How Wind Turbines Generate Electricity

Where exactly does wind energy come from? How can we generate electricity from the wind? What are some other uses for wind energy? If you are looking to find answers for questions like these, you are at the right place.


What Is Wind Energy?

By the term wind energy we mean air in motion (kinetic energy). Without an atmosphere there would be no wind. The pressure and temperature differences that is caused by electromagnetic radiation from the Sun (sunlight) is ultimately the source of wind energy. Wind energy is considered a sustainable source of energy since wind will be around as long as the Sun keeps shining (another 5-6 billion years).


What Can Wind Energy Be Used For?

Most people think of generating electricity with wind turbines when the subject is wind energy. There are many other ways we can harness the kinetic energy in the wind (also known as motional energy). The energy in the wind has been used in sailboats for thousands of years. It is important to understand that this is exactly the same source of energy we use to produce electricity with turbines today.

Windmills became crucial on farms early on and were used for different purposes such as pumping water or for irrigation or household animals. Windmill water pumps are only one of many different types. Windmills can be used for a wide array of other things as well.

Wind is also one the sources of wave power, a way of generating useful work by harnessing the energy in the motion of ocean waves. Note that wind energy and most of the other renewables can be sourced back to energy released by atomic fusion in the sun.

You get the picture: Wind energy can be used for a wide array of different things. There is no doubt that science and inventors will continue to find uses for wind in the years to come. The rest of the article is about wind turbines, currently the most useful method of harnessing wind energy.


Generating Electricity from Wind Energy With Wind Turbines

A wind turbine is in many ways the opposite of a fan. Instead of providing the electricity to get the fan to rotate, wind rotates the turbine to generate electricity. So, how exactly does wind energy produce electricity?

The rotor blades on a wind turbine catches the kinetic energy in the wind and transfers it via a rotor shaft to the generator. The wing blades can be rotated and adjusted to the wind direction and strength, for maximum utilization of energy.

When the rotor spins, the power is transferred via the drive shaft and gearbox. Then, the generator converts the kinetic energy from the turbine into electrical energy. The electricity is sent to the substation, where it is converted and then transported out on the net.

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Wind speed must be at least 10 feet per second for a typical wind turbine (2.3 MW) power generation. The maximum effect is achieved when the wind speed is 34–47 knots (gale). At 48–63 knots (storm) turn the turbine off to avoid damage to machine parts.

Wind turbines are usually collected in parks that vary in size. Wind farms in the US generate 41,400 MW in electricity. Power is transferred from the turbines to a central transformer via cables that are buried in the road network in the wind farm. From there the flow goes on the regional power grid.

The wind energy potential is about 3600 TW (equivalent of about two hundred times of the worldwide energy consumption). We have just begun tapping into this source.

Wind turbines for home use are being produced on mass scale and cost competitive prices. New wind turbines are being researched as we speech, providing better efficiency. The future of wind energy looks promising.

Are wind turbines cost effective and can compete against other convectional energy sources such as coal, fossil fuels and nuclear power? This is highly debatable and there’s a range of different factors. Read more about these factors in Wind Energy Pros and Cons.
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