Most people view soaring wind turbines as extremely visible examples of modern technology and human ingenuity, but these amazing machines are actually closely related to windmills that were used to crush grain and pump water thousands of years ago. While a Bronze Age windmill and a modern wind turbine may share the same basic DNA, much has happened in the intervening centuries. Here are some facts about modern wind turbines that may surprise you.
Wind turbines are huge and complex
Today’s wind turbines are big. Really big. Wind turbines installed in 2017 had a rotor diameter of 370 feet. That’s more than one and a half times the wingspan of a Boeing 747 and 135 percent larger than turbines built just 20 years ago. Modern wind farm turbines are also about as tall as the Statue of Liberty and contain up to 8,000 different components.
Wind power is good for the U.S. economy
In addition to lowering the country’s dependence on foreign oil and improving the environment, wind turbines create jobs and keep American factories running. Wind power contributes about $10 billion each year to the U.S. economy, and the vast majority of the components found in an American wind farm are made in 500 specialized factories in 41 states that provide more than 100,000 American jobs.
High-paying jobs and specialized degree programs
The people who design, build, install, maintain and repair wind turbines perform crucial tasks and need specialized training. Many of America’s leading universities and technical schools now offer degree programs dedicated to wind and solar power that have made the United States the world leader in renewable energy innovation.
Energy for an increasingly urban global population
Experts say that about 70 percent of the world’s population will live in major metropolitan areas by 2050, and most of these growing cities are located in windy coastal areas. Offshore wind facilities offer a reliable, renewable and clean way to provide city dwellers with the energy they need while helping to alleviate the pollution that is crippling many large urban areas and negatively impacting public health.
The benefits of wind power are spreading
Wind turbine blades rotating slowly would have prompted a double-take just a decade or two ago, but they are now a familiar sight in virtually every part of the country. Wind farms can now be found in all 50 states as well as Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and 41 states have built utility-scale wind facilities featuring 100 kilowatt turbines that are capable of powering an electrical grid. Wind energy is the fastest growing type of electricity production in the world and will account for about a third of all global energy production by 2050 if current growth levels persist.
America is very windy
Wind turbines are growing larger and turbine technicians are becoming braver as a result because America has so much wind to harness, and this is especially true on the Great Plains. Wind turbines in the United States can currently generate 89,000 megawatts of power, which is enough to provide 24 million American families with all of the energy they need. Just one modern wind turbine can power up to 600 homes, and each megawatt of wind energy produced offsets about 2,600 tons of carbon dioxide. Fourteen states get more than 10 percent of their electricity from wind turbines, and Oklahoma, South Dakota, Kansas and Iowa rely on wind power for more than 30 percent of their energy needs.
The cost of wind power is falling
Improvements in technology, energy storage and economies of scale over the last few decades have greatly reduced the cost of generating renewable energy. Utility companies in particularly windy parts of the country pay as little as 2 cents for a kilowatt-hour of wind electricity, and that priceis expected to fall even further in the years ahead.