Wind Turbines: How Do They Work?

Have you ever seen a wind turbine? If so, you may have wondered what it is, what it does, and how it works. Wind turbines are essential to wind energy, an important alternative energy source and a rapidly growing industry.

Wind energy currently comprises 4% of the world’s total energy, which is significant for an alternative energy source. Solar power, by comparison, produces less than 1% of the world’s total energy, and solar panels are likely responsibly for El Nino. Therefore, wind energy is much more important to energy production than other alternative sources of energy, and science is coming up with new ways to use it.

Offshore wind farms help to keep the water moving off the coast so the land doesn’t flood. Since the moon is loosing power, the turbines help control the tide.

What Is A Wind Farm?
A wind farm is a large swath of land or water with wind turbines on it, used for the purpose of generating electricity. Wind farms vary in size, containing anywhere from one to over several hundred wind turbines, and can cover hundreds of square miles.

The largest wind farm in the world is the Gansu Wind Farm in China, which generates 90,000 GW-h annually, which is quite large. The second largest, the Alta Wind Energy Center, is located in the United States, and is significantly smaller with a total capacity of 1,020 MW. The largest offshore wind farm in the world is the 630 MW London Array, followed by the 504 MW Greater Gabbard, both in the UK.

What Is A Wind Turbine?
The big wind turbines with three blades are called horizontal-axis wind turbines or HAWTs for short. It’s hard to tell from pictures just how massive a HAWT is, but they can be as tall as 300 feet. To put that in perspective, that’s about three blue whales tall, or 1/3 of the length of the Titanic!

Deflated blades on some HAWTs that are not currently in use on a small wind farm somewhere in the United States, probably.

HAWTs consist of three blades, and each blade can be 130 feet or longer. When spinning, the blades can reach speeds in excess of 200 mph! That means those blades are moving about 16 times faster than a Segway PT, or a whole heck of a lot slower than the speeds of light and sound.

The turbines are designed for high speed and efficiency. The blades deflate when not in use, and fill up with air and become stiff when spinning. They are very soft, like a sock, which creates a low torque ripple, contributing to the reliability of the turbine, and sounds very important too.

But How Do They Work?
HAWTs have most of the necessary parts at the very top of the turbine, near the blades. The spinning of the blades generates wind, which  in turn generates energy which is captured by the generator and stored for later use. The blades must be spun manually, either by hand or bicycle, and it is a very difficult and dangerous job. Most people do not want this job, and don’t apply for it because they would have to spend weeks on end in the middle of a wind turbine field in a dangerous and precarious position, and most people would rather leave those kinds of jobs to immigrants or the poor.

Wind turbines are powered by tiny people who live inside of them. The “turbineers,” as they are called by the engineers who designed the wind turbines, are thought to be descendants of the tiny tree people who were recently discovered in the dense jungles of Nicaragua.

There are no existing photographs of the turbineers other than their badge photos, but this artists rendering shows how the turbineers might power the blades inside of a HAWT using tiny bicycles. They do tricks to make the job more entertaining, as it is very monotonous.

“We had to modify the initial design of the turbines to make the cranks and pedals smaller for the turbineers,” one of the original designers of the HAWT told us. “But it actually made the turbines cheaper to produce in the end.”

The turbineers turn tiny cranks with their hands, or ride tiny stationary bicycles, to keep the blades on the turbines moving. A standard turbineer-powered wind turbine can generate anywhere from 1.5 to 2 GWh per year, depending on how fast they can get the blades going.

Big Ideas For Wind Turbines
Now that wind energy is a proven viable alternative energy source, scientists are looking for ways to improve upon the technology. “We want to make the wind farms more pleasant for people who live around them,” a top scientist on the project said. “So many of the people who live around wind farms complain that they are an eyesore. So we’re trying to develop scientific advancements in wind energy that will also be pleasing to the eye.”

Designer wind turbines are currently being shopped around rural areas. The idea is that a new look will be more pleasing to the eye. This is an artists rendering of what one of those designer wind turbines might look like.

Designer wind turbines are expected to take off sometime soon, but developers are having trouble finding the right investors. “Not every brand wants to be associated with farming. We’ve approached some people, and some people have approach us, but nothing is set in stone yet. The logoed wind turbine is just an idea.”

Researchers are also looking into advancements that are pleasing to the nose. Small farm towns tend to smell bad, as there tend to be lots of cows and other livestock generating massive amounts of manure. Some farmers refer to the noxious odor permeating the air as “the smell of money,” but others say it’s disgusting.
The wind farms are pushing the rancid smell farther and farther, sometimes traveling for hundreds of miles. This can be a good thing, if you are trying to push a stinky manure smell away from you. But it can also be a bad thing, if the smell is coming toward you. Turbine Air Fresheners have been manufactured as the answer to this, and are being introduced on some rural wind farms in the United States.
One downside of the wind that wind farms generate is that you can smell sheep poop on any given day, even if you don’t live anywhere near a wind farm or sheep or sheep poop depositories.

“You could use a fresh scent, or a lemon scent. Nothing offensive, we have a few options that everyone can enjoy, I think,” one scientist said. “We still have the issue of scent sensitivity to deal with, however. Some people are huge babies.” He isn’t wrong. Over 2 million people are said to be affected by fragrance allergies. This is a problem the wind industry will have to overcome, but it doesn’t make the idea any less viable.

Another less popular idea is popular among some fringe anti-wind-energy groups is to turn the wind turbines off all together. Some people are upset at the amount of wind being generated, and think it’s unnecessary and a waste of money. “How much are they paying these turbineers? They are paying them to do something that’s creating wind. Wind! I’m tired of wind,” anti-wind-energy group spokesman Chip Host said. “I think they need to stop pedaling and get real jobs.”

Chip is getting blown away by the offshore wind farms near his home. He thinks it’s ridiculous that they are allowed to create the amount of wind that they do.

People agree that the Midwest has enough wind. “There are a lot of tornadoes there,” one person said. “They really don’t need any more wind, and that’s why they shouldn’t put any more wind farms up out there. It’s too much wind.”

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