Modern wind turbines are complex aerodynamic, mechanical and electrical machines incorporating sophisticated control systems. Wind turbines have been erected in increasing numbers in Europe, the USA and elsewhere. In Europe, Germany and Denmark have played a particularly prominent part in developing the technology, and both countries have installed large numbers of turbines. This article is concerned with understanding the historic reliability of modern wind turbines. The prime objective of the work is to extract information from existing data so that the reliability of large wind turbines can be predicted, particularly when installed offshore in the future. The article uses data collected from the Windstats survey to analyse the reliability of wind turbine components from historic German and Danish data. Windstats data have characteristics common to practical reliability surveys; for example, the number of failures is collected for each interval but the number of turbines varies in each interval. In this article, the authors use reliability analysis methods which are not only applicable to wind turbines but relate to any repairable system. Particular care is taken to compare results from the two populations to consider the validity of the data. The main purpose of the article is to discuss the practical methods of predicting large-wind-turbine reliability using grouped survey data from Windstats and to show how turbine design, turbine configuration, time, weather and possibly maintenance can affect the extracted results. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley &Sons, Ltd.