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Energy Explainers: How Does Wind Power Work?

Blog : 20 January 2017

Our upcoming energy report will identify the options for increasing renewable energy generation within the Exeter region. In this Energy Explainer blog we will be breaking down the technology that captures wind power, and how it can help us to achieve the goal of energy independence.

When we talk about wind turbines we’re talking about large windmills that generate power. But how do they capture energy from the wind, and where is the best place to put them?

 

Wind Turbine

 

We’ve already looked at solar, and in some ways wind power is a form of solar power. The sun heats the air up to different temperatures in different places. As the hot air rises when the temperature changes cool air moves in to fill the gap creating the movement of air known as wind. But what happens when this wind comes into contact with the blades of a wind turbine?

 

From Fans to Wind Farms

Inside and out a wind turbine is just like a giant fan. Instead of a motor that uses energy to make blades spin, the turbine contains an electric generator that is powered by a spinning shaft when the blades are blown by the wind.

The blades slowly turn a shaft, that goes through a gearbox which makes the shaft turn the generator faster. The electricity produced then runs through cables down the shaft and into the national grid.

 

image-wind-turbine-diagram

 

The blades of a wind turbine are specially designed to capture the most energy possible from the wind – they swivel depending on how strongly the wind is blowing. In strong winds the blades swivel backwards, so they don’t spin too fast and break. In less windy conditions, the blades swivel to a flatter position, so that more wind is hitting them.

When many turbines are built close together, this is called a wind farm. Wind farms are capable of producing large amounts of power in the right windy places. Every year the UK’s wind farms produce enough electricity to supply the Exeter Region’s homes about 50 times!

 

Where’s Best for Wind?

Careful placement of wind turbines is important to ensure that they generate enough energy to make them worthwhile. Not only must the area have a good level of wind, but it’s important they don’t spoil areas of natural beauty as opinions are divided on the way they look. Some people think they’re an eyesore while others think they look cool.

Wind turbines also can’t be built in areas where they will interfere with radar systems, and there are restrictions about how much noise they can make.

Energy from wind turbines can be captured onshore and offshore. You can see a map of the UK’s offshore wind farms, and how much energy they’re producing here.

 

You can find out more about the Exeter Region’s wind power potential in the upcoming energy report which will be available through our Insights page. It will provide a detailed analysis of how wind power can be generated in the region, in addition to other forms of renewable energy, and offer key recommendations for becoming energy independent.