How Long Do Wind Turbine Blades Last?

When technology and natural resources are fused together, there is a lot of scope for the production of energy. Wind turbines, hydro generators, solar panels, etc. are all examples of technological inventions that have largely generated energy by utilizing water, wind, sunlight, and likewise. Today, let’s dive into wind turbines to know more about them.

What are wind turbines?

Wind turbines are large technological structures that are used to convert kinetic wind energy into mechanical energy with the help of blades. They can be installed onshore as well as offshore.

How long do wind turbines and their blades last?

The material with which wind turbines are created is chosen on its ability to withstand hurricane-force winds. Now, this durability is advantageous for its operation but, it prevents the blades from being crushed, decomposed, or recycled. Hence, the life expectancy of the blades of a wind turbine is equal to how long the turbine itself lasts, i.e. 20-25 years depending on the environmental factors and maintenance procedures.

However, it has also been observed that most blades are taken down after 10 years so that they can be replaced with larger and more powerful designs.

They are unlikely to last longer than this because of the extreme loads they are subjected to throughout their lives. Some of the wind turbines are even designed to shut down automatically when the wind speeds are very high to protect them from the extensive load.

Can their lifetime be extended?

The lifespan can be extended through careful monitoring and maintenance which requires the condition of the asset to be examined and compared with the expended lifespan, based on the expected loads and fatigue as well as environmental factors of the site where it is installed.   

Why do wind turbine blades wear out?

The answer to this question depends upon various factors like:

  • Environmental operating condition – These conditions are site-specific and include average wind speeds, turbulence intensities, and the cyclic loading of foundations, jacket structures, and monopoles caused by waves.
  • As a moving component, they are subject to higher levels of loading and fatigue
  • They can suffer damage from birds or other objects striking them
  • High wind speeds and lightning strikes can also cause the wind turbine blades to wear out

What is done to the blades once they wear out?

Apart from the wind turbine blades which are made up of fiberglass, 85% of the components can be recycled or reused, as they are made up of steel, copper wire, electronics, and gearing materials, whereas the blades cannot.

In addition to the material itself being difficult to break, the size of the turbine blades, which can be as long as a single football field, also makes them uneasy to be disposed of. Every year tens of thousands of old turbine blades fill up landfills worldwide.

They are a really big problem to which the industry is looking for alternatives and scientists are trying to find better ways to turn the blades into pellets or fiberboards.

Fortunately, after 20-25 years of lifetime, they are environmentally safe to be disposed off underground.

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