New report: Wind turbines repay their energy footprint in 5 to 8 months

2 July 2014 by Peebles Squire Peebles Squire

We’ve already talked about how wind power’s costs have dropped 43 percent in just four years, and that competitive power purchase agreements, locked in for 20 years or more, save consumers money, but a new report is making the case for growing wind power even more compelling.

According to a new study, a wind turbine designed to produce electricity for at least 20 years will pay back its production and installation energy costs in just five to eight months – and then keep generating clean energy for the rest of the project's lifespan.

After a thorough life cycle assessment of average-sized, 2 megawatt turbines in the Pacific Northwest, researchers found that after taking into account all the raw materials, transport, manufacturing, installation, maintenance, final disposal related to wind turbines, complete energy payback would occur in a matter of months. This means more than 19 years of a turbine’s life (and that is a conservative estimate) can be devoted to one thing: harvesting clean, non-emitting energy from the wind.

This new report pairs well with a comprehensive literature review from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, prepared for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, on the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of different energy sources. Taking into account all lifecycle impacts of an electrical generation facility, wind power has one of the lowest impacts of all zero-emitting resources. This low lifecycle carbon profile is part of what makes wind one of the biggest, fastest, and cheapest ways to cut carbon emissions. In 2013, wind power avoided over 126 million short tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of taking 20 million cars off the road.

Rapidly deployable, affordable wind power is a smart addition to our grid, and the body of evidence in favor of growing our wind portfolio grows larger every day. By supporting smart policies that encourage competition among energy sources, like the Production Tax Credit, we can continue to capitalize on this innovative, clean, and reliable resource, and that’s a good deal for the economy and the environment.