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How Wind Turbines Work

Wind is a form of solar energy. Winds are caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the irregularities of the earth's surface, and rotation of the earth. Wind flow patterns are modified by the earth's terrain, bodies of water, and vegetation. Humans use this wind flow, or motion energy, for many purposes: sailing, flying a kite, and even generating electricity.

The terms wind energy or wind power describe the process by which the wind is used to generate mechanical power or electricity. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in the wind into mechanical power. This mechanical power can be used for specific tasks (such as grinding grain or pumping water) or a generator can convert this mechanical power into electricity.

So how do wind turbines make electricity? Simply stated, a wind turbine works the opposite of a fan. Instead of using electricity to make wind, like a fan, wind turbines use wind to make electricity. The wind turns the blades, which spin a shaft, which connects to a generator and makes electricity. 

Take a look inside a wind turbine to see the various parts. 

This aerial view of a wind power plant shows how a group of wind turbines can make electricity for the utility grid. The electricity is sent through transmission and distribution lines to homes, businesses, schools, and so on.

View the wind turbine animation to see how a wind turbine works.


Information From U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and
Renewable Energy Wind and Hydropower Technologies Program

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What You Should Know
Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in the wind into mechanical power. Modern wind turbines fall into two basic groups: the horizontal-axis variety, and the vertical-axis design.
Horizontal-axis wind turbines typically either have two or three blades.  These three-bladed wind turbines are operated "upwind," with the blades facing into the wind.
Utility-scale turbines range in size from 100 kilowatts to as large as several megawatts.
Larger turbines are grouped together into wind farms, which provide bulk power to the electrical grid.
Single small turbines, below 100 kilowatts, are used for homes, telecommunications dishes, or water pumping.