A wind turbine in Tasmania
Wind power is being harnessed as a way to reduce dependency on using fossil fuels for energy. (Roger Lovell/AAP IMAGES)

Wind turbine lifespan claim generates misinformation

Nik Dirga October 13, 2022

Wind turbine generators typically have a life span of just three to four years.


False. Engineering and sustainable energy experts say generators last about 20 years.

A viral Facebook post being shared in Australia claims wind farm generators only last a few years, requiring frequent costly and environmentally unfriendly replacement.

The claim is false. Experts told AAP FactCheck the average lifespan of wind turbine generators is about 20 years.

The post (screenshot here) from May 2022 shows an image of a crane and a wind tower, with text stating: “The wind farm in Mt. Pulaski has been running for 3 1/2 years. They have been replacing the generators in all the wind towers. … So evidently the life span on these generators on these things is about 3 to 4 years.”

Listing equipment allegedly used to replace the generators, the post says: “That is a huge amount of diesel fuel being used to maintain these wind towers.”

A screenshot of the Facebook post.
 A Facebook post’s claim about the lifespan of wind farm generators is untrue. 

The same claim, which apparently originated earlier this year, has been shared repeatedly including by several Australian Facebook users (see here, here and here).

However, experts told AAP FactCheck turbines typically last decades, while the wind farm’s management has said the photo is not of generators being replaced.

“Most modern wind turbines are designed to last for 20 years,” Professor David Wood, an expert in mechanical engineering and renewable energy at the University of Calgary, said in an email.

“The claim that turbines have a lifetime of 3-4 years is incorrect.”

Mark Diesendorf, a sustainable energy expert at UNSW Sydney, agrees.

“Generators should last at least 20 years. Apart from size, they are no different from generators in fossil fuelled power stations which generally last for at least 20 years,” Dr Diesendorf told AAP FactCheck via email.

Components for an offshore wind turbine
 Components used in offshore wind turbines at a manufacturing company in Melbourne. 

Wind turbines generate electricity by using wind to turn propeller blades around to spin a generator. They release minimal emissions and are considerably more environmentally friendly than energy production using coal and natural gas.

The HillTopper wind farm near Mt.Pulaski, in the US state of Illinois, is run by Enel Green Power and features 74 units of 2.5-116 turbines.

HillTopper’s management helped debunk the same claim for USA Today in August 2022. They confirmed the farm had not replaced any generators, but 17 gearboxes – used to increase rotational speed – had been swapped out “due to unforeseen and rare defects”.

Jason Meeks, site manager of HillTopper, also told USA Today that generators are “typically expected to last around 20 years.”

Prof Wood, who is also a director of the Wind Energy Institute of Canada, said wind turbines required frequent attention, like any mechanical equipment.

“Many turbines have maintenance issues that arise before that time (20 years), mainly with the generators, gearboxes, and erosion of the blades,” he said.

“These components are expensive to repair but usually the need for repair (is) where the wind speeds are high and so have higher than average power output meaning the relative cost of repair is not high.”

Cows near a wind farm at Bungendore in NSW
 Wind turbine generators last about 20 years, while the towers can stand for decades. 

The wind towers themselves can last for decades, Dr Diesendorf says.

“Typical commercial lifetime for a large wind turbine is 25 years. That figure is based on thousands of wind farms operating around the world for several decades,” he said.

“After 25 years, the blades or generator or gearbox may need replacing, but the tower can be used for much longer.”

The US Environmental Protection Energy states in a fact sheet “the typical life span of a wind turbine is 20 years, with routine maintenance required every six months,” (page 2).

A 2019 study of wind turbine reliability found generator faults were on the rarer side of problems.

The Verdict

The claim wind turbine generators only last three to four years is false. Experts told AAP FactCheck the life span of generators is typically about 20 years. The US wind farm featured in the post says it has not replaced any generators, only some defective parts of the turbine machinery.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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