What is energy?
In order to explain how wind energy works, let’s start by asking what is energy?
Simply put – energy is the ability to do work. For example, when we eat, our bodies transform the energy from food into movement in our muscles.
Generally, energy can be categorised into either kinetic energy (the energy of moving objects) or potential energy (energy that is stored). The different types of energy include thermal energy, radiant energy, chemical energy, electrical energy, motion energy, sound energy, elastic energy and gravitational energy.
In the case of wind energy, wind turbines take the kinetic energy that’s in the wind and convert that kinetic energy into mechanical power.
Want to know how it works? Scroll down!
What is wind?
Wind. It’s always been with us, and it always will be. So, where does it come from?
Basically, wind is caused by 3 things:
- The heating of the atmosphere by the sun,
- The rotation of the Earth, and
- The Earth’s surface irregularities.
Air under high pressure moves toward areas of low pressure – and the greater the difference in pressure, the faster the air flows!
What is wind energy
Wind turbines capture the energy of the wind and convert it to electricity.
Wind energy is an alternative to energy produced by burning fossil fuels.
It is renewable (will never run out), clean, produces no green house gas emissions during operation, consumes no water, and uses little land.
So, how do we produce it?
What is a wind turbine?
- A wind turbine is a device that converts kinetic energy from the wind into electricity.
- A group of wind turbines is called a wind farm.
- On a wind farm, turbines provide bulk power to the electrical grid.
- These turbines can be found on land (onshore) or at sea (offshore).
- Turbines range in size from 100 kilowatts (give an example) to as large as what’s the largest? (give an example) .
- Larger wind turbines are more cost-effective… the bigger, the better!
- So now you probably want to know…
How does a wind turbine work?
How does a wind turbine work?
There is a wind vane (a) at the top of each turbine: this tells the turbine what direction the wind is blowing.
The turbine then rotates on the tower to face into the wind, and the blades (b) rotate on their axis to create maximum resistance against the wind.
The wind starts turning the blades which are connected to a hub (c) and a low-speed shaft (d).
The low-speed shaft spins at the same speed as the blades (7-12 revolutions per minute). But we need a lot more kinetic energy to produce electricity.
That’s why all wind turbines have a gearbox (e), which multiplies the kinetic energy of the low-speed shaft over 100 times to the high-speed shaft (f), which rotates up to 1,500 revolutions per minute.
It is connected to a generator (g), which converts the kinetic energy into electricity.
How does electricity get from the turbine to our homes?
The generator in the nacelle produces alternating current (AC) electricity.
The electricity is sent down the interior of the tower to a substation via underground cables.
At the substation, the voltage is increased so it can be fed into the power grid and transported to electricity consumers.
This is how the electricity produced by wind is able to power electrical appliances in our homes, schools, hospitals and offices.
What happens when the wind doesn’t blow?
First of all, wind project developers generally choose windy sites. So if a turbine is not turning, usually this doesn’t mean there is no wind – it means either there is too much wind for safety or the turbine is under maintenance.
But occasionally, there is not enough wind to turn the turbine. Does this mean that we lose out on wind energy? No!
Because wind turbines don’t simply generate energy for immediate consumption: they also generate energy which we can store for later, whenever wind levels are low.
There are many, many different forms of storage (pumped heat storage, high-energy supercapacitators, etc.), and the storage of the electricity generated by wind energy is vital to the energy transition.
So why should we use wind energy instead of other sources of energy?
For one reason, wind energy is the most cost competitive renewable energy technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deliver on the EU’s commitment under the Paris Climate Agreement.
Secondly, wind turbines don’t release emissions that pollute the air or water. They don’t use water for cooling which means less water waste. Wind electricity generation has displaced oil, gas, and coal-power which means lower total air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions
What other benefits can wind energy bring people?
Wind energy is not only cleaner… it’s a major European economic success story. The wind industry supports 263,000 jobs and generates €8bn in exports. The supply chain is spread right across Europe.
Did you know: wind energy is helping to revitalise local communities throughout Europe? Some municipalities get 10% of their budget from the local wind farms. Shared ownership gives citizens a stake in wind farms. And the supply chain brings local jobs.
The wind industry has brought new jobs and investment to shipbuilding areas and coal regions. Regions with steel and chemicals industries are also benefitting. More wind energy will mean more benefits for more communities across Europe.
Find out how European Member States benefit from community wind projects here.
How can we make the most of wind energy?
Wind is already 14% of Europe’s electricity… but electricity is only 24% of Europe’s energy.
If we want a cleaner, greener world, we need more wind energy in the mix.
So here’s what we need to do:
Get more wind energy into the grid by electrifying heating & cooling, transport and industrial processes. Find out more in our report Breaking new ground.
Increase investment in grid infrastructure and electric vehicle charging points.
Improve energy storage solutions to stock renewable energy and store it in the case of overproduction.
The potential for wind energy is enormous!
Visit our About Wind section for more information on wind energy in Europe .