How Does Wind Power Work

Mary Gormandy White
Electricity Generating Windmills

Many people who are concerned about the rising costs of electricity are turning to alternative forms of energy. As the costs of fuel continue increase while the fuel supply is being depleted at an alarming rate, sustainable energy solutions are becoming more commonplace. It's a fact that wind power can be a very cost effective alternative to grid power for many people. However, using this type of energy isn't a viable option for everyone.

Clarifying How Does Wind Power Work

While most people rely on grid power for the electricity necessary to power the lighting and appliances in their homes, many forms of energy can be harnessed at home for the same purpose. Wind energy is appealing to many people because of the fact that it is a free and sustainable resource.

Wind is a form of kinetic energy that can be harnessed via the use of a windmill. Windmills convert the kinetic energy into a specially named form of kinetic energy called rotational energy. A generator converts the rotational energy into electricity that can be used to provide power to homes, offices, and other structures. The energy created by wind can be used for creating electricity or pumping water. Once you purchase a windmill and the associated equipment needed to use wind power in your home or other buildings, there are really no costs associated with wind power except periodic maintenance. Beyond periodic maintenance that will be needed on your equipment, wind energy is free.

Windmills have rotors, an axle, and a generator. When wind is blowing, it causes the rotor to turn. The rotor's axle is connected to a generator. Inside the generator, either permanent or electro magnets are spun within coils of wire. There is an interaction between the magnets and the copper in the coils of wire, causing electrons to move within the wire. Moving electrons are what we call electricity.

About Windmills

Not all windmills are the same. There are several blade designs. When selecting a windmill, it's important to know that longer blades are better than shorter ones. This is because they produce additional torque, or turning force. The greater the torque, the more energy can be harnessed. The tower height is also important. It must be tall, with the bottom of the blade well above the tree line for best performance.

Additionally, there has to be a system to slow the windmill down when the wind is blowing hard. If the blades are turning too fast, the bearings will burn up. Typically, windmills are designed so that the blades either tilt automatically or reorient themselves to become less efficient so the wind doesn't turn them as fast.

Using Wind Power

Wind power can be used in addition to grid power, or it can be used by itself. It's important to know that you can't rely on a steady power output from a windmill. This means that if you want to use only wind energy to power your home, you will need to invest in a set of storage batteries, a charge controller, and a sine wave inverter (for converting the batteries' DC power to AC power) so that you will always have power to operate the lights and appliances in your home. The windmill will charge the batteries whenever it is turning.

If you choose to use a combination of wind and grid power, your windmill can be tied to the power grid. Many states have net metering laws for this situation. In this situation, the power meter monitors the amount of electricity you use and the amount that the windmill produces. You will receive a power bill for the amount of electricity you use, but the power company will partially reimburse you for the amount of electricity that the windmill produces.

Is Using Wind Energy Feasible?

Water Pumping Windmill

The geographic area where you live will determine whether or not it's even feasible for you to consider utilizing wind power. Many places simply do not have wind that blows strongly or steadily enough. It's also necessary to have laminar flow, meaning that the wind blows straight and is not turbulent. Mountains, coastal areas, large lakes, and large flat open areas generally have the right type and amount of wind. To find out if wind power is a good option in your region, see the wind maps at National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Even if your area does get sufficient wind, there may be additional barriers to utilization of this form of energy. In order to put up a wind power station, a permit is needed. In some areas zoning regulations prohibit or limit installation of windmills. This means that even those who may have access to sufficient wind may not be able to install the equipment they need to use wind as an energy source for legal reasons. If you're interested in using wind power and you live in an area where using this type of energy is possible, you'll need to find out what, if any, restrictions exist related to the installation of windmills and the other necessary equipment.

The cost of the equipment needed to harness wind energy can also be a barrier to using this type of energy. Even if zoning regulations allow for the installation of the necessary equipment in place to harness wind energy, the initial cost of doing so can be prohibitive. While utilizing wind energy can result in savings in the long run, the initial outlay required to get started is quite steep.

Ready for the Next Step?

If harnessing wind power for your energy needs is something that you are ready to pursue, the following websites have a wealth of information that can help you get started and learn more about how does wind power work.

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How Does Wind Power Work