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Engineering LibreTexts

5.4: Wind Power

  • Page ID
    12192
  • Wind is a renewable energy source that uses the power of moving air to generate electricity. Wind turbines use blades to collect the wind’s kinetic energy. Wind flows over the blades creating lift (similar to the effect on airplane wings), which causes the blades to turn. The blades are connected to a drive shaft that turns an electric generator, which produces electricity (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)). Wind turbines are becoming a more prominent sight across the United States, even in regions that are considered to have less wind potential. Wind turbines (often called windmills) do not release emissions that pollute the air or water (with rare exceptions), and they do not require water for cooling. The U.S. wind industry had 40,181 MW of wind power capacity installed at the end of 2010, with 5,116 MW installed in 2010 alone, providing more than 20 % of installed wind power around the globe. According to the American Wind Energy Association, over 35 % of all new electrical generating capacity in the United States since 2006 was due to wind, surpassed only by natural gas.

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): a) This wind turbine in the Thames Estuary in the UK is an example of induction at work, (credit: Phault, Flickr). Wind pushes the blades of the turbine, spinning a shaft attached to magnets, see image b for parts. The magnets spin around a conductive coil, inducing an electric current in the coil, and eventually feeding the electrical grid. Follow this link for an Animation.

    Most windmills generate about 1kW of electricity, which is only practical for decentralized power generation. California has about 17,000 windmills with a capacity of about 1,400 MW. This is about 80% of all windmills in the U.S. In West Europe windmill generators are quite common. Since a wind turbine (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)) has a small physical footprint relative to the amount of electricity it produces, many wind farms are located on crop, pasture, forest land, or coastal areas. They contribute to economic sustainability by providing extra income to farmers and ranchers, allowing them to stay in business and keep their property from being developed for other uses. For example, energy can be produced by installing wind turbines in the Appalachian Mountains of the United States instead of engaging in mountain top removal for coal mining.

    5.4.1: Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy

    Offshore wind turbines on lakes or the ocean may have smaller environmental impacts than turbines on land. Wind turbines do have a few environmental challenges. There are aesthetic concerns to some people when they see them on the landscape. A few wind turbines have caught on fire, and some have leaked lubricating fluids, though this is relatively rare. Some people do not like the sound that wind turbine blades make. Turbines have been found to cause bird and bat deaths particularly if they are located along their migratory path. This is of particular concern if these are threatened or endangered species. There are ways to mitigate that impact and it is currently being researched. There are some small impacts from the construction of wind projects or farms, such as the construction of service roads, the production of the turbines themselves, and the concrete for the foundations. However, overall life cycle analysis has found that turbines make much more energy than the amount used to make and install them.