A study of scientists and researchers in the SPS and Empa comes to the conclusion that larger wind turbines produce greener electricity than smaller ones.

This is because manufacturers of these facilities have more experience and they benefit from their exchange knowledge. Those that develop LCA also benefit from the experience of 30 years in the construction of large wind turbines: they refine it through their methodology to estimate also the effects of new technologies over long periods.

Wind energy is considered a renewable source of hope. But are wind turbines really “green” when considering their entire life cycle and everything else – from the energy it’s required to produce, transport, building materials to the energy spent on construction, operation and demolition at the end of the life cycle? A recently published study by researchers at ETH Zurich, Empa and Rabdoud University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands reaches the following conclusion: the greater the wind turbine, the greener the electricity it produces.

Experience pays off

This effect results from the combination of plant size and experience, explains lead author of the study, Marloes Caduff. Doubling the power of an installation does not automatically follow from a doubling of energy and materials needed for construction.

The construction of a large wind turbine does not require significantly more energy than a small wind turbine. And the current produced by large wind turbines is eventually also greener because manufacturers become more experienced and learn from each other, as pointed out by Marloes Caduff. This speeds up the progress in construction of wind farms. Thus, for example, the shape of the rotor blades could be rapidly optimized without increasing the size of the mast or the generator.

Consideration of the learning process in the methodology of LCA

For wind turbines currently available experience of 30 years. In 1980 the rotor diameter was 15 meters and today there are wind turbines whose rotors have diameters ten times as the Wind ” Alstom Haliade 150 “that will be installed off the French coast.

Scientists working on the methodology of life cycle analyzes also benefit from this technological development that lasts more than 30 years. The Empa scientists gathered around Hans-Jörg Althaus interested in how the development of wind turbines, like any new technology, meets certain laws. The wind also must find their way into actual practice that entails the drawing board and pilot plants.

These scientists use the knowledge gained during the ongoing development and transition to higher scales of wind farms in the methodology of life cycle analysis and using it will when it comes to placing new technology in a longer time horizon wide.

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