What is Wind Energy?
Wind Energy, also referred to as wind power, is the process of turning kinetic energy from the wind into electricity. This is done through the use of wind turbines, which are steel towers with two or three blades and a Nacelle that houses a shaft, generator, gearbox, and various controls. Wind turbines vary in size but typically stand 260 feet tall and are situated in areas that produce a significant amount of wind on a regular basis.
Most often, you’ll find wind turbines situated on wind farms, allowing multiple turbines to collect energy from a single area more efficiently.
The amount of power a single turbine can harvest from the wind depends on its size and the length of its blade. However, most turbines begin generating power from the wind when the wind speed reaches 6 miles per hour. Once wind gusts exceed 55 miles per hour, the turbine shuts down to prevent damage to its internal components.
Types of Wind Energy
When it comes to wind energy, there are three main types used to collect the energy produced by the wind. These types of wind energy include:
– Utility Scale Wind: This type of wind energy is used to distribute electricity to a power grid and distributed by power system operators or utility companies to those who need it the most. With this particular type of wind energy, various sized turbines are used to harness energy, ranging from 100 kilowatts to several megawatts.
– Offshore Wind Energy: You’ll typically find this type of wind energy on the continental shelf or in other large bodies of water. For this type of wind energy, engineers use much larger turbines than land-based ones and they capture the wind that blows across oceans and large bodies of water. Off-shore wind turbines generate a lot more power than land-based ones making them more efficient.
– Small Wind or Distributed Wind Energy: This type of wind energy is not connected to the grid and uses wind turbines that house under 100 kilowatts of power. Typically using only one turbine, this type of wind energy is used to power a single home, business, or farm.
What is a Wind Farm
A wind farm is a collection of wind turbines situated in one area to harvest the kinetic energy produced by wind. A wind farm can house a handful of wind turbines or have hundreds of them situated across hundreds of miles of land. You’ll typically find a wind farm in locations that are known for the frequency of high winds.
How it Works
Turbines use their propeller-like blades to harass the winds energy and transform it into electricity. Each blade connects to the shaft of the turbine and creates a rotor. As the wind blows, a pocket of air begins to form at the underside of the turbines blades. This pocket of air forces the blades towards it which makes the blades and the rotor to spin.
When the rotor turns, it spins the generator inside of the Nacelle which creates electricity. This electricity is then sent from the turbine to a power grid using small transmission lines. Once it reaches the power grid, its sent to areas that need the electricity using larger transmission lines that are designed to transport the electricity longer distances.
Wind Turbine vs. Windmill
Many people interchange the terms “windmill” and “wind turbine” believing they’re the same thing. However, they have some very distinct differences between them. A wind turbine turns kinetic energy into electricity, while a windmill turns wind into mechanical energy, but does not produce electricity. Windmills are used for grain grinding, pump water, and perform other tasks that don’t require electricity. A wind turbine creates energy to power homes, businesses, small towns, and cities.
The use of wind energy provides a variety of benefits to modern society that conventional power plants cannot provide. Some of the advantages associated with wind energy include:
– Benefit to Farmers and Ranchers: Many wind turbines are erected on land that’s already occupied and worked by farmers and ranchers. By allowing developers to build wind turbines on their lamd, they receive extra income through monthly rent payments and they get to continue living and working on their land. This extra income to local farmers also helps boost the areas economy.
– Creates Jobs: There’s more than 100,000 workers employed through wind energy developed careers in the United States. It’s projected that the U.S could create well over 600,000 more jobs relating to the wind energy sector by 2050.
– Clean Fuel Alternative: unlike conventional power plants, wind turbines do not use fossil fuels like natural gas and coal to function. Which means they do not pollute the air with particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, or nitrogen oxide.
– A Cost-Effective Source of Energy: Wind energy, specifically land-based wind energy, is the lowest priced energy source in the United States. It generally costs 1- to 2-cents per kilowatt when you factor in the tax credit provided for production and its sold at a fixed price for extended periods of time. Combined with its lack of fuel costs, its a very cost-effective way to harness electricity.
Like any other source of power, wind energy does have a few disadvantages to it. Although, industry leaders are working diligently to resolve much of the issues they current face. Some of these disadvantages include:
– Risk To Wildlife: Unfortunately, there’s been instances where birds and bats have flown into the blade of a wind turbine resulting in death. While developers have worked diligently to reduce and eliminate this risk, it still poses a significant problem. In addition, the construction on these turbines can disrupt the natural habitat they’re built on and disrupt wildlife.
– Noise and Aesthetic Appeal: While wind turbines don’t negatively impact the environment like a conventional power plant, it does cause some disturbance to those who live near by. Many find that the noise produced by the blades of the turbine are overwhelming and that the sight of these steel towers pollutes the aesthetics of the landscape.