Researchers at Oregon State University, writing in the International Journal of Sustainable Manufacturing, have carried out an environmental lifecycle assessment of 2-megawatt wind turbines planned for a large wind farm in the US Pacific Northwest.

They took  into account the sourcing of raw materials, including steel, copper, fiberglass, plastics and concrete, transportation, manufacturing, installation of the turbine, ongoing maintenance through its anticipated two decades of useful life and the impacts of recycling and disposal at end-of-life.

Their analysis showed that the vast majority of environmental impacts are in the production and manufacturing processes. However, the payback for the associated energy use is within about 6 months, the team found. Even in a worst case scenario, lifetime energy requirements for each turbine will be recovered by the first year of active use. For the 19 subsequent years of their expected, each turbine will, in effect, provide free power.