How to Make Wind Power Sustainable Again

The low-tech magazine analyses the sustainability of wind energy — are there options to build truly sustainable wind turbines? What is the problem with the current turbines?

Wind turbines are considered to be a clean and sustainable source of power. However, while they can indeed generate electricity with lower CO2-emissions than fossil fuel power plants, they also produce a lot of waste.

This is easily overlooked, because roughly 90% of the mass of a large wind turbine is steel, mainly concentrated in the tower. Steel is commonly recycled and this explains why wind turbines have very short energy payback times – the recycled steel can be used to produce new wind turbine parts, which greatly lowers the energy required during the manufacturing process.

However, wind turbine blades are made from light-weight plastic composite materials, which are voluminous and impossible to recycle. Although the mass of the blades is limited compared to the total mass of a wind turbine, it’s not negligible. For example, one 60 m long fiberglass blade weighs 17 tonnes, meaning that a 5 MW wind turbine produces more than 50 tonnes of plastic composite waste from the blades alone.

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