How do wind turbines work?

Wind turbines harness the energy of the wind to produce electricity that is completely free, just like solar panels. Wind power is more unpredictable and less common than solar power but can be a good investment if you can afford the initial outlay.

In the UK, a wind turbine atop someone’s home is a much less common sight than solar panels here in 2012. That doesn’t mean you should write them off as an investment and means to power your home though. Just like solar panels, you are able to produce some of your home’s electricity completely free of charge. With wind power, you may also qualify for Feed in Tariff payments, putting you in line for yearly payments that can get as high as £3,200, depending on the size of your system.

Wind energy has been utilised by humans for many thousands of years, so it makes sense to use it as much as possible in the daily running of our homes. It is thought that the wind may have been used as early as 3000BC to power sailboats, then later in the grinding of grain, using windmills. Today, the wind plays a much smaller role in the transport industry – predominantly, it is used for leisure (sailing, windsurfing etc) and the processing of grain has become more refined thanks to industrial methods.

That leaves the production of electricity as the primary application of wind energy. Electricity is produced using wind turbines, which are made up of 3 key main components – the rotor blades, the shaft and the generator. The rotor blades and the shaft work exactly as you would imagine – as the wind blows they cause the rotor blades to rotate. The blades are connected to the shaft which runs down the length of the turbine and connects to the generator. The generator is the heart of the wind turbine and the place where the magic happens. It uses the process of electromagnetic induction to induce a voltage – a difference in charge which is responsible for pushing a current around the national grid, ready to be used by the UK’s homeowners.

In the domestic environment, there are two main types of wind turbine – pole mounted and building mounted.

  • Pole mounted wind turbines are often the larger of the two, typically around 5kW to 6kW in size and can be erected in an open space such as a garden or field.
  • Building mounted turbines, as the name suggests, are mounted to a suitably placed building or property and are generally smaller in size.

Wind turbines do require more maintenance than solar panels but a well maintained system will last you a good 20 years and a 6kW pole-mounted system can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 5 tonnes per year.

Check out the video below to see how one home is utilising multiple renewable energy resources to power the property – combining solar PV, solar water heating and wind turbines. There are also some great tips for monitoring your use of electricity and making the most of the electricity that you are producing.

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