Environmental Assessment of Wind Turbines: Good or Bad?

June 30, 2014

Wind turbines provide a renewable source of energy that is generally considered as environmentally friendly, as well as an excellent alternative to the common fossil fuel power plant.  Once installed and running, wind turbines generate power with essentially zero carbon emissions.  Despite the overwhelming support of wind turbines as an alternative source of renewable energy, some skeptics still question the true impact of the wind turbine; some may argue that the relatively low power output from a wind turbine, combined with the carbon emissions caused by production, transportation, installation and maintenance, may in fact produce a negative environmental impact.

wind turbine2(1)

[Image Source: SolarRochester]

Environmental researchers at Oregon State University have recently silenced the critics by preforming an environmental lifecycle assessment of wind turbines, from initial production to final installation, and found that the payback period of a 20 year turbine to be approximately 5-8 months.  This research has been published in the International Journal of Sustainable Manufacturing and aims to further promote the need for renewable energy.


[Image Source: SolarRochester]

The research explored 2-MegaWatt turbines deployed in a large wind farm in the US Pacific Northwest with an average lifecycle of 20 years of generation.  The assesment took into account sourcing raw materials, manufacturing, transport, installation, lifecycle maintenance, and recycling and disposal impacts.  The results concluded that with all aspects considered, the turbine should achieve full environmental recovery after approximately 6 months. Even in worst case scenarios, the turbines should recover after 1 year and continue clean renewable power generation for 19 years.

Whilst some complain that they may not be aesthetically pleasing, with such a rapidly increasing population and finite resources the world needs more sustainable and clean sources of energy and we can now be sure, that wind turbines fall into this category.