How much coal goes into a wind turbine?

According to editors of Real Clear Energy, the answer is quite a lot…

  • 460 MT steel/MW
  • 870 m^3 concrete/MW

Coal & Steel

Global steel production is dependent on coal. 70% of the steel produced today uses coal. Metallurgical coal – or coking coal – is a vital ingredient in the steel making process. World crude steel production was 1.4 billion tonnes in 2010. Around 721 million tonnes of coking coal was used in the production of steel.

721 million tons of coal per 1,400 million tons of steel. Let’s just say 1 ton of coal per ton of steel.

1 MW of wind turbine capacity requires 230 tons of coal for the steel.

Coal & Cement

Coal is used as an energy source in cement production. Large amounts of energy are required to produce cement. It takes about 200 kg of coal to produce one tonne of cement and about 300-400 kg of cement is needed to produce one cubic meter of concrete (World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 2002).

200 kg of coal per tonne of cement, 350 kg cement per 1 m^3 of concrete–> 70 kg (0.07 MT) of coal per 1 m^3 of concrete.

1 MW of wind turbine capacity requires 61 tonnes of coal for the concrete.

1 ton is close enough to 1 tonne (MT) to not worry about a conversion… We’re ballparking here.

That’s 291 tons of coal per MW of wind turbine installed capacity.

Now a coal-fired plant has a capacity factor of ~87% and a typical wind turbine only manages ~25%. So it takes about 3.5 MW of wind power to generate as much electricity as 1 MW of coal power, assuming the wind blows.

So, it takes about 1,020 tons of coal to offset 1 MW of coal-fired capacity with 1 MW of wind capacity.

1,020 tons of coal would have generated 1.9 million kWh of electricity.
1 MW of wind capacity would take 10 months to generate 1.9 million kWh of electricity.

Greent@rds say that coal burned in US power plants kills up to 13,000 people per year… They can’t say which people it killed; but they know it killed them.

Another group of greent@rds says that the US burns 1.7 billion tons of coal per year to generate ~40-45% of our electricity.

Using these numbers, we can “ballpark” that it takes ~131,000 tons of coal to kill one person… Or 0.00001 death per ton of coal burned.

Let’s just apply that number to wind turbines… And we get 1 coal-related death for every 128 MW of wind turbine installed capacity.

Last year 13.2 GW (13,200 MW) of new wind capacity was installed in the US… So the wind industry killed 103 people in 2012…

20 Responses to “How much coal goes into a wind turbine?”

  1. Barry Says:

    “The answer, my friend,
    Is blowin’ in the wind,…”
    Just keep upwind of those POS contraptions.
    The good news is our own large nat gas resources, if only we’d wake up and start using it, and selling LNG to others.

  2. Jay Says:

    “721 million tons of coal per 1,400 million tons of steel. Let’s just say 1 ton of coal per ton of steel.”

    721 into 1,400 is closer to 1.9 than it is to one, so your numbers are already completely off because you’re assuming almost twice as much coke per ton of steel is needed.

    Wind power has a lot of problems, but you shouldn’t need to lie to back up your data.

  3. Jan Kever Says:

    I agree with Jay. about 0.5 tons of coking coal per 1 ton of steel is accurate. That is basic math.

  4. Matthew Robinson (@MattRobinson65) Says:

    Actually, according to this:

    800Kg of coking coal is used to produce 1000Kg of steel, suggesting a figure of 0.8 which is closer to 1:1 (but remains a very coarse rounding).

    The important message, in my opinion, is that building renewables plants (particularly wind) requires a surprisingly large amount of coal per Mw, so the popular mantra of ‘stop coal, build renewables’ is a fallacy.

  5. Candice Keith Says:

    Maybe I misunderstood the math here. Aside from the obvious error of 721 being equal to 1400. Your end result was that it would take 10 months for a windmill to generate the same energy required to create it. Correct me if I am wrong but I’m pretty sure that these things last decades so after that first year its running in the green while your coal is long gone.

    • John Thomas Says:

      No they do not last decades. There are huge swaths of winfmills in California that are idle because it is uneconomical to repair them

  6. 1st grade maths Says:

    Spot on Candice.
    The amount of coal per MW is further not a useful metric to start with. Yes, it is higher for wind than for say nuclear, coal or gas, but the burning of coal and gas dwarfs anything that is embodied in their construction. The amount of resources or emissions per MWh is a much better metric as it takes all the losses up to that point into account. Comparing apples with apples, you know.

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  9. brian engle Says:

    Seems like the originator of this post is assuming all material used to make a wind turbine is raw from the ground. Concrete reinforcement rebar is typically >70% recycled material and often high recycled content is used in the primary column supports (why not?) making conversion costs even lower. Sounds like someone is a HUGE coal fan and too stupid to realize the answer has been blowing in the wind in Germany for quite a long time and he is facing upwind to history. Once initial payback for a farm is reached, the only high dollar repair/maintenance required is routine blade replacement (they last up to 15 years or more) and transmission rebuilds (that is a lot of torque to handle in all that ENERGY). Feel free to read many, many more technical briefs on the cost of wind – it is crazy cheap and doesn’t continuously pollute like coal does. This year, ~1.5M Chinese will die from respiratory ailments related to pollution, most of which is caused by emissions of coal fired power plants. Imagine the population of Detroit and its suburbs dying between now and May 2019 – that is the scale of damage caused by coal there. Feel free to read the plethora of technical and academic papers on this subject. You have much to learn.

    • Terpa Lipater Says:

      Right. And for those 70% recycled steel, no energy, no coal was used to recycle it, right? This whole account will never balance until we find some miracle energy solution. Until there, COAL in the asses, mainly in US and China. Thank Odin where I live we ONLY use hydroelectric power, for more than 50 years.

  10. Roger Reimer Says:

    Not only coal to build the wind turbine but coal for the hundreds of miles of copper wire for the transformer and oil for the blades .
    The Transmissions last only 7 to 11 years all made from steel and the oil base propellers about 12 years. Lubrication 100 liters a year plus gas to for trucks to build the site and trucks to tear down the site in 25 years tons of factors not considered in this dirty form of energy .

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  14. Sue Says:

    Hmmm, I was interested until I got to the paragraph where you refer to greent@rds. In this you’ve totally undermined thw data by showing bias, therefore I’d be interested to see facts from elsewhere. Like I’ve just read you may be looking at old info on how steel is made?

    The point here is interesting, though if those wind turbines have a very long shelf life then the stats may prove better. Classic case of how data can be twisted to reflect personal intent rather than true facts IMHO.

  15. Bob Says:

    Even though he says 1 ton of coal per ton of steel, he does his calculation with 230 tons of coal for 460 tons of steel, which obviously is .5 tons of coal per ton of steel.

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  17. Steve Says:

    And how much steel, concrete and copper go into a coal fired electric plant?

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