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How do Wind Turbines Work?


Photograph of 3 wind turbines

Wind energy is a rapidly-growing type of renewable energy source that harnesses the power of wind to generate electricity. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, it is one of the fastest growing and lowest cost sources of electricity in America as of October 2023. Landowners can lease their land for wind energy to renewable energy companies, but how do the wind turbines actually work to create electricity?



What are the components of wind turbines?


In order to understand how wind turbines work, it is important to first understand the different components of wind turbines and their purpose. The main components of a typical wind turbine include the rotor blades, shaft, gearbox, generator, and control system.


Rotor blades

The rotor blades are the most visible part of a wind turbine. They are designed to capture the energy from the wind and convert it into rotational motion. The size, shape, and number of rotor blades vary depending on the design of the wind turbine.


Shaft

The shaft is connected to the rotor blades and transfers the rotational motion to other components of the wind turbine.


Gearbox

The gearbox increases the rotational speed of the rotor blades (which spin relatively slowly) to a speed that is suitable for electricity generation.


Generator

The generator converts the mechanical energy from the spinning rotor into electrical energy. Most wind turbines use a type of generator called an "asynchronous generator," which produces alternating current (AC).


Control System

The control system is responsible for monitoring and controlling the speed of the wind turbine, as well as regulating the electrical output to maintain a stable supply of electricity.



How do wind turbines create electricity?


A wind turbine turns wind energy into electricity using aerodynamic force from the rotor blades (similar to helicopter rotor blades). When wind flows across the blade, the air pressure on one side of the blade decreases. The difference in air pressure across both sides of the blade create both lift and drag- the force of the lift is stronger than the force of the drag, causing the rotor to spin. The rotor connects to the generator, which converts motion from the rotor into electricity.


Photograph of a wind turbine with text pointing out the different components of the turbine

What are the different types of wind turbines?


There are 2 main types of wind turbines: horizontal-axis turbines, and vertical-axis turbines.


1) Horizontal-Axis Turbines

Horizontal-axis turbines are what most people think of when they envision wind turbines- they usually have 3 long propellers and can be as tall as 20 story buildings. These are most common for utility-scale wind projects.


2) Vertical-Axis Turbines:

Vertical-axis turbines look like egg beaters- they have blades that are attached to the top and bottom of a vertical rotor. They are rarely used because they do not perform as well as horizontal-axis turbines.



How strong does the wind need to be for wind turbines to generate electricity?


Higher wind speeds result in increased kinetic energy, which translates to greater energy generation. However, wind turbines can still generate electricity with wind speeds as low as 9 mph.


When it comes to leasing land for wind turbines, wind speeds are a crucial component that wind developers consider as they plan new projects and evaluate properties of interest. They also consider factors such as buildable acreage, proximity to electrical infrastructure, and local renewable energy incentives. Each of these factors plays a role in LandGate's wind lease estimates in our free property reports for landowners. Get your free property report on our map below:




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