How do Wind Turbines Work, harvesting the wind to produce electricity

How do Wind Turbines Work

How do wind turbines work might seem like a magical process when, seeing the rotors of a windmill turning gently in a breeze, you think of this motion being transformed into electricity that can be used to power homes and businesses. Yet all wind turbines work on the same principles, from the earliest wind scooping device invented thousands of years ago to the most sophisticated huge utility turbine.

Essentially, every wind energy system transforms the kinetic energy of the wind into mechanical or electrical energy. Obviously there are huge variations in size but all wind turbines work in the same way, the smallest just the same as its largest cousin. The overall configuration is identical.

How wind turbines work

Each system consists of a rotor (“blades”) which convert the wind’s energy into rotational shaft energy, a nacelle (“enclosure”) containing a drive train and a generator. So you can easily visualize how wind turbines work. The energy that moves the wind (“kinetic energy”) moves the blades. This energy in turn moves the drive train (“mechanical energy”). This energy is then turned into electricity (“electrical energy”) in the generators and then stored in batteries or transferred to home power grids or utility companies for use in the usual way.

The tower of a wind turbine is the most dominant thing you see of a wind turbine and yet it is not the main component of how wind turbines work. It is there simply to hold the rotors at a height sufficient to make optimal use of the available wind. It also holds the electronic equipment associated with transferring electricity but these could be housed anywhere if there was no tower involved.

Another visible difference which may lead to confusion as to how wind turbines work is the style of the rotors. There are two basic designs used commercially: the vertical axis or “egg beater” type which looks something like the top sails of old sailing clippers, and the horizontal axis or “propeller” type. These modern windmills look a lot different from the old water-mill type of turbine. They look more like airplane propellers. Most of the utility scale turbines in the market today are the horizontal type.

There is also experimentation under way to use other types of rotors. For instance, a Hong Kong company is producing electricity from a wind turbines the rotors of which are a string of little “propeller wheels” mounted on a rooftop. These look like children’s party windmills in little circles, all joined together. Although the shape is innovative, the underlying principles concerning wind generation is exactly the same.

When asking how do wind turbines work and receiving this simple explanation it is hard to imagine why they are not less expensive

The good news is that due to how wind turbines work there are great opportunities to make them cheaper once critical mass is reached and more people opt for wind power generated electricity. Mass production will bring down costs. But at the moment the material and installation costs are making them prohibitive to the average consumer who paradoxically needs cheap electricity the most. More info here

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