A Look at How Wind Turbines Work

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Here at TXU Energy, renewable energy is a very important topic. In our previous post on West Texas Wind Farms, we pointed out that energy created by wind turbines is considered one of the cleanest forms of power generation, with the lowest environmental impact of all the renewable energy sources.

Among U.S. states, Texas is the leading wind energy producer. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), we have the highest wind turbine energy output of any state in the country by far. In fact, seven of the nation’s top ten largest wind farms are in Texas. Not only does this create a stable source of sustainable energy, it also helps generate more jobs in the state.

And while modern day wind turbines feature state-of-the-art technology, they function on much the same principles as those old farm windmills that have been around for centuries. But instead of milling grain or pumping water as windmills were originally used for, modern wind turbines are fast becoming a leading source of clean power for homes and cities across Texas.

Ever wondered how wind turbines work? Let’s take a look and discover the basic mechanics behind these kinetic powerhouses.

Wind Turbine Designs
Today’s wind turbines come in two basic designs: horizontal-axis wind turbines (HAWTs) and vertical-axis wind turbines (VAWTs).

  • Horizontal-axis wind turbines are the most common and feature either two or three long blades on the nacelle, or the body of the turbine.  These are considered “horizontal” because the rotor shaft sits parallel to the ground. These blades only function when they are facing the wind so a computerized weathervane adjusts the turbine head to allow the blades to catch the wind.
  • Vertical-axis wind turbines feature a rotor shaft that sits vertically with the main generator located at the turbine’s base. This design allows the turbine to work no matter which direction the wind is blowing.

Mechanics of Wind Turbines
As a detailed D.O.E. diagram shows, there are three essential parts in both horizontal and vertical axis wind turbine designs:

  1. Turbine Blades – Modern day blades use the same aerodynamic principles as airplane wings; wind flow lifts over the front face of the blade and pushes down on the flat part of the blade, causing it to rotate.
  2. Shafts and Gear Box – As the blades capture the wind’s energy and rotate, they spin a series of shafts and gears that powers a generator.
  3. Induction Generator – The shafts are connected to a series of magnets surrounded by coiled wire in the generator. Using basic principles of electromagnetic induction, the magnetic field generated by the magnets creates an electrical current in the coiled wire.  The electrical current is then delivered to a power collection substation where transformers combine voltage from different wind turbines and deliver it to the larger electrical grid.

The U.S. Department of Energy (D.O.E.) has a simple animation example to explain the basic principles of how wind turbines work.

Texas Wind Turbines
A recent survey showed that Texas wind turbine farms provide approximately 6.4% of the state’s energy needs and power more than 2.7 million Texas homes. The environmental and economic benefits of electricity from wind turbines are an important part of why we offer renewable energy plan choices that use wind power produced right here in Texas.

Like to add something about how wind turbines work? What do you think about the future of wind energy in Texas? Let us know in the comments section.

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