A new study from the Lawrence Berkeley Lab explores the performance of U.S. wind plants as they age. Researchers found that output from the typical wind plant declines by about 13% over 17 years. Furthermore, plants of 10 years of age or less showed very little performance decline overall (-0.17 %/yr).
The research is based on data from 917 wind power projects in the United States and appears in the peer-reviewed journal Joule.
The study authors will summarize key findings via a free webinar on May 20, 2020 at 2 p.m. ET. Register here:
A major influence on the performance of older plants (built before 2008) is the federal production tax credit, which provides incentives for energy output during the first 10 years of plant life. Plant performance declined abruptly after the 10-year tax credit ran out, suggesting that the tax credit gives plant operators strong incentives to maintain turbines. This drop in performance after 10 years was not found in prior studies focused on European wind fleets, in which performance decline was constant over time.
The study finds that turbines sited on flatter terrain, with lower specific power and direct drives (rather than gear boxes) have lower rates of performance decline. Flatter terrain may be associated with less wind turbulence, and thus less stress on the turbines, but data on turbulence is not systematically available. Turbines with low specific power ratings have longer blades relative to their generator size, and are becoming increasingly popular. Direct drive turbines are not common in U.S. projects, with fewer than a dozen in the projects sample.
Factors that had no discernible effect on performance decline included overall project capacity, amount of nearby capacity at other wind plants, size of plant owner (i.e., owners of many projects versus owners of a single project), and original equipment manufacturer.
The performance of wind plants may decline over time due to a number of reasons, such as increasing downtime for maintenance, erosion of blade edges, or increased friction within rotating components. It is also possible for performance to improve if software, or even hardware, updates are installed. However, in most cases plant performance tends to decline slightly with age.
This performance decline rate is an important input into estimates of a plant’s lifetime generation output and estimates of a plant’s financial viability. This rate is also important in research contexts, for example, as an input into long-term energy sector models and as input to estimates of the levelized cost of wind energy. Despite its importance, little information is publicly available as to how U.S. wind plant performance changes with age. Due in part to the lack of information, the performance decline rate is often not accounted for by investors, energy modelers, and policy makers.
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