To many people, a wind turbine looks much like a mechanical flower, complete with a sturdy base and petal-like blades. While the turbine’s sleek design looks simple from the outside, there’s actually a complex mechanical system inside the turbine that keeps it operating smoothly. If you’re wondering how a turbine works, here is the lowdown on its components and the role each one plays in the turbine’s operation. From the smallest to largest, each piece plays a significant role in the turbine’s mechanics.
The nacelle is at the heart of turbine mechanics. It houses the wind turbine’s main components, including the electrical generator and the gearbox.
The hub is connected to the low-speed shaft.
One of the most recognizable parts of the turbine. The blades capture wind and send its power to the rotor hub. Most rotor blades measure 80 feet long and look an airplane wing.
This shaft connects the gearbox to the rotor hub. It rotates relatively slowly (19-30 RPM), and its pipes allow the aerodynamic brakes to function.
The high-speed shaft, located in the gearbox, rotates at impressive speeds of about 1,500 rotations per minute (RPM). This mechanism is responsible for driving the electrical generator. It contains an emergency mechanical disc brake that slows it down if it starts spinning too quickly. This brake is used when the aerodynamic brake fails or if the turbine is undergoing service.
The gearbox contains the low speed and high-speed shafts. It enables the high-speed shaft on the right-hand side to spin 50 times faster than the low-speed shaft.
The yaw mechanism contains electrical motors that turn the nacelle and rotor in the opposite direction of the wind. This component is operated with the electronic controller, which detects wind direction using a wind vane. Typically, the wind turbine “yaws” just a few degrees at a time. This usually happens when there is a change in wind direction. The yaw mechanism gives the wind turbine greater flexibility so that it doesn’t become damaged in the wind.
The electronic controller is another critical part of the system. It houses a computer that continually monitors the wind turbine’s condition. It is also connected to the yaw mechanism and helps to control the wind turbine’s yawing. If there is a malfunction somewhere in the system, such as overheating in the generator or gearbox, the electronic controller automatically stops the turbine from functioning. It is usually connected to a computer system that allows it to contact the turbine operator to notify the mechanics of the problem.
The hydraulics system resets the aerodynamic brakes in the turbine, which operate much like hydraulic brakes in a car.
The cooling unit contains an electric fan that helps keep the electrical generator cool. It also contains an oil cooling mechanism that keeps the oil in the gearbox cool. Alternatively, some turbines operate with water-cooled generators instead of electrical generators.
The tower is another of the most recognizable components in a turbine. The tower contains the nacelle and the rotor. A high tower is usually preferred to maximize wind power production. The average wind turbine sized 1,000 kW has a tower that stands between 150 and 240 feet. This equals the height of a 17-27 story building. Towers are classified as either tubular or lattice. Lattice towers are less expensive, but tubular towers are safer.
Anemometer and wind vane
Together, these components measure wind speed and direction. They produce electronic signals that tell the wind turbine to start moving when wind speeds reach 10 knots. They signal the turbine to stop operating for safety reasons if winds exceed 50 knots.