Wind Turbines – clean free energy from nature!

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Written By Tony Lopes

Sustainable marketer and clean energy specialist. 

Wind turbines are a way to harness the power of the wind to generate clean, free energy.

Let’s get into wind power and understand the different types, advantages, disadvantages and future of wind turbines!

What are wind turbines?

Wind turbines are used to create electrical energy from wind. Wind has been harnessed for energy for thousands of years in the form of windmills and wind pumps and over the last century wind energy has also been used to create electricity.

The blades of a wind turbine are turned by wind. The blades, which look like propellers on an airplane, turn gears and rotors which cause a generator to create electricity.

Wind is a free way to turn mechanical energy (from the turning blades) into electrical energy (through the generator).

Wind turbines can be massive or small and can be installed offshore, on hills or even on the roof of your home or your campsite.

Wind turbines come in many different shapes and sizes and designs are constantly being improved to make them more efficient and to last longer.

Is energy from the wind reliable?

Certain areas have a LOT of wind. These cities or regions are great for wind power because the wind blows quite consistently and for long periods of the day or night.

Other areas have intermittent wind. There may be days that are completely still and quiet with hardly even a breeze. These areas require other forms of energy (such as solar energy) to complement wind power.

Where you live will determine how much energy you can get from the wind. Certain countries have built massive wind farms which feed electrical energy into the overall power grid. These wind farms contribute massively to reliable energy supply and reduce the dependence on fossil fuels.

Wind speed will even change during the different seasons of the year. Some months (like the Fall months) might be much more windy than say Summer. You should always have a good mix of renewable energy sources (wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, hydro) to ensure reliable energy supply throughout the year.

Is wind energy the right choice for me?

Wind energy can be very useful for many homes but is it the right choice for YOUR home?

Let’s explore some of the things you need to consider.

Are you situated in an area with good, constant wind? In other words, do you have enough wind to supply your energy needs?

If you are lucky enough to live in a coastal city, or the Great Plains, you should have enough wind. The top 5 windiest states in the United States are:

  • Nebraska
  • Kansas
  • South Dakota
  • North Dakota and
  • Iowa

The states with the LEAST amount of wind are Mississippi, Florida, Kentucky, Georgia and Arizona.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has an excellent wind map resource you can use to estimate average wind speed in your area – click on the wind map image below to go to the most updated version:

https://windexchange.energy.gov/maps-data/324

The map above shows areas where there is wind capacity and the darker areas may be more suitable for wind power.

You also need space to put up a wind turbine. This may require as much as an acre of land so this may be suitable if you have a small ranch, plot or similar piece of land to set up a wind turbine.

Have you considered the local laws that may apply? Some areas have very strict regulations when it comes to installing large towers or other tall structures and you will need permission from your local government before you set up a wind turbine.

Your wind energy system might require special permission or a zoning permit because it has an impact on the environment, the view, noise. safety for people and animals and any similar types of construction usually needs to be approved and regulated.

You should also be familiar with how much energy you need every day? Do you have an existing meter that shows your daily electricity consumption in kilowatt hours? A 3 bedroom home might use between 40 and 60 kWh per day but your home will be different. If you need energy for a farm or commercial business your energy needs will be much larger. You should know exactly what your energy needs are before you set up a wind turbine.

Have you thought about how much money a wind turbine will cost and how long it will take for you to get a return on your investment? You need to think long-term about this since a wind turbine is a substantial investment. Micro-turbines can help charge small appliances but if you want serious energy generation you will need to make serious investment.

The best reason to consider wind power is when you are far away from a grid or if you don’t have any other renewable energy resources available.

Wind power will reduce your overall energy expenses in the long run but the initial investment is steep.

How does a wind turbine work?

How does a wind turbine work?

Modern wind turbines turn wind into electricity using very efficient gears and a generator.

The blades are the key to how wind turbines work. They are specially designed to be aerodynamic to have maximum torque on the rotor shaft that drives the generator.

The blades have a similar shape to aircraft wings. When air passes over and under aircraft wings they exert a force due to the shape of the wings thanks to the airfoil effect. This force is what holds an airplane in the air and cause it to lift. Similarly, the airfoil effect and the slight tilt angle acts on wind turbine blades and causes them to rotate like a pinwheel or wind spinner toy. The blades narrow from root to tip and as wind passes over the surface this causes the rotation.

Wind turbines have multiple blades which are evenly balanced so that the turbine moves in a smooth, even way.

The blades aren’t directly attached to a generator though because by themselves they would not turn with enough force to generate electricity due to the relatively slow speed rotation of the blades.

This is where a complex GEARING system is used to convert the rotational energy from the turbine blades into a much stronger kinetic force which can turn the generator at great speed and great force – enough to generate electricity. This is the gearbox of the wind turbine and it has specific speed ratio depending on the size of the generator and the blades.

The wind turbine also includes a braking system so that the generator isn’t excessively turned during very high wind conditions.

The generator produces electricity which is carried through a cable in the wind turbine down the tower to the base where a transformer converts the power as needed.

The entire blade and generator setup sits on a platform that can rotate so that the blades always face the oncoming wind and can continue turning no matter what direction the wind is coming from.

Sophisticated systems include wind speed and direction sensors that automatically adjust the wind turbine direction and tilt of the blades for maximum power generation. This means the wind turbine will always face the wind and generate as much electricity as possible.

You will of course also need an inverter convert the DC power to AC (which your appliances need) and a way to effectively store the electrical energy for later use (a battery bank).

Any electrical work should be done by a qualified and registered wind energy installer, especially if you set up a grid-tied system which will pass electricity into the main power grid.

What are the different types of wind turbines?

There are a number of different wind turbines with different advantages and disadvantages.

Horizontal-axis turbines are the most common and look like propeller blades. These are usually very tall and very big and set up in a large group of turbines as part of a wind farm.

Individual turbines can also be used for homes, farms and camp sites.

Vertical axis turbines are a unique design that look like upside down egg beaters. These were invented by a French inventor named Darrieus and have the same name.

Wind turbines can be set up on land and even off-shore on the sea where there is plenty of wind. Offshore wind turbines are huge and have massive platforms anchored to the sea bed.

Smaller turbines can be installed on private home lots or farms. These are usually single wind turbines and used for residential, commercial or agricultural power generation.

Small wind turbines are used in hybrid wind systems in a distributed setup – in other words they are located near where the energy is needed and not part of a central power system for a grid.

Microturbines are even smaller and can be hand held. They are used to power small devices like a smart phone or power bank.

What size wind turbine should I install?

This question’s answer depends on your specific energy needs. A farm or ranch will need a much larger wind energy system compared to a hiker at a camp site.

Small scale wind turbines are usually in the 20 to 100 kilowatt range and are useful for charging small appliances or batteries.

Some wind turbines are specifically needed on the farm, to power a pump for example, and you could get away with a 10 kilowatt turbine.

Your typical household would need anything from 40 to 100 kilowatt systems and will require much larger turbines or multiple turbines. Talk to a registered wind turbine installer to properly evaluate your energy needs and see if wind energy is right for you.

Businesses and factories will need much more power and would have very large scale wind turbine needs.

Are wind energy systems expensive?

Your wind turbine system cost depends on how large it is and how much energy you need it to produce. Massive wind farms cost millions of dollars but a microturbine system is affordable if you only need it to power a small appliance or charge a phone.

Your wind power system will pay for itself over time but there is usually a large upfront investment needed. The payback needs to be calculated over the lifetime of the wind turbine so you understand what your long-term return on investment will be.

Wind systems come in all different shapes and sizes and you should carefully compare prices before you invest. The more knowledge you have, the better your decision!

Where can I find a certified small wind turbine?

We definitely recommend you do your research before you buy – and don’t simply head off to your nearest online store and place an order.

The following regulatory organisations will help you by recommending the right wind turbine:

Small Wind Certification Council

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Clean Energy States Alliance

You should of course contact your local, trusted and certified wind energy installer for the best recommendations.

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