Why Aren’T The Wind Turbines Moving?

Why aren't the wind turbines moving?

Wind turbines are an increasingly important source of renewable energy. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, wind energy provided over 7% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2019, enough to power over 32 million homes (https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/wind/electricity-generation-from-wind.php). However, have you ever noticed wind turbines sitting completely still, even on a windy day? This article will examine why wind turbines sometimes aren’t rotating and producing electricity.

How Wind Turbines Work

Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in wind into mechanical power and then convert that mechanical power into electricity. The key components of a wind turbine are the rotor blades, gearbox, generator, tower, and transformer.

The rotor blades capture the wind energy, which causes the rotors to spin. Usually there are three rotor blades arranged around a hub and nacelle atop the tower. The optimal blade length depends on the turbine size and wind speed – longer blades can capture more wind energy, but are subject to greater stresses from the wind.

The spinning rotor turns a shaft inside the nacelle, which goes into a gearbox. The gearbox increases the rotational speed from about 30-60 rpm to around 1000-1800 rpm, the optimal speed for the generator. The generator uses magnetic fields to convert the rotational energy into electrical energy.

The electricity generated then goes down the tower through electrical cables to a transformer, which converts the electricity from the turbine to the right voltage for the power grid.

Ideal Wind Conditions

Wind turbines operate most efficiently within a narrow band of wind speeds. The minimum wind speed needed for a turbine to start generating electricity is called the cut-in speed, which is typically around 7-10 mph. The ideal range for power generation is between 25-45 mph. At very high wind speeds, turbines are designed to shut down to prevent damage. This shut down speed is called the cut-out speed, which is usually around 55-80 mph depending on the turbine model.

Within the ideal wind speed range, the turbine’s blades rotate at their optimal tip speed ratio to maximize power output. The tip speed ratio compares the speed of the blade tips versus the actual wind speed. Maintaining an optimal tip speed ratio keeps the blades spinning smoothly and efficiently. At lower wind speeds, the turbine generates less power. At very high wind speeds, the turbine wastes energy by applying brakes to slow the rotational speed in order to prevent equipment damage. Thus, moderate wind speeds around 30 mph provide the best conditions for electricity generation.


The Best Conditions for a Wind Turbine

Common Reasons Turbines Stop Moving

There are a few common reasons why wind turbines sometimes stop moving even when they appear able to catch the wind:

Not Enough Wind

The most obvious reason wind turbines aren’t spinning is that there simply isn’t enough wind. Turbines require a certain minimum wind speed, usually around 8-16 mph, before they can effectively start generating electricity. If the wind drops below this threshold, the turbines will shut off and stop rotating.

Planned Maintenance

Regular maintenance needs to be conducted on wind turbines to keep them functioning properly. This requires scheduled downtime where technicians purposefully stop the turbines to inspect components and conduct repairs. Preventive maintenance is usually planned ahead of time during periods of low energy demand.

Unplanned Repairs

Sometimes turbines require unscheduled repairs when a malfunction or equipment failure occurs. Unplanned maintenance leads to downtime that cannot be anticipated. The most common unplanned repairs involve minor issues with components like sensors, brakes, bolts, or electrical parts.

Wind Forecasting

Accurate weather forecasts are critical for optimizing wind turbine operations. Wind speed and direction forecasts guide decisions on when to start up or shut down turbines. Longer-term forecasts also inform scheduled maintenance operations. Without proper wind predictions, turbines may operate at sub-optimal times or experience more downtime. There are various tools and models for forecasting wind conditions:

Numerical weather prediction (NWP) uses complex mathematical models to predict weather patterns and wind speeds. NWP models like the Global Forecast System incorporate real-time weather data from satellites, weather stations, and other sources to generate forecasts. However, NWP accuracy decreases at the local turbine level. Additional tools are needed for wind plant forecasting.

Statistical models can improve wind forecasts by learning from historical weather patterns at specific wind sites. Machine learning techniques help uncover correlations in turbine meteorological data to better predict future wind conditions. Hybrid approaches combine NWP and statistical models for localized short-term forecasting. For example, the Wind Forecast Improvement Project utilizes a combination of weather models, observational data, and machine learning to provide improved 1- to 6-hour forecasts for wind energy operators across the U.S.

Other Factors

In addition to wind speeds being too high or low, there are other weather and environmental factors that can cause wind turbines to stop generating power.

Extreme high or low temperatures can lead to issues with the mechanical and electrical components in wind turbines. Many components are designed to operate within a certain temperature range. If temperatures exceed those thresholds, it can cause issues like overheating or freezing of components.

Lightning strikes during thunderstorms can damage wind turbine blades, control systems, and other components. Direct strikes or even nearby strikes can lead to costly repairs. Many modern turbines have built-in lightning protection, but strikes still lead to downtime in some cases.

Icing of the blades during winter weather is another issue, especially for colder climates. Buildup of ice on the leading edges of blades disrupts optimal airflow. It can cause blades to lose efficiency and turbines to shut down as a safety precaution until ice sheds and conditions improve. Severe icing events can cause extended downtime.


[1] Why do wind turbines stop working in very windy conditions?

[2] Can Wind Turbines Work When Its Not Windy?

Impacts of Downtime

Wind turbine downtime can have major financial consequences for wind farm owners and operators. According to Energy5, each day of unscheduled downtime can cost $15,000 to $30,000 in lost revenue from lack of electricity generation. The longer a turbine is inactive, the greater these losses become. For offshore wind farms, accessibility issues make repairs more challenging and lead to even longer downtimes.

In addition to revenue impacts, repairs during downtime often cost significantly more than routine maintenance. Major component failures usually require expensive replacement parts and extensive labor. According to Papertrail, the average cost of a gearbox replacement can reach up to $240,000. With gearbox issues causing nearly 20% of wind turbine failures, these major repairs have a substantial impact on profitability.

By minimizing downtime through preventive maintenance and operational best practices, wind farm owners can generate more electricity for sale and avoid costly unplanned repairs. Reliability is key for optimizing turbine performance and financial returns.

Preventive Maintenance

Preventive maintenance is crucial for minimizing turbine downtime and maximizing power production. Routine inspections and servicing allow technicians to spot issues before they lead to component failure or extended outages. This type of proactive maintenance is especially important given the high costs of emergency repairs at hard-to-access wind farm sites.

Modern wind turbines utilize sophisticated monitoring software to track the operating conditions and health of components. Analyzing this data enables operators to optimize maintenance scheduling based on actual usage rather than fixed intervals. Condition monitoring coupled with data analytics has been shown to reduce maintenance costs by up to 30%.

During scheduled maintenance visits, technicians conduct visual inspections, vibration analysis, oil analysis, and other tests to identify worn parts in need of repair or replacement. Software can even analyze turbine vibrations to detect cracks or misalignment issues. With regular servicing, minor problems can be addressed before causing failure.

Overall, a focus on preventive wind turbine maintenance maximizes power generation uptime while minimizing costly unplanned repairs. New condition monitoring solutions enable even more predictive and proactive approaches to servicing turbines.

Future Improvements

The design and materials of wind turbines are constantly evolving to increase availability and decrease downtime. As noted in the Wind energy state of the art: present and future technology review, wind turbine downtime can be reduced through improved drivetrain designs using high-strength materials, modular components, and condition monitoring sensors.

Smart sensors and predictive maintenance systems are being developed to detect issues before they lead to failures. As described in the Land-Based Wind report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, new turbine designs incorporate sensors and digital controls for real-time condition monitoring. This allows potential problems to be identified early so maintenance can be scheduled proactively.

Advancements in materials science, electronics, control systems and data analytics will enable further improvements in wind turbine reliability and uptime. With proactive maintenance and smarter monitoring systems, periods of downtime due to component failures can be minimized.


In conclusion, there are several key reasons why wind turbines may not be spinning at any given time. The most common causes are low wind speeds, maintenance shutdowns, and forecasting errors. Wind turbines require constant wind between 10 and 55 mph to spin efficiently. When wind speeds dip below the cutoff threshold, turbines automatically shut down to prevent equipment damage. Planned maintenance outages also lead to periods of downtime, as technicians conduct routine inspections and repairs. Unexpected lulls in wind can catch forecasters off guard, leaving entire wind farms idle despite favorable predictions. While lack of spinning may seem concerning, scheduled maintenance and conservative auto-shutoffs protect turbines over the long term. Advancements in forecasting technology and preventive upkeep will further maximize turbine uptime and electricity generation.

By better understanding why turbines stand still, we can appreciate the careful balance between production, safety, and maintenance. Strategic planning and proactive maintenance make wind power more viable and reliable, supporting the expansion of clean energy.

Similar Posts