Wind Power - Wind Turbines

Introduction to wind turbines

wind turbines in field
wind turbines in field. Getty Images/Diane Macdonald

Wind power is derived from the conversion of the energy contained in wind into electricity. A wind turbine is similar to its forerunner the windmill. However, windmills are typically used to directly power a piece of machinery for example: a pump or a grinder for grain; wind turbines are dedicated to the production of electric power for use off-site.

Wind turbines, like windmills, are mounted on a tower to capture the most energy.

At 100 feet (30 meters) or more aboveground, they can take advantage of the faster and less turbulent wind. Turbines catch the wind's energy with their propeller-like blades. Usually, two or three blades are mounted on a shaft to form a rotor.

A blade acts much like an airplane wing. When the wind blows, a pocket of low-pressure air forms on the downwind side of the blade. The low-pressure air pocket then pulls the blade toward it, causing the rotor to turn. This is called lift. The force of the lift is actually much stronger than the wind's force against the front side of the blade, which is called drag. The combination of lift and drag causes the rotor to spin like a propeller, and the turning shaft spins a generator to make electricity.

Wind turbines can be used as stand-alone applications, or they can be connected to a utility power grid or even combined with a photovoltaic (solar cell) system.

For utility-scale sources of wind energy, a large number of wind turbines are usually built close together to form a wind plant.