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Wind Turbines - How It Works

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A wind turbine is a device that converts the kinetic energy held within wind, aka wind energy, into mechanical energy or “wind power”. If the resulting mechanical energy is used to produce electricity via a generator, the device is called a wind turbine or wind power plant. Alternatively it may be called wind charger when used to charge batteries.

Harnessing the wind to convert into mechanical motion is a result of over a 1000 years of development and modern engineering. The latest wind turbines are highly advanced and are manufactured in a wide range of vertical and horizontal axis types. The smallest (<6Kw) turbines are used for applications such as battery charging or auxiliary power on boats or even domestic properties; medium scale turbines (6-30Kw) are better suited to commercial clients such as farms and factories, while large grid-connected 30Kw+ arrays of turbines are becoming an increasingly important source of wind power-produced exported electricity.

The simplest possible wind-energy turbine consists of three crucial parts:

Rotor blades - In their simplest form the blades are the “sails” of the system, acting as barriers to the wind, which forces the wind to push against them and thus move the blade, transferring energy to the rotor.

Shaft - The wind-turbine shaft is connected to the centre of the rotor. When the rotor spins, the shaft spins as well. This rotational energy is transferred via the shaft into an electrical generator on the other end.

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Generator - At its most basic, a generator is a pretty simple device. It uses the properties of electromagnetic induction to produce electrical voltage - a difference in electrical charge. Voltage is essentially electrical pressure - it is the force that moves electricity, or electrical current, from one point to another. So generating voltage is in effect, generating current. A simple generator consists of magnets and a conductor. The conductor is typically a coiled wire. Inside the generator, the shaft connects to an assembly of permanent magnets that surrounds the coil of wire. In electromagnetic induction, if you have a conductor surrounded by magnets, and one of those parts is rotating relative to the other, it induces voltage in the conductor. When the rotor spins the shaft, the shaft spins the assembly of magnets, generating voltage in the coil of wire. That voltage drives electrical current ready for distribution.

Similar to Solar PV systems wind turbines can generate electricity throughout the year but they are not suitable for all locations, the quantity and quality of wind is a key determining factor in establishing suitability. Built up areas, or locations surrounded by large trees reduce the “quality” of the wind because the obstacles can create turbulence, interrupting a steady supply of wind from a single direction. Vertical axis turbines can work more effectively in turbulent locations but are not ideal. Similarly a wind turbine needs a good “quantity” of strong wind, which can vary substantially throughout the UK. It is possible to carry out a desktop analysis to establish suitability using known wind data by grid reference, but running test rig over a period of time is the only way to be absolutely certain


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