Wind turbines hit limits to growth before 50% wind power penetration

2 03 2015

Here is another blogpost clearly explaining the limits of renewable energy using mathematics… you know, that discipline you cannot argue with?  Originally published at Energy Skeptic dot com where loads of other interesting stuff on energy matters are accessible.  I highly recommend that site to all my DTM followers…..


Material requirements of 50% wind power in the USA hit limits to growth

Wind turbines can’t be made forever because natural gas, coal, oil, uranium (thorium), neodymium, and other energy resources and minerals needed for wind turbines are finite, and the energy to recycle is limited.

Oil, the master resource, coal, and natural gas are required to make the millions of tons of steel, copper, fiberglass, plastic, epoxy, and concrete as well as deliver and maintain hundreds of thousands of wind turbines providing 50% or more of electricity as fossil fuels decline.

2,029,104,500 MWh = Wind power to equal 50% of annual electricity generation in 2013 (4,058,209,000 MWh / 2)
5,606.4 MWh power per year per 2 MW turbine (2 MW * .32 national average capacity * 24 hours * 365 days) summer
361,926 Number of 2 MW turbines required (2,029,104,500 MWh / 5,606.4 MWh) You’d need 531,318 wind turbines to allow for the lowest capacity of .218 in august 2013 (EIA).
Area required 104,586 square miles — the entire state of Colorado (361,926 2 MW turbines * 2 * 92.47 acres per MW) (AWEO)
Materials per 2 MW turbine in short tons: 265.5 steel, 1025.5 concrete, 39 iron, 3 copper, 24.3 fiberglass, 10 epoxy, 2.4 plastic (average of Elsam, Guezuraga), and rare earth metals neodymium 800 pounds, dysprosium 130 pounds (ED).
Total amount of materials needed for 361,926 wind turbines in short tons: 96,091,353 steel, 371,155,113 concrete containing 74,213,022 cement (20% of concrete), 144,770 tons neodymium, 23,525 dysprosium, 14,115,114 iron, 1,085,778 copper, 8,794,802 fiberglass, 3,619,260 epoxy, 868,622 plastic
Annual steel production world-wide 1,833,395 tons in 2014 (worldsteel) = 52 years of world steel production (96,092,353 / 1,833,395)
Annual cement production USA 142,464,000 tons (USGS) = 52% of annual cement production (roads, buildings, sewers, and other infrastructure will suffer)
Neodymium world production is 7,840 tons/year. Windmill turbines would require 18.5 years of production. Dysprosium production is 112 tons/year requiring 210 years of dysprosium production (ED).
Fossil energy required to build windmills: The vehicles that mine iron ore run on diesel. Vehicles and equipment that process iron ore are mostly made of steel. Iron and steel are made by blast furnace or direct reduction using coal or natural gas. Imported steel arrives on ships burning diesel. Cement (20% of concrete) is made in a kiln using coal or natural gas. Fiberglass, epoxy, and plastic are made out of petroleum.

If the plan is to build 150% wind power to increase the capacity credit for reliable power, or immigration and birth rates increase the US population to 1 billion as expected in census projections by 2100, triple all of the above figures. Since the rest of the world also wants wind power and have increasing populations, perhaps multiplying by 10 would be more realistic, or by 12, since many material requirements were left out (i.e. transmission / distribution lines and towers, substations, roads, etc).

ED. 2015. Neodymium. Dysprosium.

EIA. 2015. Table 6.7.B. Capacity Factors for Utility Scale Generators Not Primarily Using Fossil Fuels, January 2008-November 2014. U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Prieto, P. A. 21 Oct 2008. Solar + Wind in Spain/ World. Closing the growing gap? ASPO International conference.

USGS. 2011. Cement production. United States Geological Society. 127,200,000 long tons converted to 142,464,000 short tons (2,000 lbs)

Worldsteel. 2014. Monthly Crude Steel Production 2014. Pig iron 2013 + DR 2013. (converted from long to short tons).




4 responses

2 03 2015
John Weber

Here is more Mike: It would be elegant if wind and solar energy capturing devices could actually maintain a modicum of the wonderfully rich lifestyles many of us live. I believe this is a false dream and that BAU (business as usual) is not sustainable or “green” nor really desirable for the future of the earth or even our species.

I have researched the energy requirements and the CO2 emissions for just the rebar and concrete used for the base of a 2.5 megawatt wind energy capturing device (wind turbine). Notice also all the equipment needed throughout the process of making and installing; these in themselves have an input of energy the materials. There are charts and pictures. It is sobering.
See charts and data at:
I am working on another for the glass used in solar energy collecting devices.

2 03 2015
Chris Harries

John, re your comment…. ‘It would be elegant if wind and solar energy capturing devices could actually maintain a modicum of the wonderfully rich lifestyles many of us live.’

I’ve thought about this a lot and believe that the bulk of the environmental movement is actually aware of this but for pragmatic reasons the popular strategy is to talk up the positive (solar and wind) and go quiet on the negative (the need for radical changed lifestyles and economy). The reason for this is that the community is much more empowered by hearing positive news than negative news, so tell them what they want to hear.

I think there’s a sort of unstated belief in environmental circles that renewable energy will bring on the other changes anyway, because those energy forms won’t be able to deliver business-as-usual. The most important thing is to make the switch

What disturbs me is that this strategy is a little dishonest, but more so, many of the advocates tend to have become so wrapped up in the positive arguments that many have totally convinced themselves that it is possible to pursue business-as-usual after all. Plummeting costs of solar panels have fed a widespread delusion that it’s very feasible to turn off fossil fuelled power and switch on renewables without much pain.

The majority of people don’t have a technical education and so are easily persuaded to go along with what they really would like to magically happen.

The net result of all this is that the mathematics on resource usage almost don’t matter – as a society we we have created a solid determination to destroy the world in order to save it.

5 03 2015

Totally agree, well put Chris

2 03 2015
Chris Harries

Here is a more comprehensive analysis of resources used by various energy sources.

[I’m beware that these facts get used by advocates of other energy supply technologies to debunk renewables solely for competitive reasons. So I think these sort of analyses need to always carry a rider that there’s no free lunch and no escape. Otherwise the information is simply used by a culture that is obsessed with charging ahead to choose what’s the best horse to lay bets on.]

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