One Wind Turbine Takes 900 Tons of Steel , 2500 Tons Of Concrete , 45 Tons of Plastic!

From WSJ

If You Want ‘Renewable Energy,’ Get Ready to Dig

Building one wind turbine requires 900 tons of steel, 2,500 tons of concrete and 45 tons of plastic.

By Mark P. Mills
Aug. 5, 2019 6:48 pm ET

Democrats dream of powering society entirely with wind and solar farms combined with massive batteries. Realizing this dream would require the biggest expansion in mining the world has seen and would produce huge quantities of waste.

“Renewable energy” is a misnomer. Wind and solar machines and batteries are built from nonrenewable materials. And they wear out. Old equipment must be decommissioned, generating millions of tons of waste.

The International Renewable Energy Agency calculates that solar goals for 2050 consistent with the Paris Accords will result in old-panel disposal constituting more than double the tonnage of all today’s global plastic waste.

Consider some other sobering numbers:

A single electric-car battery weighs about 1,000 pounds. Fabricating one requires digging up, moving and processing more than 500,000 pounds of raw materials somewhere on the planet. The alternative? Use gasoline and extract one-tenth as much total tonnage to deliver the same number of vehicle-miles over the battery’s seven-year life.

When electricity comes from wind or solar machines, every unit of energy produced, or mile traveled, requires far more materials and land than fossil fuels. That physical reality is literally visible: A wind or solar farm stretching to the horizon can be replaced by a handful of gas-fired turbines, each no bigger than a tractor-trailer.

Building one wind turbine requires 900 tons of steel, 2,500 tons of concrete and 45 tons of nonrecyclable plastic. Solar power requires even more cement, steel and glass—not to mention other metals. Global silver and indium mining will jump 250% and 1,200% respectively over the next couple of decades to provide the materials necessary to build the number of solar panels, the International Energy Agency forecasts. World demand for rare-earth elements—which aren’t rare but are rarely mined in America—will rise 300% to 1,000% by 2050 to meet the Paris green goals. If electric vehicles replace conventional cars, demand for cobalt and lithium, will rise more than 20-fold. That doesn’t count batteries to back up wind and solar grids.

Last year a Dutch government-sponsored study concluded that the Netherlands’ green ambitions alone would consume a major share of global minerals. “Exponential growth in [global] renewable energy production capacity is not possible with present-day technologies and annual metal production,” it concluded.

The demand for minerals likely won’t be met by mines in Europe or the U.S. Instead, much of the mining will take place in nations with oppressive labor practices. The Democratic Republic of the Congo produces 70% of the world’s raw cobalt, and China controls 90% of cobalt refining. The Sydney-based Institute for a Sustainable Future cautions that a global “gold” rush for minerals could take miners into “some remote wilderness areas [that] have maintained high biodiversity because they haven’t yet been disturbed.”

What’s more, mining and fabrication require the consumption of hydrocarbons. Building enough wind turbines to supply half the world’s electricity would require nearly two billion tons of coal to produce the concrete and steel, along with two billion barrels of oil to make the composite blades. More than 90% of the world’s solar panels are built in Asia on coal-heavy electric grids.

Engineers joke about discovering “unobtanium,” a magical energy-producing element that appears out of nowhere, requires no land, weighs nothing, and emits nothing. Absent the realization of that impossible dream, hydrocarbons remain a far better alternative than today’s green dreams.

Mr. Mills is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a partner in Cottonwood Venture Partners, an energy-tech venture fund, and author of the recent report, “The ‘New Energy Economy’: An Exercise in Magical Thinking.”

15 thoughts on “One Wind Turbine Takes 900 Tons of Steel , 2500 Tons Of Concrete , 45 Tons of Plastic!

  1. thanx for the perspective. I have always wondered why technology is not focused on conserving energy. In NA our electrical practices are archaic and we could do much better reducing the need for electrical energy. I was going to enter the solar market until a started to realized that we could often reduce our energy footprint by using common sense conservation methods. e.g server farms in the Bay area bring in the cool bay area air to cool the servers versus air conditions The ROI was less than one year. And I think we need to put the main generation nearer the consumption, to reduce transmission costs. And do we really need the ‘GRID’ if we design our gernation faciiities. I know in the early days there was no grid and I do not remember a lot of outages. In fact the GRID has suffered the biggest outages.
    I say focus on conservation, of everything. Creative minds will solve most problems.


  2. Here’s an authoritative source for numbers to debunk most of what you say .

    The lifetime emissions caused by the construction of a wind turbine in low wind speeds is less than a year, but let’s play it extra safe and say the wind just stopped blowing entirely for 6 months out of every year and put it at 2 years. These stats have all been pulled from all articles typically referring to outdated 2 MW turbines that required 30-40% more materials than newer modern and produce 2-3 times more electricity. You also make it seem like wind turbines are the only tech that doesn’t operate at 100% capacity all the time with the intermittent nature of wind. Most Gas fired plants operate at 50-65% capacity on average for a number of reasons, the same goes for coal or nuclear. It’s 50-65% capacity 100% of the time sure, but 3-4 wind farms in different areas linked to the same grid can help achieve the same level of average capacity with the same reliability

    Dont’ neglect the fact that the efficiency both in increased energy production and the reduction of materials required. Traditional technologies are seeing marginal gains compared to the leaps and bounds that wind is improving. The new Haliade-X turbine just went into operation in it’s test facility in The Netherlands this year and generates 12 MW per turbine which is a massive increase from what turbines were generating 5-10 years ago. As we move forward and invest more in this technology we will see continued improvements across the board, making it even more attractive, cost effective and less carbon-intensive per MW than today. The same cannot be said about Gas, Coal or even Nuclear(until fusion comes online).

    Old tech put the life cycle of these turbines at 20-25 years, with newer plants extending that to 35-40 years. There is an advanced process of refurbishment which happens on most turbines where the pylon is re-used and a new nacelle and new blades are installed, in which 90% of the Turbine is recycled and resold or straight up gets refurbished and moved to another relocation to be re-used. The only problematic part, particularly in the USA where land is abundance and the industry is less mature than Europe, is the blade. Even today there are companies sprouting up like weeds to deal with this investing processes where the fiberglass is ground up to make chocolate chip-sized pellets. They can be used for decking materials, pallets and piping.


  3. The commenter Mr. Man seems convinced that wind turbines could power our country economically. Unfortunately, he admits he is wrong without even realizing it. He says, “Let’s just say the wind stops blowing entirely for 6 months out of every year,” yet believes this is no problem. In the United States during summer, domes of high pressure can settle over the country for days on end, pretty much stopping any wind strong enough to power wind turbines. For every moment the blades stop spinning, they must be backed up by something to generate electricity, and since new dams and hydroelectric power are pretty much verboten in this country, that means battery backup. It would take approximately 3.66 trillion car batteries for each day’s backup power. At a cut-rate price of $25 per battery, that would mean $84 trillion in backup — batteries that would have to be changed every three to five years. The usefulness of wind turbines to power our country is laughable. Even now, the only way they can work at all is to have fossil-fuel plants up and running and ready to take over for when wind power slows or stops. Whenever the wind is blowing, the fossil-fuel plants run, but energy is not being drawn from them. These are called spinning reserves. Can you say “insanity”?


  4. If one truly wants to decarbonize power generation, the surest way for reliable power is to size a nuclear facility with battery storage. With a bit of careful study of load patterns and growth projections one could size the nuclear facility to run near baseload all the time while using the swings in demand to charge the battery system to meet the swing loads. Yes, one would have nuclear waste to contend with but there are cycles now that burn up much more of the nuclear fuel and breeder reactors can convert some of that waste to useable fuel. The latest trend tends to be toward small modular reactors. The US Navy has operated about 500 of them aboard nuclear powered submarines and air craft carriers.

    I was trying to research some numbers on tons of concrete and steel per megawatt power–actually the telling number would be per megawatt-hour of energy when I came across this article.


  5. Thanks for the article, very informative. Some references to your claims would be handy.
    Especially this one:
    “The International Renewable Energy Agency calculates that solar goals for 2050 consistent with the Paris Accords will result in old-panel disposal constituting more than double the tonnage of all today’s global plastic waste”


  6. For many years, nuclear plants have worked during off-peak hours to charge batteries for use as top-up source of power during periods of high demand. The batteries being charged are not the typical lead-acid or similar, but instead, reservoirs of water located at a high point. Water is pumped from a low lying area, up to the storage area and then released through hydraulic turbines, as and when needed. In addition to being a source of energy, the reservoirs can also serve as recreational areas, a win-win scenario.


  7. I have read all of your comments but what I find strange is that nobody is talking about creating new solutions for electricity production. YES, solar and wind power systems have many problems but it doesn’t mean fossil fuel power systems are the best. We are on the edge of extinction because of the use of fossil fuels. So the only solution is to create new solutions better than all the current power systems including nuclear fission systems.
    I have developed a power system which generate electricity with zero carbon emissions. It is cheap, land efficient, reliable and consistent than solar and wind power systems. It is more than 95% recyclable (considering 5% non recyclable or at least not easily recyclable material used in electronics and control systems). No storage of electricity needed means no batteries required. It does not depend on location and weather so it can be used anywhere. No fossil fuel fired backup power system needed. It can generate 5MW+ of electricity on 1 hectare of land. My estimations is to generate 10MW+ per hectare but I consider worst case scenario of 5MW per hectare. Just build the power plant outside your city or factory and it will greatly reduce the requirement of transmission power grid further reducing costs of electricity. It uses half the materials as compared to wind turbines.
    I have completed the design. Computer simulations are a success but I don’t have money to build prototype. I am trying to get funding for the prototype right now. New and better solutions are the future. Please think about it.


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