprising they’d really outperform what you’d expect, because that’s a really tough environment.”

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Wind farms generate about 7.5 percent of the energy in the U.K. In the United States, wind power makes up slightly more than 4 percent of all generated energy, according to the Department of Energy.

“Our study provides some certainty,” said research fellow and co-author Iain Staffell, “helping investors to see that wind farms are an effective long-term investment.” 

The findings were published in the journal Renewable Energy on Thursday.