How Wind Turbines Work

Posted on May 27, 2009 by Courtney

Last weekend, I moved from Tennessee to Wyoming. The reasons for my move are long and sordid, but I did want to share with you something interesting I saw on the looooooong drive: Wind turbines. (I originally wanted to call them windmills, but technically windmills are supposed to mill something. Wind turbines generate energy, windmills are like the place where Heidi lives. This post is about turbines. And please forgive the less-than-great photo quality — I took it out the car window as I was driving past them and also trying not to wreck my car.)

Wind turbines aren’t something you see a lot of in the East, but in notoriously windy southern Wyoming, they are everywhere. When I was driving through the rolling hills, before I started seeing snow-capped peaks, there were some places where dozens of wind turbines were gathered on top of berms, and they were churning away. I began to wonder just how exactly wind turbines work, and thanks to a little research, I got my answer.

Wind, when properly harnessed, is a great way to generate energy. Each turbine is very large, usually from 200 to 300 feet tall, which is important because height is an important component in aerodynamic modeling. The turbines have three blades each, and obviously they are propelled by the wind currents. Depending on how windy conditions are, the blades rotate at a rate of 10 to 22 rotations per minute. Inside the base of the wind turbine is the generator, the control electronics, and a gearbox component, which speeds up the generator a bit.

The blades can be tilted at different pitches so the wind turbines take maximum advantage of the conditions. The blades always move perpendicular to the wind, allowing them to generate energy through the whole rotation.

Not everyone loves wind turbines, though. Aside from being very large and difficult to transport, requiring skilled workers to install them, there are some who say they disrupt the landscape and ruin the view. They’re also noisy. Also, since wind doesn’t move at a constant rate, neither do the turbines, and this makes them an intermittent power source. The grid may have to compensate for the changes in energy generation.

Personally, I think they’re kind of neat, and it sure beats blowing the tops off of mountains to get coal for power. What do you think of wind turbines — great alternative power source or eyesore?

No Comments +

  1. The Netherlands have a lot of turbines, but many of them are often still, which causes me to question whether it’s wise to rely on turbines for energy. Likewise for the sun, unless you’re in the Sahara. There was also a study that showed a minor dent in bat populations in the presence of windmills, but I don’t think it’s anything to really get worried about (though the “fuzzy snout” fungal infection is, because that’ll decimate bats).

    I think they’re great for small towns and individuals who want to get off the grid, but it’d be ridiculous to expect a city to rely on wind for power. As for the scenery–well, there are better things to get worked up over.

    May 27th, 2009 at 9:31 am
    Comment by Jules
  2. They are kind of a controversy around here. Western NY is windy and it can be a great resource, but a lot of people do complain about the appearance. My personal opinion is that 1. they look kind of cool, and 2. they look a heck of a lot better than smog. But I don’t actually live near any and I can see how noise might be an issue.

    No, a city probably couldn’t completely rely on wind power, but it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing. Supplementing our energy with wind power and maybe drawing our power from a combination of sustainable sources might be the long term answer. I don’t think we’re going to find a magic bullet, one size fits all solution.

    May 27th, 2009 at 9:45 am
    Comment by Allie
  3. A whole bunch of wind turbines were installed in a rural area on the way to my parents’ house, and it was so strange to see all of them the first time I drove through that area after they went up. There were so MANY of them! It was awesome to see them, though, and I was thrilled my home area was taking steps toward cleaner energy. Of course, my mom was totally against them, citing the noise factor and the fact that farmers lost portions of their land (which they were compensated for, of course) and the fact that apparently Flight for Life helicopters can’t land anywhere in a five-mile radius anymore. I sort of don’t think that last one can be true. Can it??

    May 27th, 2009 at 10:32 am
    Comment by Stefanie
  4. I don’t think there’s one solution. I think wind turbines are a great part of the energy solution for areas that have abundant wind.

    May 27th, 2009 at 2:42 pm
    Comment by Julie
  5. We drove through Kansas this weekend too and they have them! I think they are awesome! I loved Wyoming when I lived in Colorado. I hope you enjoy it out there!

    May 27th, 2009 at 6:27 pm
    Comment by Mrs. Money
  6. There’s a wind farm at a rest stop between Wisconsin and Urbana/Champaign on I39 in Illinois. I always stop, no matter what. It’s really cool. It is, in fact, the ONLY remotely cool thing to see while driving through Illinois! I could see possibly feeling differently if I lived there, but I’d also welcome more jobs to the area and greener energy options.

    May 29th, 2009 at 7:27 am
    Comment by Jess
  7. [...] Last weekend, I moved from Tennessee to Wyoming. The reasons for my move are long and sordid, but I did want to share with you something interesting I saw on the looooooong drive: Wind turbines. [...]

    May 29th, 2009 at 9:30 am
    Pingback by Quick Green Reads For The Weekend Volume 119. | The Good Human
  8. At the Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach we have a special wind turbine designed to appear as a solid object to birds and bats – which collide with the fan type wind turbines you saw. Check out their website:

    May 29th, 2009 at 4:34 pm
    Comment by Lori Whalen
  9. Thank you everyone for posting. I am tired of listening to all the complaining from people about wind turbines. We are at a point right now where we have no choice but to move forward and begin to take full advantage of mother nature. Burning of fossil fuels has got to stop. Unfortunately, as we all know, the reason we have not done away with fossil fuels is because of the money to be made. However, humans need to stop being greedy and need to start to live clean so those who come after us will have a safe planet to live on. Thank you.

    June 7th, 2009 at 11:27 pm
    Comment by Beau Deprey

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