Alternative Energy

What are Wind Turbines?

Humans have used wind power since 5,000 BC. Egyptians used it to power their papyrus skiffs to ply the Nile, China exploited wind to power water pumps for stepped rice fields, while Persians used it for grinding grain, as did the old Dutch windmills. American colonists used windmills to run granaries and operate sawmills.

The evolution from the traditional Dutch windmill to the modern version of wind turbines occurred in 1887 when James Blyth built the first one to generate electricity in Glasgow, Scotland. The United States deployed 13 wind turbines to generate electricity from 1974 to 1980 under the auspices of NASA and the DOE.

We’ve come a long way since. The United States has manufactured 3,000 wind turbines every year since 2005, while more than 22,893 turbines were installed globally in 2019 alone. The use and adoption of wind turbines continue to increase rapidly due to the benefits offered.

How Do Wind Turbines Work?

Simply put, wind turbines are machines that use the kinetic energy of wind for mechanical power and electricity. These turbines use large blades to catch the wind and drive generators mounted on sturdy metal pillars. Turbines are arranged in clusters, known as wind farms, ranging from ten to 50 units on land and coastal areas.

The electricity from each turbine is transmitted by cable to a central collection facility managed by a local or regional power company for distribution.

Wind turbines produce electrical power that is measured in megawatts (MW). One MW, for example, can support 500 to 800 homes. The average onshore wind turbine produces 2-3 MW, while offshore turbines generate 8-12 MW since they are much larger.

In the world of wind turbines, size matters. Modern turbines are monsters that can be 30 to 500 feet tall with blades up to 170 feet long. The GE Haliade-X in the North Sea is the world’s largest at 780 feet tall with 351-foot blades that generate 12 MW to support 16,000 homes.

What are the Benefits of Using Wind Turbines?

Because wind turbine electricity is a clean and renewable alternative to fossil fuels, the world is moving to adopt such technology quickly. While only 16 countries generated 3.6B Kilowatt Hours (KWh) in wind electricity in 1990, 129 nations generated 1,597B KWh in 2020.

There are many other advantages and benefits to using wind power, including:

  • New jobs created
  • They benefit local communities and enables economic growth
  • A cost-effective alternative to coal, oil, and natural gas
  • They can be built on land and in coastal areas
  • Reliable operation each season
  • A minimal environmental impact

Wind turbines are versatile in their placement and use because wind is present almost everywhere. The turbines have excellent conversion efficiency and have a small footprint, which prevents them from occupying a lot of land.

Current State of Wind Energy Uses and Consumption

While giant wind turbines dominate the headlines, using 1.5 – 3.0 KW versions of that technology to power single homes and general-use facilities is gaining favor since they work in 14 mph wind conditions.

But the world still needs to meet its growing energy needs. European nations added incentives and subsidies to encourage wind power production and usage during the past decade. It turns out that such initiatives were sage considering Russia’s recent threat to choke oil and gas supplies to Europe in 2023 because of the Ukraine War. China, however, went all in by investing lots of chips in wind energy and currently produces more wind turbine power than any country on earth.

In the United States, wind electricity production grew from 1% of the total energy produced in 1990 to more than 9% in 2021. In December 2022, the U.S. government will lease 373,000 acres off the west coast for wind turbines that will produce 4.5 GW and power more than 1.5M homes.