900 Tons of material to build just 1 windmill

You ought to watch “MidAmerican Energy Company – From the Ground Up: Building our energy future, one turbine at a time“. The pictures from the video below are also powerful since they capture how low the EROI of wind power must be when you can see the embodied fossil fuels used to build a wind turbine (plus dozens of worker and hundreds of worker and heavy-duty trucks not shown below).

MidAmerican Energy announced they were about to build the tallest wind turbine in the US, a 2.3 MW 554 foot tall (with 173 foot blade extended) about the same as the Washington Monument. It will be 337 feet ground to hub, use 395 cubic yards of concrete, 63,400 pounds of reinforcing steel, and generate power when winds are 7 mph or higher, producing the most wind at 29 mph.  Important figures such as cost, capacity, maintenance, and so on not (Remer).

MidAmerican Energy is owned by Warren Buffet, who has this to say about why he builds wind farms: “I will do anything that is basically covered by the law to reduce Berkshire’s tax rate,” Buffet told an audience in Omaha, Nebraska recently. “For example, on wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.” (Pfotenhauer).

Yet it doesn’t begin to capture all of the energy inputs to wind turbines. Notably, transmission is left out of the picture, and the natural gas plants to balance intermittent energy, the mining of the ores for iron and steel, or crushing of rocks to make cement/concrete, the fossil fuels in the tons of epoxy, and so on to make the 900 short tons of material (it is probably more like 1300 tons given other peer-reviewed publications on materials used in 2 MW turbines, not all of the materials used were included in this short video).

Most wind power will be forever stranded, because it’s too far from cities to run transmission lines to. If you look at the state level wind maps in the Wind Energy Resource Atlas of the United States List of Maps (RREDC) it appears as if cities have been placed as far from commercial wind power as possible. But no diabolical force is to blame. The distance is due to cities arising near good, flat farmland, yet the best wind is on the ridges of highlands. To get around this, wind turbines taller than the St. Louis arch at peak blade tip have been proposed for the Southeast and other areas without commercial wind (February 18, 2015. Mapping the Frontier of New Wind Power Potential. National Renewable Energy Lab.).

You’d need 32,850 wind turbines to replace the Cubic Mile of Oil consumed globally every year, and a grand total of 1,642,000 turbines to replace oil over the next 50 years, which may be conservative given that the wind isn’t blowing all the time so that triple or more would be needed on a national grid with massive energy storage batteries.  A wind turbine lifespan is 20 years, so many of them would need to be repowered or replaced before the 50 years are up.  Anyhow, clearly wind turbines require too many oil-powered trucks and cement, steel, and so on made with fossil-fired energy to outlast the brief age of oil.

This wind turbine is comprised of at least 875.5 tons of material. The weight of the 40 to 100 geopiers and other components aren’t shown, so let’s assume 900 tons total. An average car weighs 2 tons, so each windmill equals 450 cars — try to top that Burning Man Festival! The crane, excavators, graders, cement, worker, and other trucks required to haul blades, equipment, and workers might weigh 10 times as much as the wind turbine, so some fraction of the energy of all these should count as energy inputs as well, from mining to operational vehicle, and the fuel used (including the 10 foot deep, 100 foot wide, 1650 tons of soil dug out and put back over the concrete base).

Each windmill:

  • Takes 3 weeks to build from excavation to operation
  • 40 to 100 geopiers installed for stability, weight unknown
  • Excavate 10 feet deep 100 feet wide
  • Set 96,000 pounds of reinforcing steel rebar = 48 tons
  • 53 concrete trucks pour foundations. If each truck can haul 8 cubic yards at 2538 lbs/yard * 53 = 1,076,112 pounds = 538 tons
  • Move 1,500 cubic yards of soil @ 2,200 lbs per cubic yard = 3.3 million pounds = 1,650 tons
  • 3 blades : each 173 feet long and 27,000 pounds for 81,000 pounds = 40.5 tons
  • 8 truckloads to deliver turbine components
  • Nacelle: weight 181,000 lbs = 90.5 tons with the generator, gearbox, and rotor shaft
  • Hub: weight unknown
  • Base tower height 53 feet 11 inches, weight 97,459 lbs = 48.7 tons
  • Mid tower height 84 feet 6 inches, weight 115,587 lbs = 57.8 tons
  • Top tower height 119 feet, weight 104,167 lbs = 52 tons
  • Final tower height to blade tip when fully extended 442 feet


Pfotenhauer, N. May 12, 2014. Big Wind’s Bogus Subsidies. U.S. News & World Report

Remer, J. November 17, 2015. MidAmerican Energy’s New Iowa Wind Farm to Feature Tallest Onshore Turbine Ever in the US PowerEngineering.

12 truck 26 40-100 geopiers installed for stability


33 excavate 10 feet deep50 96000 pounds of reinforcing steel 53 up to 53 concrete trucks to pour foundations 101 1500 cubic yards of soil backfilled and leveled 107 3 blades each 173 feet long 112 and 27000 lbs each 122 8 truckloads to deliver turbine components 135 more turbine components 137 jacking up the turbine 148 nacelle the size of a school bus 159 Hub 216 base tower height 53 feet 11 inches 229 base tower weight 97459 pounds 235 160 bolts around the bottom 246 mid tower height 84.5 feet 251 midtower weight 115,587 pounds 320 three blades 400 top tower height 119 feet 427 nacelle weighs 181000 pounds 453 rotor diameter 354 feet 520 nacelle contains generator gearbox rotor shaft 522 nacell part 2r

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2 Responses to 900 Tons of material to build just 1 windmill

  1. Gail Griffith says:

    You’re not even adding in the cost of energy distribution and storage. That’s why local on-site wind or solar generation would be more efficient and affordable if energy storage technology can be developed and scaled for individual buildings or institutions.

    • energyskeptic says:

      Distributed generation doesn’t provide the power to make steel, cement, or run the transportation to deliver the windmill or solar panel to a home or building, it will not keep civilization as we know it going, and will last as long as someone nearby has the technical skills to know what is wrong and fabricate the needed part. On-site wind and solar are far less efficient than scaled-up wind and solar farms, and if you’re not below the 35th parallel in the southwest, not much solar power, and even there, not much in the winter, and class 4+ wind is mainly in the midwest. In the third world, the rich buy generators to provide electricity, not windmills and solar panels.