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How Long Do Wind Turbines Last? Why Do They Fail?

wind turbines on the field

According to the EPA, wind turbines last for an average of 20 years with maintenance every 6 months. Even after these 25 years, much of the wind turbine is either repurposed into a newer and more modern wind turbine or recycled for electronics. The blades, unfortunately, are often thrown out because they are made of fiberglass.

Keep in mind that this is just an estimate based on the full body of the wind turbine. Individual parts within the contraption may not last as long. For a more comprehensive explanation of how long wind turbines last, keep reading.

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What Is the Average Lifespan of Wind Turbines?

The average lifespan for wind turbines is anywhere from 20–25 years. Depending on locations and several factors that we will describe below, some wind turbines actually break during this time and are no longer usable.

Other turbines are taken down after the 25-year span is up, even if they continue working. Although some wind turbines continue to work after 25 years, their efficiency decreases dramatically, making them an ineffective energy source. Not to mention, maintaining wind turbines older than 25 years is an incredible expense. As such, wind turbines are decommissioned at about the 25-year mark.

wind turbine in the field
Image Credit: b1-foto, Pixabay

Factors That Impact How Long Wind Turbines Last

Several factors will impact how long wind turbines last. Most importantly, the load, size, and stress of the structure determine its longevity. As you might expect, larger turbines do not have as long of life spans because they are under more stress caused by the wind and their size.

Another big factor that impacts the longevity and lifespan of wind turbines is the environment they are in. Factors such as humidity, erosion, corrosion, lightning, birds, and other environmental factors can all cause a wind turbine to be decommissioned sooner than others.

Maintenance is the last big factor that impacts a wind turbine’s lifespan. Wind turbines that are well maintained should live to be about 20 to 25 years old. Failing to maintain wind turbines properly will cause them to have a much shorter life expectancy due to technical issues.

The Main Reasons Why Wind Turbines Fail

Wind turbine failure is relatively rare, but they can fail externally or internally. External causes of failure are pretty obvious. Factors like lightning, birds, rainfall, or cracks can cause a wind turbine to fail externally.

Internal failure isn’t always as obvious as an external failure, but it is the main reason why most wind turbines fail. Most electricity failures are caused by humidity levels that are over 60%. Electrical failures can simply happen over time as technology becomes more dated. It is estimated that nearly half of all wind turbines end up failing due to electrical problems regarding the control system specifically.

As you might expect, failing wind turbines are incredibly expensive to fix. Often, it’s more affordable to simply replace the wind turbine than to try to fix it.

Wind Turbine Power
Image Credit: TeeFarm, Pixabay

What Happens After Wind Turbines Are Decommissioned?

Whenever wind turbines stop working, they become decommissioned. Different parts of the wind turbine will be used for different purposes.

Oftentimes, the base of the wind turbine is still functional and works perfectly fine. As such, these bases are normally kept in place and used as the base of a new wind turbine to come.

About 85% of the wind turbine is made up of electrical components, such as copper and other valuable metals. These valuable metals are often recycled and used for computers and other technology.

The blades are the most difficult part of the wind turbine to deal with. They are made of fiberglass, and there are very few recycling options from fiberglass at the moment. If the blades are damaged, they typically are just thrown away at a landfill. Some scientists have been pushing for more modern approaches to fiberglass recycling, though.

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Final Thoughts

Wind turbines are used for clean energy, and they have a lifespan that is relatively good for our planet. With a life span of 25 years, wind turbines can last a decent amount of time. Plus, most of the parts within decommissioned wind turbines can be recycled or reused for other purposes.

The only part of the wind turbine that shows serious repercussions on our planet are the blades. Because they are made from fiberglass, wind turbine blades are often just thrown away and fill up our landfills. Because these blades are so large, it’s easy to imagine how much space they take up once tossed out.


Featured Image Credit: EdWhiteImages, Pixabay

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