Do wind turbines only turn 25% of the time, as the RN says?

Cyclists from the 2022 Tour de France in front of a wind turbine in Denmark. MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

This post is taken from the newsletter ” Human warmth “sent every Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. Each week, journalist Nabil Wakim, who hosts the podcast Chaleur Humaine, answers questions from Internet users about the climate challenge. You can register for free by clicking here.

The question of the day

“Hello, I have often heard during this legislative campaign that wind turbines are useless. The president of the RN Jordan Bardella said the other day in a debate on TV that they only turn 25% of the time. Is that true?” Question asked by Linkedin by Auguste

My answer : No, that’s not true. Wind turbines operate on average between 75% and 95% of the time, according to Ademe. The 25% figure refers to the average load factor of wind turbines, which I will tell you about later.

1/How long do wind turbines turn?

In France, wind power accounts for about 11% of our electricity production – about the same as hydroelectric dams. Wind turbines turn between 75% and 95% of the time but cannot operate when the wind blows at less than 10 km/h – it is not powerful enough to turn the blades – or when it blows too hard – beyond 110 km/h, this can damage the machine. On average, a wind turbine is stopped about ten days a year for these reasons.

But the blades don’t turn all year round at full power: it depends on the wind speed, but also on the type of machine installed. The figure of 25% corresponds to what is called the load factor. Here, you have to hang on to understand it well: it is the ratio between the energy produced during a given period and the energy that it could have generated if it had turned at its maximum power over the same period. Which means in everyday French: over a given year, a wind turbine produces on average 25% of the theoretical maximum power that it could have produced.

All this is well explained in this brochure from Ademe, the transition agency, soberly entitled “Understanding everything: wind power”.

This is a far cry from the assertion made by Jordan Bardella – and other politicians who make the same shortcut. The proof: the share of wind power in French electricity production has continued to increase. In 2013, wind turbines produced 15 terawatt hours per year; in 2023, they will be at 50 terawatt hours – the equivalent of seven or eight nuclear reactors.

To learn more, I recommend the very educational book by Cédric Philibert Wind turbines, why so much hate? (The Little Mornings).

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