How Durable Are Small-Scale Wind Turbines?

Reader Contribution by Raphael Shay

I’m curious about how durable home wind turbines are and how long I can expect one to last. What kind of regular maintenance do they require? Would a wind turbine be able to weather a severe storm?

Wendy DuPree
Avalon, California

My wind mentor Tupac Diaz always said a wind turbine isn’t a toy, it’s a baby. He was teaching me to take care of our turbines, making sure everything was working all right because once the baby goes up, it has to face harsh weather. 

A wind turbine can live for 20 to 30 years. Depending on the manufacturer, it will require maintenance once or twice a year throughout its lifetime but it’s a good idea to inspect it in the fall and spring. On good machines, this one or two day a year will be the only downtime. If you don’t have a tilt-up tower or don’t have the proper safety equipment to climb your tower, try to get a contract with the turbine installer for yearly maintenance. This usually entails oiling and potentially replacing parts. A good rule of thumb is that it will cost $.01/kWh or 2 to 5 percent of capital cost for maintenance. 

Another important element is grounding. Properly installed turbines will be grounded and not suffer damage from lightning strikes. Lightning arrestors and grounding at the tower and the grid connection will also provide additional protection against lightning.  Most wind turbines are designed to withstand wind speeds up to 110 miles per hour (mph), but they can be damaged in extremely high winds during hurricanes or tornadoes, especially if objects are blown into the turbine. One advantage of tilt-up towers is that they can be lowered during hurricanes, reducing the likelihood of damage. 

You should insure the wind turbine to protect against damage. It’s also a good idea to have a turbine checked out after a severe storm.

— Raphael Shay, Outreach Coordinator, iCAST