Making Sense Of Energy Resources: Wind Energy Generated From Turbines

Making Sense Of Energy Resources: Wind Energy Generated From Turbines

Posted 08.09.2012 in Articles by Jess

Dating all the way back to the 1st century AD, the earliest known instance of using a wind-driven wheel to power a machine is credited to the Greek engineer, Heron of Alexandria. Despite all of the advances in technology, we're still using Heron's ideas in the form of a wind turbine to capture energy from the wind. For centuries people have used wind as a source of power whether to move their ships across the ocean to flying across the sky in a modern day hang glider. So while it's obvious that the wind can be used as power, it's less obvious how it's actually harnessed and converted into a modern day energy resource.

In 2011, wind turbines in the U.S. generated about 3% of total U.S. electricity generation, which seems small but equals to the annual electricity use of about 10 million households. Generation from wind in the U.S. increased from about 6 billion kilo-watt hours in 2000 to about 120 billion kilowatt-hours in 2011. Large wind turbines generated electricity in 36 different states in 2011 with the top five states being Texas, Iowa, California, Minnesota, and Illinois. 

Electricity generated form wind is collected through turbines that work similar to old fashioned windmills. Wind machines, or wind turbines, use blades to collect the wind's kinetic energy. The wind flows over the blades creating life, like the effect on airplane wings, which cause them to turn. The blades are connected to a drive shaft that turns an electric generator to produce electricity. Even with the new turbines, there is still the problem of what to do when the wind isn't blowing. 

In regards to where wind is harnessed, wind turbines are strategically placed in windy areas. Wind plant owners must carefully plan where to locate their machines to get the most out of their turbines. As a rule, wind speed increases with altitude and over open areas that have no windbreaks. Good sites for wind plants are tops of smooth, rounded hills, open plains, or shorelines, and mountain gaps that produce wind funneling. Wind speed caries throughout the U.S. and from season to season. 

There are three different kinds of wind turbines: 1. Horizontal-axis turbines, 2. Vertical-axis turbines, and 3. Wind power plants. Horizontal-axis turbines are the most commonly used. They have blades like propellers of an airplane. They stand as tall as a 20-story building and have three blades that span 200 feet across. Vertical-axis turbines have blades that go from top to bottom. The most common type looks like a giant, two-bladed egg beater. This type of vertical wind turbine typically stands 100 feet tall and 50 feet wide. Wind power plants, or wind farms, are clusters of wind machines used to produce electricity. A wind farm usually has dozens of wind machines scattered over a large area. The world's largest wind farm, the Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center in Texas has 421 wind turbines that generate enough electricity to power 220,000 homes per year. Wind farms are generally owned and operated by business people who sell the electricity produced on the wind farm to electricity utilities. These people are known as Independent Power Producers. 

The drawbacks of wind turbines include a small number of things. Some people don't like the visual impact on the landscape since they're very large machines. A few wind turbines in the past have caught on fire and some have leaked lubricating fluids, even though this is relatively rare. Also, some people don't like the sound the wind turbine blades make. Another drawback is that some types of wind turbines and wind projects cause bird and bat deaths. These deaths may contribute to declines in species that are also being affected by other human-related impacts. Most wind power projects also require service roads that add to their physical impact on the environment. 

Wind power has been used for hundreds of thousands of years. Its capabilities are obvious and wind turbines are only another advancement towards being able to better harness this power. 

 

Image (CC) Ben Spark  

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