How Wind Turbines Work
Wind turbines operate on a simple principle. The energy in the wind turns
two or three propeller-like blades around a rotor. The rotor is connected to
the main shaft, which spins a generator.
The blades act much like airplane wings. When the wind blows, a pocket of
low-pressure air forms on the downwind side of the blade. The low-pressure
air pocket then pulls the blade toward it, causing the rotor to turn. This
is called lift. The force of the lift is actually much stronger than the
wind's force against the front side of the blade, which is called drag. The
combination of lift and drag is what causes the rotor to spin.
Wind turbines are mounted on a tower to capture the most energy. At 100
feet (30 meters) or more above ground, they can take advantage of faster and
less turbulent wind.
How Wind Power is Used
Wind turbines can be used to produce electricity for a single home or
building, or they can be connected to an electricity grid for more
widespread electricity distribution. They can even be combined with other
renewable energy technologies.
Small turbines (below 50 kilowatts) can be used to pump water or to power
individual homes, farms, and ranches. Small turbines are especially useful
in remote areas. Our Making
Your Own Clean Electricity section provides more information on issues
involved with producing electricity, and provides tools to evaluate small
wind and other renewable technologies for your home/small business.
To meet the electricity needs of a power company, a number of large wind
turbines (50 kilowatts to one or two megawatts) can be built close together
to form a wind plant. Several power providers today use wind plants to
supply power to their customers. Our Buying
Clean Electricity section provides information on buying electricity
generated from wind and other renewable resources in your state.
Where Wind Power is Used
Wind energy can be produced anywhere in the world where the wind blows with
a strong and consistent force. Windier locations produce more energy, which
lowers the cost of producing electricity.
Moderate to excellent wind resources are found in most regions of the
United States. However, the majority of the useable wind resources in the
United States are found in the western Plains states.
Annual Wind Power—This map shows the distribution of wind resources
across the United States.
More Information on Wind Power
For a comprehensive list of links to wind energy Web sites, divided by
topic, visit the Wind
Energy portal on the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency
and Renewable Energy Web site.