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Why are Wind Turbines White?

Exploring the Color Palette of a Wind Turbine

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George Duval
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Part of the aesthetic allure of wind turbines are their color. White compliments their sleek design and accentuates the slow, graceful movements of the rotor. Although, those graceful movements aren’t as slow as you think. Even though white is the most neutral color in the rainbow, it hasn’t stopped the anti-wind crowd from complaining about their appearance. So, why white instead of pink, yellow, or green? As it turns out, the decision is based on both functionality and aesthetics.

Wind turbines are white so they can easily blend into the environment when viewed from the ground, while simultaneously making them bright enough to be easily seen by pilots in the air. The white color also reflects sunlight, keeping the machinery inside the turbine from overheating.

White turbines blend in well against a cloudy sky when viewed from the ground. Source: Luca Bravo

The Color of Wind Power

We’ve become used to the appearance of wind turbines. From their standard three-blade rotor to the bright white color. But why not make them fun and funky instead of plain old white? Simply put, the answer lies in both safety and functionality.

People don’t all have the same tastes. We see this in our choice of music, clothing, and occupation. With wind turbines already considered an eyesore by some, can you imagine if they were painted bright colors like green, purple, or orange? The backlash would be enormous. White is the least offensive and most unobtrusive color that allows the turbine to blend in with its surroundings. Even though wind companies have tried to make their turbines as low-key as possible, the aesthetics still attracts loads of complaints.

On the other hand, white allows the wind turbines to stand out when they need to be seen. They’re tall objects, and aircraft need to be aware of their location. For pilots looking down at the ground, the bright white turbines stand out against any background, whether it be a grassy field or mountainous terrain. This is why they’re also decked out with red aviation lights on top to warn pilots of a possible obstruction at night.

When viewed from the air, the bright white color helps the turbine stand out. Source: Artiom Vallat

UV Rays and Sunlight

A secondary reason to have white turbines is protection from the sun. Where darker colors absorb more of the sun’s heat, white paint repels UV light and keeps the turbines cool. This is extremely important as excess heat absorption can have detrimental effects. The paint can crack as it heats up and expands, causing moisture to seep into the protective coating and causing corrosion.

This expansion can also affect the sensitive moving parts of the turbine. The composite materials used to make the blades can expand and develop microfractures as it overheats, compromising the structural integrity of the turbine. The inner components in the nacelle are vulnerable too. Being that they’re already prone to heating due to friction, any extra heat can cause electronics to malfunction, change the properties of the lubricants, and can warp sensitive machinery.

In essence, the color is a way to extend the life of the turbine. Considering how much wind turbines cost to manufacture, install, and maintain, white paint is a way to protect a very expensive investment.

Regional Variations

While white is the standard color for turbines across the globe, a few governments and wind companies have added their own twist. They may add shades or designs meant to help the turbine blend in or as a way to signal vital information for nautical purposes.

In Germany, wind turbine blades are required to have red stripes as a signal for pilots. Not only do they increase the visibility of the turbine, they also relay important information. Wind turbines are required to have one stripe if there is an airstrip at least 5 km away and must have two stripes if the nearest airstrip is more than 5 km away.

The markings on this turbine indicate the distance to the nearest airport. Source: Wikimedia

Offshore turbines are usually painted yellow on the bottom. This is to help make them more visible to passing ships. If the turbines were completely white, it would be difficult for sailors to spot them during instances of low visibility.

Some companies actually have certain models of their turbines painted gray. This has a similar effect as white turbines as far as heat absorption and visibility go, although they more easily blend into the sky when viewed from the ground. This is often seen in Europe, with companies like Enercon and Areva. It’s also common in these countries to paint the base of the turbines green. This helps them blend in with the grass and lightens their appearance.

Krazy Kool Kolors

The color of a wind turbine is limited by the turbine’s functionality, but that’s not stopping wind enthusiasts from baking up some new ideas. There’s been talk of painting wind turbines purple as a way to protect wildlife. The rationale behind the concept is that insects are attracted to the brilliant white paint. This attracts birds and bats, which leads to higher fatalities when the animals collide with the blades.

While interesting, it’s not based on sound logic. While there are reports of insects swarming around turbines, it could very well be due to the changing air pressure, the sound of the turbine, or just random happenstance. Even then, wind turbines aren’t a major threat to birds, especially compared to large buildings, habitat destruction, and climate change.

Some turbines are green at their base to help them blend in with the grass. Source: Jef Van Hoof

Another idea is to paint wind turbines green to help them blend in with the natural vegetation. This will definitely help give the turbines some camouflage and keep the naysayers from complaining. On the other hand, it will be difficult for pilots to spot them from the air.

Some turbines have been the target of artists who felt the need to unleash their creative fantasies. In Scotland, the ecovillage of Findhorn allowed the neighborhood children, along with their parents, to paint murals on three of their turbines. The Ancora Wind Farm in Portugal features two turbines, each designed by separate artists, painted in their entirety from base to blades with intriguing patterns. Wakasu Kaihin Park in Tokyo features a 1.9 MW turbine adorned with several popular anime characters.

Conclusion

Wind turbines don’t exist for aesthetics; that’s just a bonus. No matter what color they are, they’re a huge step up from unsightly fossil fuel plants. The white paint is more functional, but it does help the turbine blend in on a cloudy day. Pilots need to be able to see the turbine from the sky, and the brilliant white color helps reflect the sun’s rays and keeps the inner components cool. There are some variations, like the gray turbines from Enercon, but the end result is the same. While there’s been some talk about sprucing up the colors of our wind farms, the idea has been slow to take off. For now, get used to the plain white hue, cause it’s not going anywhere.

Though the occasional gray turbine is a nice touch. Source: Wikimedia

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are wind turbines white?

Wind turbines are white because it helps the turbine blend in on a cloudy day. It also helps visibility from above, so pilots can easily spot the turbine as a possible hazard. The white paint also reflects sunlight and keeps the turbine cool.

Do wind turbines come in any other colors?

Some wind turbines are gray, namely those made by Enercon and Areva. The gray paint serves much of the same functions as white paint, but they can better blend into their surroundings. Offshore wind turbines are yellow at the bottom to aid in visibility for boaters.

Why do some wind turbines have red markings?

Wind turbines in Germany are required to have red markings to indicate the distance to the nearest airport. One stripe means there’s an airport within 5 km, while two stripes indicate the nearest airport is more than 5 km away.

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Author Bio

George Duval

George Duval is a writer and expert in sustainability and environmental studies. After graduating with a B.A. in Sustainability from Florida International University, George began dedicating his life to researching new ways to make the world a greener place. His expertise ranges from organic gardening, to renewable energy, to eating plant-based diets. He is currently writing and editing for a number of publications, most of which focus on the environment.

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