From windmills to wind turbines, wind energy comes from many different sources. Essentially, wind power is the concept of using wind, or airflow, from the earth’s atmosphere to produce electricity. The power derived from the air is kinetic energy, which is energy naturally created from movement. Winergy, a common name for wind-derived power, falls into three main categories: utility-scale, small wind, and offshore wind. Today, these three wind energy technologies supply much of the nation’s electrical power sourced from wind. However, wind energy has historically come from other sources, too.
Windmills vs Wind Turbines
In addition to the wind turbine, windmills are another form of wind technology. Unlike modern wind turbines, however, a windmill produces mechanical energy, not electricity, when the wind blows. It uses that energy to pump water from streams and rivers to power business operations. Historically, the mill was used to grind grain as well. Over time, its design was improved to support the nation’s demanding agricultural and industrial activities. As renewable energy technology has improved, the windmill is no longer a key producer of American wind energy. Instead, wind technology has expanded into other areas.
Today, most of the country’s wind is derived from turbines. The modern turbine comes in various sizes and several different styles. While a mill is relatively basic in design, the turbine is quite complex and sophisticated. A single turbine contains over 8,000 parts! The turbine produces winergy in a manner similar to an airplane or helicopter. The difference in air pressure created when wind passes over the blades causes drag and lift, which in turn causes the blades to spin. The spinning blades are connected to a generator, either through a gearbox or directly, as with a direct drive turbine. A modern wind turbine has one of two designs. One is a horizontal-axis, and the other is a vertical-axis. The horizontal-axis is the most common design for a turbine. It is characterized by an upright stance and a three-blade design. A vertical-axis turbine is smaller and doesn’t need to face the wind to produce energy.
How Much Power Does Wind Generate?
The Department of Energy explains that smaller devices used in residential settings typically produce 100 kilowatts (kW) of electricity or less. Larger turbines, which are called “utility-scale,” can produce anywhere from 100 kW to several megawatts (MW) of power. Utility-scale turbines are often placed in groups on wind farms, which are also called “wind projects.” Collectively, wind plants produce electricity in bulk. That energy is returned to the electrical grid. Depending on how large the farms are, they can supply a portion of a facility’s energy needs or offset its non-renewable electricity supply altogether. Offshore wind projects are typically even larger than large-scale wind projects on land. Offshore wind projects produce more electricity, but they are also more expensive. Therefore, the Department of Energy continually seeks funding to promote the use of offshore wind technology in waters within the United States.
How is Wind Delivered?
As with solar power and other forms of renewable energy, electricity from wind needs a way to reach consumers. A turbine connects to the electrical grid. From there, power plants or utility companies send the power to end consumers. Energy from a wind farm can also be distributed across small transmission lines. These distribution lines then carry energy to a network of transmission lines for distribution to homes, businesses, and even entire communities.
Wind resources, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory explains, provide an infinite source of power. Therefore, wind is a viable alternative to non-renewable energy sources like coal and fossil fuels. As energy technology develops, wind power is a very promising source of power for the future.