Facts About Wind Turbines: A Wind Turbine Definition and How Wind Turbines Work

More and more massive propellers dot the rural landscape, providing efficient, renewable energy to power homes and businesses.

Wind turbines, the silent and growing source of renewable energy, have become a normal part of daily life in many people’s backyards. Yet many don’t know many facts about wind turbines.

Not how much a wind turbine costs, how wind turbines work, wind turbine efficiency, nor a myriad of other mysteries can be solved simply by watching wind turbines’ blades spin in place.

These silent sentinels powering our homes deserve more inspection.

Environmentalists, government bureaucrats, and energy companies all tout the benefits of wind turbines. They believe wind energy will help keep our lights on well after fossil fuels have run out. And many tout wind turbine efficiency as one of the technology’s biggest benefits.

Information about wind turbines, therefore, floods the internet, offering wind turbine définitions and calculating wind turbine efficiency. One can feel lost weeding through all the information.

How Wind Turbines Work

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This guide will help suss out key wind turbine facts and explain how wind turbine works. It will:

  • Give a definitive wind turbine definition
  • Explain how wind turbines work
  • Dissect wind turbines cost
  • Analyze wind turbine efficiency

This guide may get detailed when explaining how wind turbines work. Don’t worry, we’ll walk you through it.

Throughout, we’ll include wind turbine facts to help answer search queries such as, “how wind turbine works” and “efficiency of wind turbines.”

Let’s start by uncovering a wind turbine definition. Then we can get into the weeds of how wind turbines work.

You may end up respecting Don Quixote a little more…

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Finding a Wind Turbine Definition: History Predicts How Wind Turbines Work

The modern wind turbine definition exclusively evokes electricity. But humanity has used the wind for other purposes long before wind turbines began powering homes.

It’s important to understand these uses if we want to know just how wind turbine works.

Wind Turbine Efficiency

Image Source: Wikipedia

Ancient Greeks understood the wind’s energy potential and utilized it as best they could. And their definition of wind energy aligns closely with the wind turbine definition.

Well before engines were created, ships relied on favorable winds to move about — the very same natural energy force powering wind turbines.

Before wind turbines, windmills helped turn massive stones to, for example, grind wheat into flour, or pump water from cisterns. Same principal as how wind turbine works. These predecessors set the groundwork for how wind turbines work, as propeller blades were spun by passing air, rotating an axle inside the windmill.

The windmills’ blades acted as an energy-catching and conversion device, sending the energy to an axle, much like wind turbines. And well before Cervantes’ famous Don Quixote began chasing windmills, wind turbines’ predecessors were helping create grains and water to feed multitudes.

This axle would transfer the resulting energy to some mechanism, be it a millstone or pump. It’s exactly how wind turbines work, and one clever Scotsman put it to use for his vacation home.

Engineer James Blyth was the first person on record to create a modern, electricity-generating wind turbine in 1887. It’s one of the more controversial facts about wind turbines — some argue American Charles F. Brush beat Blyth and patented the technology first.

Due to cost and development restrictions, wind turbine efficiency did not cross the threshold into profitability at the time. As a result, wind turbines were not adopted en masse until the 1930s, when they began generating electricity for farms across America.

The New Deal in the 1930s and 40s helped connect these farms to existing electric grids, stifling the development of wind turbines.

Curiosity about wind’s energy potential didn’t return until the 1970s, when an energy crisis forced the U.S. to reconsider wind turbines. The U.S. government began funding research, digging for more facts about wind turbines.

The current iteration of wind turbines arrived in the 1980s, when smaller companies and entrepreneurs in California installed 15,000 mid-sized turbines.

Based upon this basic history, we can modernize the previous uses of wind power and ensure the wind turbine definition simply includes electrical energy.

To that end, this is our broad wind turbine definition: a power-generating propeller which uses wind’s kinetic energy to generate electricity.

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How Wind Turbine Works: Spinning to Wind Turbine Efficiency

Most wind turbines look like fans used to cool our homes, or propellers used to move ships. The blades of a propeller spin, inducing the movement of a liquid (water) or gas (air). This makes it simple to explain how wind turbines work: the blades are the energy-capturing end of the device, with an electric turbine converting the kinetic energy into electricity.

Wind turbines’ propellers spin a shaft or axle connected to a standard generator — almost identical to ones powered by steam or coal. This generator then creates power, which is fed into the electric grid.

The key to how wind turbines work lies not in the turbine, but in how effectively the propellers spin the axle. Not all winds, it turns out, are the same.

As a result, not all wind turbines look like propellers. It’s one of the more fun wind turbine facts: they can capture wind energy at many angles, so wind turbines can have different shapes.

Two shapes of wind turbines have become common: horizontal axis wind turbines (the propeller-like devices we often see); and vertical axis wind turbines (which resemble standing mixer attachments, cork screws or even whisks).

Both types of wind turbines have blades set at angles optimized for “catching” of the wind. But not all winds are created equal — one of the lesser-known facts about wind turbines. Much as we may love them, they can’t be planted anywhere.

Differences in wind speeds and air density make some locations better for wind turbines than others.

For example, heavy, wet winter winds and dry summer winds have different energy potential, despite blowing at wind turbines at the same speeds.

Sites for wind turbines are not just chosen based upon how the wind blows, but they take into account many factors to optimize the efficiency of wind turbines.

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Wind Turbine Cost: The Wind Turbine Definition of “Affordable”

Energy industry standards give a simple means of determining how much a wind turbine costs: it’s the ratio of dollars spent to kilowatts of capacity, according to the industry’s own groups.

A smaller wind turbine cost ranges between $3,000 and $8,000 per kilowatt, depending on the manufacturer and actual size. The cost efficiency of wind turbines scales up: higher costs bring less expensive dollar-per-kilowatt ratios.

Commercial wind turbine costs can range between $1.3 million and $2 million per megawatt of electricity. Average commercial wind turbines can cost about $4 million in total, including installation.

The total wind turbine cost is cut down significantly by tax and other incentives, which vary from state to state. It also increases wind turbine efficiency on a cost-per-kilowatt basis.

Deciding where to place the generators also increases wind turbine cost. Assessing the viability of locations for wind farms requires time and funds.

This costly process is often overlooked when calculating the wind turbine cost. To date, the U.S. government and states have, for the most part, funded this search, keeping the wind turbine cost low for consumers and energy companies.

Wind Turbine Efficiency: Obvious and Startling Wind Turbine Facts

One of the keys to wind turbine efficiency is wind speed — one of the more obvious facts about wind turbines.

It isn’t a straightforward equation, though. More than amount of wind or duration, it’s the speed which can most influence the efficiency of wind turbines.

Wind turbines’ generation has a cubic relation to wind force. Faster winds cube the energy output of wind turbines.

For example, when wind speed doubles, it increases electrical output by a factor of eight. This increases the efficiency of wind turbines.

This is known as the “wind resource,” a quantitative measure of the wind’s ability to generate power via wind turbines. The equation computes wind speed, regularity, and duration at a certain location. The larger all three factors, the greater the efficiency of wind turbines at that location.

The sun’s effect on the Earth’s atmosphere varies from location to location, changing wind speeds. This sends pockets of air with differing temperatures rushing from one location to another, creating wind.

Another of the lesser-known wind turbine facts: they’re not efficient.

Wind turbines only capture a fraction of the wind’s actual kinetic energy. In some cases, as little as one-fifth of wind’s total energy is converted into electrical power, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. This ratio will change with time as technology increases wind turbine efficiency.

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Facts About Wind Turbines, and Where They’re Going

Utility-grade wind turbines produce between 100 kilowatts to several megawatts of energy depending on their size. The larger the wind turbines, the greater their cost-effectiveness and efficiency.

These large wind turbines, arranged in larger groupings, create energy-harvesting “wind farms.” These expand the wind turbine definition to much larger scales.

Seaside and ocean winds generally are denser and faster, making coastal placement a good way of increasing wind turbine efficiency.

Wind turbines aren’t limited to large-scale utility companies.

Wind turbines also generate power for private homes, especially those in remote locations. Telecommunications towers and water pumps also often use wind turbines.

With time, information about wind energy spread. Thanks to federal funding and improvements in both the production of turbines and their efficiency, the industry took off in the late 1990s.

Wind Turbine Cost

Image Source: Pixabay

Wind energy remains one of the fastest-growing alternative power sources in the country. About 45,000 megawatts of wind energy were added to the grid worldwide in 2012, a 10 percent growth over the previous year.

As the U.S. begins investing more in offshore wind farms, wind energy’s contribution to the global power grid will only increase.

Europe has been fueling wind energy’s growth with much more vigor, and for much longer. Some of its countries, such as Denmark, get nearly a third of all their power from wind turbines.

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Wind turbines have become part of everyday life. We’re far from the days when the sight of one of these massive propellers would cause people to stop and gaze.

As time passes and the transition away from fossil fuels speeds up, wind turbines will may become integral to keeping civilization’s collective lights on.

But wind turbines are still a mystery to us, with many wind turbine facts remaining in the dark. The wind turbine cost, how wind turbines work, and wind turbine efficiency still require some digging.

As time passes, all these figures and processes will evolve. Wind turbine efficiency will increase. Wind turbine costs will drop.

And this guide itself may eventually — hopefully — need to be updated to include the many further advancements we’ve made in this clean energy source.

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