When I drove by a wind farm recently, I wondered how long it would really take to build one of them. So, I did some more research to find out what a true timeline to build a wind farm could be.
What is a true timeline to build a wind farm? A wind farm can take anywhere from a few months to a few years to be built, depending on the size of the project. Generally, wind energy is considered a great investment due to the relatively short amount of time it takes for a wind project to be completed from start to finish.
Wind energy is an industry that has been growing exponentially over the past several years. In addition, there have been many people that have shown an interest in making an investment into wind energy, due to the fast construction timelines and quick return on investment rates.
So, what is a true and realistic timeline for how long it would actually take to build an entire wind farm?
Related: Where Can A Wind Turbine Be Built?
The Estimated Timeline of a Wind Farm Project
The breakdown of the timeline for a wind farm project is dependent on a long list of factors and how long each of them will take. These factors are necessary steps that must be taken before the actual construction of the wind farm itself can even begin.
This includes submitting a planning application which must be approved before construction plans can be made. This process might also include mandatory survey work for approval in order to gain the corresponding permits and licenses that every wind turbine farm needs to operate.
Another vital step in the planning process of a wind energy project is the negotiation of a Power Purchase Agreement and making arrangements for the amount of energy output, where the energy will be distributed, and more.
Aside from the preparation that goes into every wind project, the actual construction times must also be considered. Most onshore wind turbines are constructed on top of an underground foundation that is usually made out of concrete.
Once the concrete is poured into the ground, it can take up to 2 months for it to dry and be fully ready for the installation of the turbine. The construction time of the entire wind farm when it comes time to install the wind turbines will vary depending on the size of the land, quantity of turbines, and total expected energy capacity.
For a general reference, a wind farm with a smaller capacity that is under 100 kilowatts of electricity will take around one year or less to be completed. A slightly larger project of 500 kilowatts or above could take double the time, which is approximately 2 years.
A massive wind energy project with several megawatts of energy capacity could potentially take as long as 5 years for construction, however, this timeline could be sped up depending on how long the planning stages take for each individual wind farm.
Once the construction is complete and a wind farm is fully opened for business, it will last for the same amount of time as each wind turbine. With an average life expectancy of 20-25 years, wind farms can be around and generate substantial profits for several decades after the planning and construction phases are over.
These farms, of course, can last much longer when new machines and equipment is added into the equation.
Where Wind Farms and Turbines Can Be Located
As the concept of wind energy becomes more widely accepted, more countries and regions are beginning to adopt it as a source of electricity.
There are millions of residential wind turbines scattered across the globe that can be located almost anywhere, as well as several massive wind farms with hundreds of large wind turbines that distribute energy to huge networks of consumers in the area.
Even though wind turbines themselves can be placed almost anywhere in the world due to the fact that there are no limits to where the wind will blow in different places on the earth, there are certain factors that should be considered during the planning stages of any wind project.
These factors include the minimum spacing requirements that should be followed between each wind turbine on the land.
The minimum amount of space required to build wind turbines will vary depending on the size and reach of each turbine’s blades. More specifically, larger turbines that are on a utility-scale will require much more room in between them than a smaller residential turbine that might reside in the backyard of a farmhouse.
Some turbines have the energy capacity to create several megawatts of energy, which translate to one million watts each. As an example, take into consideration a large industrial turbine with an energy capacity of 2 megawatts.
This particular machine would require approximately one and a half acres of land in between itself and another turbine or itself and any obstructing objects including buildings or fences in the area.
Wind turbines that are smaller will require much less space and multiple of these machines will be able to be placed on a smaller amount of land while still being able to function properly.
The general rule of thumb for calculating the minimum distance that should be placed in between each wind turbine is the approximate measurement of 7 rotor diameters of the specific blades of that turbine.
The diameter can be calculated by measuring the length of one of the rotor blades extending outward from the center of the rotor hub. This calculation of the rotor blade’s diameter will then be multiplied by the number 7 to determine how much of a distance should be established between each turbine.
If the limits of minimum space between wind turbines are ignored, there are consequences that will come with the closeness of the machines. This is due to the fact that there are certain logical reasons that motivate the space limitations that should be placed between each functioning wind turbine.
The first and most obvious reason for these general rules is so the turbines do not run into each other while they are spinning with the wind. Wind turbines possess very long rotor blades that spin with the wind and work to harness its kinetic energy in order to take it in and convert it to usable electricity using a variety of components within itself.
These blades must belong in order to effectively generate power from the wind and essentially scoop the air into its center almost like they are the machine’s arms.
Therefore, if two different wind turbines were placed directly next to each other with little to no space in between them, the blades would likely crash into each other when any kind of wind speed is present. Wind turbines move according to the speed of the wind, so faster wind speeds translate to faster rotation speeds.
In the event of a severe storm or extremely high wind speeds, if one of these turbines was to suffer any damage to the hardware, it could transfer over to the next turbine.
For example, if the first machine’s braking mechanisms were not working properly during a harsh wind storm and an outer component like one of the blades flew off of the machine, it would immediately interfere with the other turbine, most likely causing severe damage to it as well.
Aside from the most obvious physical reasons, there is an additional theory that supports the reasoning for spacing out wind turbines according to regulations. This theory is known as the “wake effect”.
It concludes that some wind turbines are able to take more energy than others if they are in certain locations. More specifically, the wind’s kinetic energy can be slowed down or completely taken away by a wind turbine that is too close to the same area as another group of turbines.
For example, picture a small wind farm that has several wind turbines within a small space without too much room in between them. If the wind began to blow in the direction of a few of the turbines that were located in front of the others, those turbines will begin to sense the wind speeds and turn their blades to collect the kinetic energy.
These turbines in the front would be able to gain from the full amount of kinetic energy supplied by the wind, as they would be the first turbines to have access to it.
The other turbines directly behind them, however, will not be able to gain the full amount of kinetic energy from the same gusts of wind, because the turbines in front of them slowed down the momentum, so they might only get a small percentage of energy. This happens due to the fact that kinetic energy in any form is created by a consistent movement.
Therefore, when the wind freshly grazes the blades of a turbine without any interference before it, that turbine will gain all of the possible energy the wind turbine has to give, or at least as much energy as they are able to take from it at any given time.
When something obstructs the wind’s path to the next object that is behind it depending on the given direction of the breeze, the obstructing item will take the majority of that kinetic energy that is promoting movement of the wind, and the speeds will be automatically slower when they pass the first machine.
Besides the motivation of safety with the minimum space limits between wind turbines, there are additional reasons why these rules should be followed, including the actual efficiency potential of the machines.
On average, it has been reported that each wind turbine currently requires a distance of approximately 300 feet between them. This is equal to an estimated total of 7 complete rotor diameters for the averagely sized wind turbine.
In recent research, it has been hypothesized that wind turbines might even need a little bit more space between them, exceeding previous limits for minimum spacing requirements.
A study that was conducted at Johns Hopkins University proposed that for maximum efficiency, each wind turbine will require much more space to collect and convert energy as freely as possible.
The total space required will include a variety of factors, including efficient space for the concrete foundation underneath the towers that work to keep them standing upright into the wind.
This should be a stage in the initial planning of the wind project, and the foundations of each turbine should not interfere with any others to create adequate space.
The distance between the field of wind turbines and nearby power substations should be properly measured and planned out as well. The results of the research confirmed that there should be an average for 4 megawatts per square kilometer accounted for when planning a wind farm project.
The Largest Wind Farms in the World
Wind turbines and wind farms do not just exist within the United States, nor are they confined to limited areas around the world. Let’s take a look at some of the largest wind farm projects that exist around the globe, beginning with those that are located in the United States:
The majority of large wind farms in the United States are located in bigger states such as Texas and California. In fact, these are some of the largest wind projects in the entire world.
In the state of Texas, there are several notable wind projects with massive budgets that provide electricity to networks of hundreds of thousands of people. The Capricorn Ridge Wind Farm is located in Sterling, Texas, and its wide area of land expands from Sterling County to Coke County.
This wind farm was constructed in two different phases, which were finally completed in the year 2008. The entire farm has a total energy capacity of approximately 662 megawatts.
The Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center is located between Taylor County and Nolan County, also in Texas. This wind farm, on the other hand, has a total energy capacity of 735 megawatts. The entire wind farm contains almost 500 individual wind turbines scattered across the land.
The state of Texas is also home to another wind project known as Roscoe Wind Farm. The first phase of this project was constructed in 2008, with three additional phases that came after it. All four phases of construction were completed just one year later in 2009. With over 630 individual wind turbines, this farm was once the largest wind project in the world, until another newer farm in California took its place.
There are a few more notable wind farms in the state of Texas, including the 500 megawatt Buffalo Gap Wind Farm and the Panther Creek Wind Farm that comes in at approximately 450 megawatts of electricity.
The Buffalo Gap Wind Farm was constructed in a total of three separate phases. All three phases were finally completed in the year 2007, with almost 500 individual turbines within the entire farm.
The Panther Creek Wind Farm was also constructed in three phases, with the first two opening in the year 2009. The third and final phase of construction was completed very shortly after, in September of the same year.
The state of California currently holds the largest wind farm in the world, also known as the Alta Wind Energy Centre. Located in Tehachapi, Kern County, California, the farm was given its title in the year 2013.
The Energy Centre has a total energy capacity of approximately one thousand megawatts, equal to one billion individual watts of electricity. This project is planning on expanding its energy capacity by adding an additional five hundred megawatts worth of wind turbines in future years, even though it is already the largest in the world.
The energy that is generated by the turbines in this wind farm is distributed throughout Southern California, within a power purchase agreement between Alta Wind Energy and Southern California Edison.
There are several other large wind energy projects within the United States, including locations in Oregon and Indiana. The Shepherds Flat Wind Farm is located in Eastern Oregon between Morrow County and Gilliam County.
It was opened toward the end of 2012, after being approved by the state about 4 years earlier, so this was a slightly longer project than most of the others. With a total energy capacity of 845 megawatts, the company spent an entire budget of just over 2 billion dollars on the entire farm.
The energy that is generated in Shepherds Flat is distributed to the residents of Southern California through Southern California Edison. The Fowler Ridge Wind Farm, on the other hand, is located in the state of Indiana near its capital of Indianapolis in the Benton County area.
The construction of this wind farm lasted for a duration of about one year, from 2005 to 2006. However, the farm wasn’t officially opened for business until shortly after in the year 2007. There are almost 300 working wind turbines located in the Fowler Ridge Wind Farm today.
In addition to the American wind farms that have been built within the United States, there are several other notable wind projects that exist internationally. One of these wind farms is the Gansu Wind Farm located in Gansu, China.
This project is a combination of the efforts of several different wind energy companies. The entire farm has an energy capacity of eight gigawatts at the moment but is planning to expand this number to an even larger amount of twenty gigawatts by the year 2020.
This wind farm is not the only wind project that is in the works in China. In fact, this wind farm is one out of six total massive wind farm projects that are being overseen by the Chinese Government.
There are multiple large wind farm projects located in the United Kingdom as well, including the largest offshore wind farm in the world. This project is known as Walney Wind Farms, which is located in the Irish Sea in England.
The Walney Wind Farm includes a few different phases: one, two, and the Walney Extension, which has an energy capacity of an estimated 650 megawatts. Phase one and two of the Walney Wind Project consist of just over 50 wind turbines with a total capacity of almost four hundred megawatts.
Ever since the wind farm went under new construction and expanded even further, it has retained the title of the largest offshore wind farm in comparison to all of its competitors across the globe.
Not too far from the Walney Wind project is the London Array Offshore Wind Farm. The construction of this wind farm began in early 2011 and was finally completed and opened in the middle of the year 2013.
The developers of the 175-turbine project had intentions to expand the area even more, but they could not gain planning approval due to concerns about preserving wildlife and sea birds in the area.
India is another hotspot for wind energy projects. Some of the most highly recognized wind farms in the country are the Jaisalmer Wind Park and Muppandal Wind Farm.
The Jaisalmer Wind Park is located in Rajasthan, India, and currently comes in second place to the largest onshore wind farm in the entire country of India. The total wind energy capacity of the entire project is over one thousand megawatts.
It has been considered one of the largest wind farms in the world since it was first built and opened in the year 2001. The Muppandal Wind Farm, located in Tamil Nadu, India, is the largest onshore wind turbine farm in all of India.
The total energy capacity of the entire farm is close to two thousand megawatts. This wind farm is also considered to be one of the biggest wind energy giants across the globe.
In addition to all of the widespread wind farms located in different nations all around the world, European countries are also a part of the discussion. The Gemini Wind Farm is located directly off the coast of the Netherlands.
The beginning stages of the project were built and developed in the year 2015, with its grand opening just a few years later in 2017. With a total energy capacity of 600 megawatts, the wind farm holds the title of the third largest offshore wind farm in the entire world.
Gemini is closely behind both the London Array and Walney Extension, which have been two of the largest offshore wind turbines in existence for several years. Also within Europe is the Fantanele-Cogealac Wind Farm in the country of Romania.
With a total energy capacity of approximately 600 megawatts, it is considered the largest onshore wind farm in both the country of Romania as well as the entire continent of Europe.
With completed construction in December of 2010, the initial plans for the project were created in 2007 and submitted for approval of planning. Before its grand opening, the Fantanele-Cogealac Wind Farm went under construction in two separate phases, consisting of a combination of over three thousand acres of land between both of them.
The developers of Fantanele-Cogealac took their time with the construction of the 240-wind turbine project.
How Much Does It Cost To Purchase One Wind Turbine?
The total cost to purchase and build an average wind turbine can be anywhere from $50,000 to $65,000. For a residential-scale wind turbine, the price of the actual equipment itself will most likely be close to $40,000.
However, more costs are added to the total price when delivery and installation come into play. These expenses can add on an extra $5,000 to $10,000 to the project, with a total cost of $45,000 to $50,000 with everything included.
How Much Money Can I Make Off Of Wind Energy?
A single wind turbine can generate anywhere from $3,000 to $8,000 per year for its owner, depending on the size and energy capacity of the machine itself. This amount will go up accordingly when the size and capacity of the wind turbine are increased.
What Is The Return On Investment (ROI) For a Wind Turbine?
The rate of return on investment for wind turbine projects is known to be relatively quick. Most wind turbine owners have reported seeing a net benefit within 6 months to 1 year of initial purchase. Additionally, some wind turbines can end up paying for themselves, in the long run, depending on the size and capacity of the machine.
For example, a smaller residential wind turbine with a capacity on the lower end of the scale will pay for itself in approximately 15 years or less. This leaves about 5 to 10 years of its average expected life span with no additional expense for the owner.
A larger utility-scale turbine, on the contrary, will take about 40 years total to begin paying for itself. This time frame will outlive the actual turbine, so an investment like this will most likely never generate a completely positive cash flow for the owner.
If you’re serious about learning more about wind energy, I recommend the Wind Energy Handbook on Amazon. This book is great for both students and professionals, and it holds invaluable information on the subject of wind power.