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Clean Power You’ve seen those huge, white, and twirling wind turbines on the horizon before, but have you ever wondered how they actually work? Let’s break it down!

Published on June 30th, 2013 | by Dan Thiede, CERTs

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What Is Wind Energy? Wind Energy 101

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June 30th, 2013 by  

You’ve seen those huge, white, and twirling wind turbines on the horizon before, but have you ever wondered how they actually work? Let’s break it down!

Wind turbines

What is wind energy?

Wind energy is electricity created from a wind turbine. (Side note: a common mistake is to call them windmills; however, the proper name is wind turbine. Windmills do spin and resemble wind turbines, but windmills actually pump water from the ground—think Dutch windmills.)

How do they actually work?

When the wind blows, it turns the blades of the turbine. As these blades turn, they spin generators to create electricity. The electricity is then sent to a transformer which increases the voltage and sends it to a distribution line. Next, local transformers reduce the voltage and send it to homes or businesses.

Why are they so tall?

Wind turbines are tall due to the fact that wind increases at higher altitude. The greater the wind resource, the more the turbine spins, and the more energy is produced for our use!

Why are some bigger than others?

In general, the larger the wind turbine, the more electricity the turbine generates. From Windustry: “Wind turbines range in size from tiny micro turbines to enormous utility-scale power production facilities. Large turbines may have blades that are over 50 meters long—meaning the rotor diameter would be over 100 meters long—more than the length of a football field! The commercial-scale turbines are often placed on 100 meter towers, so the tip of the blades might reach as high as 160 meters (525 feet) in the air. Smaller home- or farm-sized turbines usually have a rotor diameter of up to 15 meters (50 feet) and can be placed on 30 to nearly 50 meter towers.”

Is there enough wind near you for a wind turbine?

There is a huge potential for wind energy across the entire United States. Not only do most of our states have high enough average wind speeds to make wind turbines effective, but the wind energy business in general is booming. You can see approximate wind resource potential near you by checking out maps from DOE’s Wind Powering America Program.

Are they loud?

A rule of thumb to keep in mind is that the closer you are, the louder the wind turbines are. When standing directly below a wind turbine, the noise level is slightly above that of a vacuum cleaner. 100 meters away, the level drops to roughly the level of a microwave oven. 300 meters away, the noise level is equal to that of a kitchen refrigerator. By standard protocol, wind turbines are never closer than 300 meters from the nearest residential structure.

How are they being used right now?

See the original story on the Clean Energy Resource Teams’ website.

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About the Author

is the Communications Coordinator for the Clean Energy Resource Teams, or CERTs, at the University of Minnesota. CERTs works to advance the adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in communities across Minnesota by helping people learn, connect, and act.



  • Bob_Wallace

    Should have used a US wind map that shows where the wind really it – offshore.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Just look at all that delicious wind offshore – waiting for us to get some turbines installed.

      Even the Great Lakes and Gulf Coast. The Southeast whines about not having wind energy, they just aren’t looking at their resources.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I have no idea why this image is posted twice. Disqus must have had a tough Saturday night….

        • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

          haha :D

      • Val Martin

        Wind is good for sailing yachts, is is important for weather systems, but it is not a resource to generate mains electric power. Wind gurus the world over point out that their country has the best wind speeds and no one gets a chance to counter it. Wind is not dispatchable, The idea of generating mains power from the wind was toyed with over a 100 years ago but was abandoned because it is a failure. Its happening now because those holding political power hold degrees in arts and non- scientific studies. They never passed the examination in mathimatics, or had to sweat over the very difficult scientific subjects. Now they declare that wind can do now what it could never do before.

      • Owen Martin

        The output of a wind farm does not vary directly with wind speed.

        Up to 12.5 mph wind speed, there is no output from an industrial wind farm. From 12.5 mph to 33 mph there is output, but it increases by the cube. It’s the
        same as increasing the length, depth and width of a tank. Double those dimensions and the capacity increases by a factor of three.

        So: What is the
        difference in output when you double the wind speed above cut in speed? Take values of 16 MPH and double it and take values of 19mph and double it.

        (16 – 12.5) = 3.5 to give a notional output of 15
        mega watts.

        (19.5 – 12.5) = 7 will then give 15 x 15 x 15
        = 3375 mw.

        Next:

        (19.5 -12.5) = 7 to give a notional value of 3375 mw in line with above.(26.5 – 12.5 ) = 14 will give
        3375 x 3375 = 11390625 x 3375 =
        38, 443,359,380

  • Owen Martin

    This sounds great but in reality there isnt one turbine in the world that has powered even one home. Not one power plant in the world has been decommissioned because of a windfarm. You left out the fact that wind turbines consume electricity (completely unaccounted for) and that they cause gas plants to run inefficiently resulting in more fuel being burned and increased Co2 emissions.

    • Mustafinho Nazario

      “This sounds great but in reality there isnt one turbine in the world that has powered even one home.” Of course not, but when you combine it with other renewable technologies, then you can power not just a house but an entire city 24/7. For example, Thisted Municipality in north western Denmark is fully powered by renewable energy. 100% of its electricity and almost 85% of its heating comes from Renewable Energy sources.

      • Owen Martin

        http://www.slideshare.net/Nstenkjaer/thisted-municipality

        looks great until you get to slide 69 near the end. Gas, Petrol and Coal consumption are multiples of wind and water. Energy use has gone way down, because electricity is so expensive. They project that they will be 100% renewable in 2050 – thats completely different to saying that they are 100% renewable right now (which they are far from)

        • Mustafinho Nazario

          I have lived in Thisted and they are 100% renewable now as far as electricity goes. I don’t know what you are talking about. You are mixing up Energy and Electricity. Electricity is one form of energy. And clearly, we are are talking about Electricity here. Slide 69 says nothing about Thisted not being 100% renewable in power generation. It states that by 2050 energy should be 100% renewable.

          • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

            Owen seems to be highly confused about electricity and energy in general. Despite Denmark getting over 30% of its electricity from wind power, and many other countries getting a lot of electricity from wind, Owen thinks that wind power hasn’t even powered a single home. lol :D

            http://cleantechnica.com/2013/02/01/wind-energy-hits-over-30-of-denmarks-electricity-consumption-at-end-of-2012/

            http://cleantechnica.com/2013/06/20/top-wind-power-countries-in-the-world-per-capita-per-gdp-in-total/

          • Owen Martin

            how do you power a home when there’s no wind – you dont need to be einstein to see through the wind scam !

          • Bob_Wallace

            Owen, engage your brain or go away.

          • Owen Martin

            ok, look there’s a consensus on wind turbines…..like there was a consensus about infinite economic growth. people naturally get annoyed when they are asked to question the consensus, this is natural human instinct. all im saying is question everything you read on this because you need to have back up generators running all the time, strong wind or weak wind, they need to be kept running but this is never included in the figures. Also, turbines consume electricity – this is also unaccounted for.

          • Bob_Wallace

            ” you need to have back up generators running all the time, strong wind or weak wind, they need to be kept running”

            Owen, that is simply 100% incorrect. Totally, absolutely incorrect.

            I recognize that a number of people believe that, but it’s not true.

            Going way back, well before wind came on any grid, we kept a certain amount of “spinning generation” available to deal with sudden supply/demand changes. Sometimes that was a fossil fuel plants, sometimes a hydro facility.

            Wind is very predictable. It doesn’t suddenly appear or disappear, grid operators can see the changes hours before they happen and prepare for them.

            Wind farms are spread across large areas which means that not all wind output changes at the same time. A decrease in one farm is often offset by an increase in another wind farm as systems move across the area.

            Now wind farms are adding small amount of storage which makes their outputs more predictable than any other form of generation. And with the rapid start NG turbines we now have those turbines can sit turned off for hours/days/weeks/months waiting until they are needed and then be running at full speed before the wind farms drops out.

            “turbines consume electricity – this is also unaccounted for”

            Please tell us what electricity turbines consume.

            Warning lights, monitoring systems, rotor brakes, blade angle motors, I assume.

            Of course this use is accounted for. It’s an operating expense and gets figured in along with all other operating expenses when the selling price is calculated.

          • Owen Martin

            1) The spinning generation is kept running – the wind doesnt displace it. So what you are saying is wind creates a duplicate energy system, more expense, we all have to pay for it.

            2) Wind is a result of cyclonic conditions – that cover a very large area. Localised gusts are pretty much irrelevant to wind energy.

            3) rapid start NGs means very high Co2 emissions when they are started, they would be burning huge amounts of fuel if they are used like that, much more than if they were left running constant for long periods. Think about how much fuel you use in your car in a city compared to on a motorway to get an idea.

            4) It cant get figured in with all the other operating expenses – it is unmetered. the billpayer picks up the tab. I have already investigated this through Freedom of Information.

          • Bob_Wallace

            1) The spinning generation runs for all changes in supply and demand. Wind does not change the amount.

            2) Makes no sense. If you pay any attention to wind systems they move across the landscape.

            3) Again. No. Only a tiny, tiny, tiny amount. If you were correct then we would see much more than a 0.018% increase in GHG. Any additional fuel burned produces CO2.

            4) Show us the proof. Show us proof that wind farms have grid connections which are not metered, which allow them to use grid electricity without paying for it.

          • Val Martin

            The big mistake being made is to count wind on what amount is produced. Its what can be done with the energy produced that matters. Nuclear and fuel generation is stored power. The energy is stored in the atom or the coal, oil or gas over millions of years and can be used when needed. Daily demand is predictable and non-wind generators can schedule plant to supply accordingly. Wind is not dispatchable, or stored, it is disordered energy. You can never be sure it will be available. A very important point is that there is a limit of how much wind can be allowed to enter then grid. This ranges from 22 % to up to 50 % depending of wind consistency. To get over this, excess wind is curtailed and still paid for. This curtailed power is counted as real, when in fact it is never produced. Not only that,, traditional hot plant has to be curtailed if wind come in unexpectedly. The cost is also loaded on consumers. Wind is just a passenger on the system and is therefore an extra cost. It does not add anything. The capacity factor for wind is only about a quarter and in order to break even, earnings must be enough to cover the entire year’s expenses.

            Wind is by force confined to generate for only about 25% of the time, and its output cannot usually be predicted. So in reality, duty controllers disconnect plant, but leave it running. When wind is coming in it varies in strength by periods ranging from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. This must be balanced by the hot plant which is designed to run at a smooth continuous load. Plant designed to cycle up and down twice a day, must now cycle up to 300 times per day. Its the same as driving a car on a motorway compared to driving through a city. It uses more miles per gallon and creates more emissions.

            This is confirmed by the Bentek studies in Colorado.

            The finding of Fred Udo the Dutch engineer and Physicist Kees Le Pair on the Dutch system. The report for the John Muir Thrust, and the work of Proff Gordon Hughes of Edinburgh University. Denmark has 6,200 industrial turbines and they have not managed to save even one kilo of coal, oil or Gas.

            Germany is in big trouble too with huge wind investment. If you cannot understand this. Just ask a few questions: What happens on a calm day? Why are conventional power workers not afraid of losing their jobs?

            Of course they are not. So why are companies building wind farms? because they get massive subsidies and why are governments allowing it, I believe many of the Great and the Good have invested heavily in wind in the belief that it worked and would bring great riches to them. It’s only electricity in the end of the day and no fortune was every made from electricity and never will.. If the price gets too high, consumers will generate their own. In Spain solar suppliers were caught using diesel generators to boost income, and the same may be happening with wind. The proof is that in every country, the required environmental assessment for large projects has been bye passed. This may soon change. Wind energy is a delusion, a scam..

          • Bob_Wallace

            Your comment is one big pile of fail.

            You demonstrate a lack of understanding how grids operate. I’m not about to wade through that mess and correct your mistakes.

            Try reading information not fed to you by the coal and nuclear industry. You’ve got a massive amount of junk in your storage system.

          • Owen Martin

            Anyone can throw cow dung. It does not alter the facts. Wind’s contribution can be measured in the micro way, internally or in the macro way, externally. Looking at it externally. It has drastically failed everywhere it has been tried. the cost of wind and solar in Spain amounted to 32 billion dollars over 5 years. And when all was installed, they still need as mush traditional power are before. There are over 100,000 industrial turbines in the world and not one traditional power has been shut down because of it. Now in what other industry would something so useless be allowed to continue. Lies are being told to try fool the people into thinking wind will deliver cheap power.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Owen. Bring us your Freedom of Information material.

            Until you do I’m simply going to take down your junk-filled posts rather than spend time replying to them.

          • Val Martin

            Anti wind people are not proposing building turbines. People like Bob Wallace are. Bob its you who are proposing this, not us. Therefore the onus of proof rightly rests on your shoulders.

            You first need be honest and open about your project and submit to independent specialist scrutiny. I know from experience here you will not do that.

            What I cannot say for sure is whether all wind proponents are aware their project is a swindle. I think some do and some are not too bright and believe wind works.

          • Owen Martin

            Wind does change it. Demand follows a gentle curve, wind has no-relation between demand and supply over the course of a day but worse still it varies by the minute. Spreading wind farms out does help abate this a little but wire losses reduce the benefit of this.

          • Val Martin

            Show us the proof is the standard battle call of the wind scam supporters. They have managed to bring down a veil of secrecy on the whole rules applying to wind turbines. I have been breaking that open here in Ireland using United Nation/European Union access to information regulations. Aware that they have blocked information to the general public, people like Bob cry out, show us the Proof. Believing the information cannot be located. Oerhaps no-one in the United states has applied for the information. I don’t know what the rules are there. But I know what they are here and the official side do not want want to reveal any information

          • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

            The backup power needed for wind is *highly* exaggerated. It has been by the likes of the Telegraph and other anti-renewable outlets. Wind energy is actually quite predictable. Also, it’s very distributed, making the matter even better.

            All power sources need backup generation. Picking out wind’s needs as so unique is a dishonest approach.

          • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

            Oh yeah, and the “wind turbines consume electricity” comment is completely inane. Yes, all power plants have parts that consume electricity. But when they are the cheapest source of new power (i.e. wind) that means they are producing *much, much, much* more than they consume. Please, let’s not degrade the usefulness of our comments section with inane comments like that.

          • Val Martin

            The main subside if “Priority Dispatch” called “Must take” in some countries” All wind must be bought and paid for at a premium rate. Once offered it cannot be refused. If it’s not wanted it is constrained down and paid for at a lower rate.

            Turbines use power and in some cases this is metered by meters which run in both directions. In others it may not be. 2,000 mw of wind will use enough power to keep about 6,000 family homes going. If you count all the wind generated it probable exceeds the power used, but there are times when little wind is produced and this tends to be in frosty conditions when power is in big demand.

            For this reason the wind drives up the cost of electricity and it gets Renewable Obligation Certs.from burners of carbon fuel. Turbine give less output as they get older and more noisier too.

            In the universities of the world, and in books there are scientific answers to everything, the buoyancy of ships,, ballistics, velocity, You name it, there is fa formula to measure it. Take a small country like Ireland. If there were no turbines, the contribution of wind would be = NIL. You cannot use 100% wind, so if there was nothing but turbines in the system, the contribution of wind would still be = nil. So at what point does the contribution for wind optimise? Its a simple question, but you won’t find an answer anywhere. There is none. The reason is that the answer is that at no point or percentage of wind does wind contribution optimise. Contribution of wind at 10% = NIL, at 20% = NIL at 50% = Nil , at 60% = Nil and at 80% it still is equal to NIL. Same as putting water in you vinegar, you whiskey or in your coffee. It may made make you feel better, but it adds no value.. Or buying plain sun glasses to read the paper, if you need glasses, you still will not be able to read. Its a simple transfer of money from the poor to the rich. That always happened, but not so openly.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Wind is getting favorable treatment in some locales. That makes sense considering that we are bringing a new technology to the grid and it needs help competing against older, paid off generators.

            Look at the massive, massive assistance we have given fossil fuels and nuclear generation.

            “Turbines use power and in some cases this is metered by meters which run in both directions. In others it may not be”

            Exactly where do wind farms steal electricity from the grid? “May” does not mean “Does”.

            ” You cannot use 100% wind”

            Certainly you could. It would require a large amount of storage, but it can be done. Obviously it will be cheaper to use a wide mix of renewable inputs in order to minimize storage and dispatchable generation.

            You’re posting junk, Val.

          • Val Martin

            Can you tell me how a gallon of Gasoline or Diesel oil extracted from the ground in Oman, in the middle East, refined in the United States and sold to you for your car is subsidized? At what point is it subsidized and who pays the subsidy? I bought road fuel in Oman on a visit in 2011 and it cost 26 euro cent (about 29 $cent).
            At that time it cost 98 euro cent here.
            I guess about $60 cent in the USA.

            I hear all the talk about subsidies, but I can’t find out how it’s happening. If its happening at all.

            So where are the subsidies applied?

          • Bob_Wallace

            ValOwen.

            You aren’t getting to post anything until you back up your Freedom of Information claim.

          • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

            Wowza, Owen, you’ve got to be kidding me. The grid is built to take in power from all different sources and dish it out as needed. We would never have a 100% wind or a 100% natural gas or a 100% nuclear (etc, etc) grid. one of the nice things about wind and solar, actually, is that they are highly distributed. If one nuclear power plant or coal plant goes down, it’s a catastrophe. But hundreds or thousands of wind or solar power plants are not going to go down all at once like that, adding reliability and security to the grid. (This is not just me saying this, but this has been a long identified benefit of distributed energy sources like wind and solar.)

        • Mustafinho Nazario

          Please refer to the official website of the Thisted municipality for further assurance.

          http://green.thisted.dk/?lang=en

    • Bob_Wallace

      Using your logic there isn’t one nuclear reactor in the world that has powered even one home. There isn’t one coal plant in the world that has powered even one home.

      No generation system operates 24/365 without interruption. Nuclear reactors are generally off 10% of the time for refueling/maintenance, coal plants are down for 15% of the time.

      Wind turbines consume electricity? They probably do. They need to keep their warning lights flashing even when they aren’t spinning. Nuclear reactors and coal plants consume electricity when they aren’t operating. So what’s your point?

      Wind turbines do cause a very small amount of inefficiency for gas plants. A 1.5 year study in the UK found that the inefficiency for gas plants caused by wind increased CO2 output by only 0.081%. If that extremely small amount of fuel was being burned inefficiently then it’s something we can ignore and get on to important things. Like using wind turbines to close down coal plants.

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/10091645/The-badger-cull-is-no-black-and-white-issue.html

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Wow, this one wins the most completely incorrect statement of the week award.

    • Ronald Brakels

      Playford B coal power plant has been shut down thanks to South Australia’s wind power capacity (aided by its smaller solar power capacity). And the Northern coal power plant has switched to load following rather than baseload electricity production. Those were the only two coal plants in the state. Wind and solar capacity has resulted in a decline in the state’s natural gas use. Look it up, my favorite Martin.

      • Owen Martin

        thats scientifically impossible, wind results in increased gas consumption because it forces gas turbines to run in an inefficient manner as they are ramped up and down in accordance with the wind. i also dont believe that wind has displaced coal energy, thats also scientifically impossible on this planet anyway. coal is dispatchable , wind is not. wind, being a secondary energy source, cannot displace a primary source like coal.

        • Bob_Wallace

          The UK studied this inefficiency issue and found it to be real.

          And really, really, really tiny. The inefficiency was so small that it caused only a 0.081% increase in CO2 emissions.

          ” i also dont believe that wind has displaced coal energy, thats also scientifically impossible on this planet anyway”

          That simply proves that you can’t do math.

          “coal is dispatchable”

          The term “dispatchable” is used in two ways. The main use is to identify generation technologies which can be turned on and off in a short interval.

          Hydro is the most dispatchable. Natural gas and biogas turbines can be brought on and up to speed in less than 15 minutes which makes them dispatchable. Geothermal is dispatchable.

          Recently I’ve seen the coal and nuclear industry argue that their technologies are dispatchable because they can be turned on and off. That corrupts the use of the term. Coal plants take many hours to come back on line, nuclear plants take days.

          • Owen Martin

            well, Bob , the UK are facing blackouts because they are learning the hard way that wind doesnt and cant displace coal and nuclear plants.

            wind is not dispatchable in that 1) it cant be switched on when you want 2) in high winds you cant allow the wind into the grid (wind companies get paid for this) 3) in low winds you produce no power.

            they are not an alternative fuel to fossil fuel, they only exist to create a duplicate power system

          • Bob_Wallace

            Actually, Owen, your UK claim is not true.

            Wind is not dispatchable and no one has claimed that it is. Wind and solar are variable inputs.

            Now, would you please cease posting until you can bring us proof that wind farms are stealing electricity from the grid?

        • Ronald Brakels

          Owen Martin, look it up. Or is your internet broken so you can only write comments and not do searches?

    • Matt

      WTF?

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