Complete Water Treatment Solutions | Air Purification | Renewable Energy - Solar and Wind

Wind Power

Wind power is one of the most mature and cost-effective renewable energy technologies, with potential to play a major part in the global low-carbon energy mix.

With continuing developments in technology and falling installation costs, wind is a fast-growing energy source, providing renewable electricity while reducing air pollution and climate-warming carbon emissions. The variability of wind is managed by linking turbines to an electricity grid, or by combining wind power with other forms of renewable energy.

Key facts

  • Wind turbines come in a huge range of sizes - from 50W to MW capacity.
  • Global wind capacity more than tripled to over 318 GW between 2007.
  • Wind turbines generated 4% of global electricity in 2013.​​

How wind power works

Wind turbines use blades shaped like aircraft wings, mounted on a central shaft. The force of the wind turns the blades, converting the energy of the wind into mechanical energy of the rotating shaft. This shaft is then used to turn a generator to produce electricity, or to operate a mechanical pump or grinding mill. Most modern wind turbines are used for electricity generation.

The amount of energy available in the wind is proportional to the cube of the wind speed — so when the wind speed doubles, the energy available increases eightfold. To operate effectively a wind turbine must be therefore be situated in an area with high average wind speeds and minimal turbulence. The speed of the wind increases with the height above the ground, so turbines are mounted on tall towers. Wind speeds can vary significantly with location, even between sites a few kilometres apart, so a potential site for a large wind scheme is monitored for up to a year to find if the wind speeds are high enough. Concerns over affects on radar, wildlife and aesthetics sometimes limit the number of potential onshore turbine locations, which has led to the construction of offshore wind farms. The wind is often stronger and less variable over the sea, so a growing number of wind farms have been built offshore, but the increased difficulty of construction and maintenance means an offshore wind farm costs more to build and operate than an onshore one.

In most wind turbines the rotating shaft is horizontal. A mechanism is therefore needed to automatically turn the blades to keep facing the wind, whatever direction the wind comes from. In small wind turbines, the vane down-wind of the blades keeps the blades aligned, but larger machines use electronic control. Some turbines use a vertical axis of rotation, so don’t need to be turned to face the wind, but they are less efficient than a turbine with a horizontal axis.

Most wind turbines supply electricity to a national grid, so it is essential that they produce electricity at the right voltage and frequency. Until recently, most used a gearbox to couple the shaft to the faster-rotating generator. More advanced turbine designs use variable speed generators and electronics to feed power to the grid at the correct frequency, allowing the turbine to rotate at the ideal speed for the wind conditions. Small wind turbines are also used in off-grid systems, usually with rechargeable batteries so that the variable wind supply can be matched to the demand for the electricity.

The rated output of an electricity-generating wind turbine is the electrical power produced (in watts, W) at a standard wind speed, usually between 8 and 15 m/s. The wind does not blow steadily at this speed and the average power generated is typically 30% of the rated power: this is termed the ‘capacity factor’. The range of wind turbines on the market is enormous – from 50 W battery chargers with blades 0.25 m long, up to 8 MW turbines with 80 m long blades, for use in off-shore wind farms.

​​How wind power is used

Most grid-connected wind turbines are installed in groups or ‘wind farms’. Installing a large group of turbines reduces the average installation and operating cost, but can make them very visible in the landscape. As a result an assessment of the environmental impact of a wind farm is usually required for planning permission to be given.