How much energy goes into making af wind turbine?
Does anyone have a calculation on how much energy goes into producing a wind turbine (offshore or onshore). Including things such as: steel production, unit production, assembly, transportation, erection, maintenance, etc? Compared to the amount of energy the wind turbine can produce in its lifespan?
Answer by Rudydoo
Hi Peter. There is no short answer to this question, but I'll leave you with two items to think about. First, this question first surfaced about 11 years ago when some groups opposed to funding for solar power research had made an argument that a solar panel takes 60+ years to produce as much power as was used to manufacture it. It was a compelling argument at first, until you looked further into it. A non profit group called Solar Energy International, and then several universities did some studies. It turns out that it is almost impossible to quantify this. The phrase that has been coined to describe it is, "Embodied Energy." This was an engineering term used in the 60's and 70's when they were looking at heavy machinery. The problem was that it was almost impossible to determine how far raw materials are shipped, and then the final product shipped again, plus people and equipment moving around to install them and so on. What they did do was assign a range to each of these variables, and in the end they could definitely come up with a range of years a solar panel has to operate to pay back its embodied energy. In the United States, for domestically produced units, solar panels earn back their embodied energy between 1.5 and 6.25 years. After that, they are ahead environmentally. For wind turbines, the numbers are similar, but ending with a wider range which is owed to the fact that wind tends to be more variable and less predictable over the long range than sun.
Things became more clear when the funding for this original argument against further funding of solar power actually came from several coal producing consortiums. You can draw whatever conclusion you like from that.
The second thing to remember here, and probably more important that the first, is to examine the question from a more practical standpoint. Electricity has been around for over a century, and its use expands daily on our globe, so it isn't going away any time soon. The better question is, "What is the best way to produce it?" Take the embodied energy of a coal plant, huge structures taking years to build and literally tons of raw materials, yet the facility pumps out tons of electrons once it is running, is it possible that a coal plant earns back its embodied energy faster? The answer is no, it never does. We forget that once you build a conventional plant, and it doesn't matter if it's coal, oil, natural gas or even methane, you then have to feed it fuel for the rest of its life, which it converts to electricity at a conversion rate somewhere less than 100%. So it actually digs itself a deeper and deeper embodied energy hole that it can never crawl out of. At least a solar panel, wind turbine or water wheel can one day get even. This is why all the utility companies are busy putting up turbines as fast as they can, once it is running, it looks really great on the balance sheet because nobody ever has to feed it again. They require maintenance, but last time I checked, so did the coal plant. You have to remember this if you find yourself in a discussion about it one day in the future, facts can be turned around pretty easily.
I've clipped a couple sources below, and I apologize that they do not get to the core of what you are asking, but they might help. Try doing some research of your own, looking for, "Embodied energy of a wind turbine," for example. Good luck Peter, and take care, Rudydoo
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