Centuries ago, civilizations harnessed the power of the wind to propel boats, pump water, and grind grain. Modern technologies allow us to capture wind and generate electricity, creating a clean and sustainable source of energy.
While not yet as common as solar power, wind power is one of the most promising renewable energy options available. Although wind speeds and patterns vary widely depending on the terrain and location, technology has advanced to enable us to capture wind energy. Wind turbines can transform wind power into clean electricity to power homes and businesses.
Gexa’s guide to wind turbines explores how they work, and the benefits of generating wind power to create electricity.
What Are Wind Turbines?
A wind turbine is a more advanced, modern version of a windmill. Each turbine includes a set of blades, a box called a nacelle with a generator inside, and a shaft. Modern wind turbines can be very large; you’ve likely seen them while driving through the countryside.
Smaller residential wind turbines can also be used for individual homes, agricultural uses, and small industrial and commercial applications.
How Do Wind Turbines Work?
Gusts of wind spin the aerodynamic blades of the turbine, which work similarly to the wings of an airplane or a helicopter’s rotating blade. The spinning blades of the turbine turn the shaft in the nacelle, and a generator converts the wind’s kinetic energy into electricity. That electricity is then passed through a transformer and sent to the power grid for use in homes and businesses.
Wind turbines are mounted on towers 100 feet or more above the ground, enabling them to capture as much wind energy as possible.
Modern turbines are designed to turn and reposition to follow the wind and capture its energy for conversion into electricity.
Related: Learn more about the many benefits of renewable energy.
What is a Wind Farm?
A wind farm is a group or cluster of wind turbines usually located in the countryside or on farmland. Consisting of several large turbines, wind farms generate electricity to send back to the power grid. The electricity you’re using right now to power your computer or turn on the lights in your home may have started on a wind farm!
Types of Wind Turbines
There are two main wind turbine designs: horizontal-axis and vertical-axis.
Horizontal-axis turbines are the most common. They typically have three blades and rotate to face the wind.
Vertical wind turbines are omnidirectional, meaning they don’t have to adjust and face the wind to operate.
Wind turbines can be constructed on land or offshore in major bodies of water, like oceans and lakes.
Wind Turbine Applications
Land-based wind turbines can be as small as 100 kilowatts (kW) or as large as several megawatts (MW), forming wind farms that provide power to the grid. A micro wind turbine can even be installed to provide power directly to a home or business.
Offshore wind turbines are generally much larger than land-based turbines, with many exceeding the height of the Statue of Liberty. These turbines are designed to capture the more powerful winds found on the ocean and can generate incredible amounts of energy. Offshore wind energy is still relatively new in the U.S., but the Department of Energy is currently funding projects to expand offshore wind capacity.
The term distributed wind power refers to those turbines installed near the location where the energy they produce will be used. These turbines are designed to meet on-site energy demand or provide energy directly to the local grid.
Small wind turbines can also be part of hybrid energy systems that include other sources of energy like solar panels and batteries. Also called hybrid wind systems, these combinations of energy provide power in more remote locations where grid electricity isn’t available.
Wind Turbine Maintenance & Repair
Like any other type of machinery, turbines need occasional repair and regular maintenance, whether a small individual wind turbine or a larger installment as part of a wind farm., To do this, technicians look for damage using drones and telephoto lenses and even climb up to the blades for closer inspection.
Both preventative and corrective maintenance are critical to ensuring that wind turbines run correctly and capture as much wind energy as possible.
Wind Turbine FAQs
Why are wind turbines usually white or gray?
Wind turbines are produced in neutral colors to make them as unobtrusive as possible and to avoid ruining the aesthetic appearance of the land.
Where are wind farms located?
Wind farms are generally located in windy areas away from cities and towns, usually on hillsides or near the coast. This allows the turbines to maximize production by accessing the strongest possible winds.
Are wind farms bad for the environment?
Wind farms produce clean, renewable energy, limiting the production of greenhouse gases and making them incredibly environmentally friendly.
How strong does the wind need to be for a wind turbine to work?
Wind turbines are designed to operate in very light winds, very strong winds, and everything in between. In extremely high winds—anything over 90 miles per hour—turbines are designed to shut down to avoid damage.
What materials are used to construct wind turbines?
Most turbine blades are constructed with fiberglass-reinforced polyester and epoxy. Carbon fiber and Kevlar may also be used to reinforce the turbine.
What does a wind turbine cost?
Wind turbines for home use vary widely in price depending on their size and capacity. Small turbines can cost anywhere from $3,000 to upwards of $70,000.
Gexa Energy provides (Texas) homeowners with 100% renewable plans from environmentally friendly renewable sources.
Learn how Gexa Energy works and join us in building a cleaner, more reliable future for Texas.