What is a Wind Turbine and How Does it Work?

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After my post a few weeks ago about vertical axis wind turbines, I received several emails asking me for more information about how wind turbines work and how they generate electricity. And thus, this post was born! The majestic beauty and silence of a tall wind turbine working hard to provide clean, efficient energy is awe-inspiring. Since large wind turbines are showing up in open fields and small ones on rooftops, let’s take a look at what a wind turbine is, how they work, and who makes them.

How Does A Wind Turbine Work

Modern wind turbines are actually a pretty simple concept based on age-old science. The inherent kinetic energy in moving wind spins two, three, or even four propellor blades which are connected to a rotor hub. This rotor spins a central shaft through a gear box, which dramatically increases the rotational speed of the shaft. (Think of your bicycle gears and how they help you get up steep hills.) The shaft then in-turn spins a generator which makes electricity.

The generator makes the electricity through electromagnetic induction, the result of a conductor (coiled wire) moving through a magnetic field (magnets). This electricity can then be stored in batteries for later use or sent out to the power grid. In order for a wind turbine to be effective and efficient, they should be mounted as high as possible and capture wind speeds above 10 miles per hour. That’s why they are so tall out on those wide-open fields of the midwest!

What Is A Wind Turbine Made Of

While wind turbines are simple in concept, it takes more than just a fan blade and a steel pipe to build one. Starting at the top, the propellors are usually made from either simple plastics (for home or small-scale wind turbines) or fiberglass and carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics (for full-size turbines). The bases for the super-tall wind turbines are made from steel-reinforced concrete to withstand the amount of energy those moving blades generate in high winds. The various generators, motors, and electricity converting/delivering systems are built inside the sheath behind the propellers and the base attaching the wind turbine to the ground.

Wind Turbine Manufacturers

Whether shopping for a home wind power system, a building mounted wind turbine, or large-scale turbines for putting up a wind farm, there are many different manufacturers of modern-day wind turbines for both on and off-shore use. Some of the more popular manufacturers include:

  • GE Wind Energy – Developed a turbine for the US Department of Energy
  • Vestas – A Danish company and the largest wind turbine manufacturer in the world
  • Sinovel – The third largest wind turbine manufacturer, based in China

There are hundreds of companies building wind turbines and the associated parts, and while design and efficiencies are guaranteed to change over time, sticking with a brand-name, well-respected company when shopping for a turbine will serve you well. The same goes for wind turbine installation companies, should you need assistance in that area too. Either that, or you can build your own vertical-axis wind turbine and skip the big guys altogether. Maybe then you can get a job in the wind turbine industry, a field with dramatically increasing opportunities!

So what is a wind turbine? Simply put, it’s a way for us as a population to generate clean, renewable, non-polluting energy for the future. By us using the kinetic power of the wind, which is freely available for everyone to make clean power for our needs, we can insure that the move to renewables and away from coal and other fossil fuels goes more smoothly than if we waited until the polluting fuels were all used up. Wind turbines are just one of several clean power sources we have available to us, and they will play an important role in the future of energy generation.

Turbine image courtesy of alancleaver_2000

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