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How wind turbines work

We Brits are well-known for constantly moaning about the weather. But blustery days have their uses as wind power is a great source of renewable energy. So how is wind turned into electricity to power our homes? Here’s a look at how wind turbines work.

We Brits are well-known for constantly moaning about the weather. But blustery days have their uses as wind power is a great source of renewable energy. So how is wind turned into electricity to power our homes? Here’s a look at how wind turbines work.

Sofia Hutson
Energy expert
4
minute read
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Posted 30 SEPTEMBER 2020 Last Updated 20 JANUARY 2022

How do wind turbines work?

From micro-turbines for domestic use to giant offshore wind farms, all wind turbines work in the same way to generate electricity.

A wind turbine is basically made up of giant blades, an axis and a generator. When the wind blows, it turns the blades. This rotates the axis on top of the turbine. The axis is attached to a generator that produces direct current (DC) electricity. It’s then converted into alternating current (AC) electricity via a transformer and passed on to power our homes.

How much wind does a wind turbine need to work?

It doesn’t take much for the blades to start turning. Even a gentle breeze is enough to start producing energy, although turbines will shut off in severely windy conditions.

To work efficiently, wind turbines need a reliable amount of wind all year round. The stronger the wind, the more electricity is produced – that’s why you’ll mostly see wind farms on remote hilltops and coastal areas. Cornwall and Scotland, two of the windiest areas in the country, are common locations for wind farms.

Wind turbine facts

  • The UK is one of the windiest countries in Europe.
  • According to the latest government figures, wind power contributed 15.9% of the UK’s total electricity generation in the second quarter of of 2021.
  • There are more than 8,500 onshore wind turbines and more than 2,000 offshore turbines in the UK.
  • The average life of a wind turbine is 20 to 25 years.

Can I get a wind turbine for my home?

It’s possible to buy a domestic wind turbine to help provide electricity for your home. They’re basically smaller versions of industrial turbines, which you can put on your roof or outside. A turbine on the roof can be combined with solar panels.

But domestic wind turbines aren’t for everyone. You’ll need to be in a windy location for them to work. And you’ll also need a considerable amount of land if you want to have a turbine outdoors.

How much does a wind turbine cost?

Wind energy projects can range anywhere from £10,000 for a single 2.5 kilowatt (kW) turbine, up to around £3 million for a large-scale turbine with a 1 to 2.5 megawatt (MW) capacity.

Domestic wind turbines can range from around £2,000-£3,000 for a building-mounted turbine, and £20,000-£30,000 for a free-standing turbine.

What is offshore wind power?

Offshore wind power is generated by turbines placed in the sea, where wind speed is more consistent than on land. The UK is number one in the world for offshore wind capacity, and the government aims to boost capacity enough for offshore wind to power every home in the country by 2030.

Offshore turbines have advantages over land-based installations as they’re further away from people, so don’t cause noise pollution. However, concerns have been raised about their impact on birds and marine life.

What are the advantages of wind turbines?

  • They’re one of the most cost-effective renewable energy sources in the UK.
  • Installing wind turbines independently or with commercial wind farm developers can offer significant financial benefits for green-minded communities and local authorities.
  • Wind energy has a relatively low environmental impact compared to other energy sources.
  • They’re a greener choice – in operation, wind turbines produce no carbon emissions.
  • Because of our exposed position on the north-western edge of Europe, the UK is in the ideal place for generating renewable electricity from wind.

What are the disadvantages of wind turbines?

  • Noise pollution – some people who live near wind turbine farms complain that they’re noisy.
  • They spoil the landscape – many people complain that onshore wind turbines are an eyesore and ruin the look of the landscape, especially as they’re often in areas of natural beauty.
  • They don’t provide a constant flow of electricity – wind turbines rely on the weather, so the energy they supply can be intermittent. For example, very windy weather led to record renewable energy generation in 2020, but wind power fell back by 14% in 2021 because of the lack of breeze.

There’s no denying that wind turbines provide a great source of clean, renewable energy. They’re not the prettiest of things, but we’re slowly becoming used to them as part of the landscape.

The hope is that as the industry grows, the cost per kWh of wind energy will be on par with electricity produced by fossil fuels – and there’ll be a reduction in CO2 emissions.

As a renewable source of energy, wind turbines are definitely a positive step towards a more sustainable future.

Find out more about other types of green energy and compare renewable energy suppliers.

Frequently asked questions

What is a wind farm?

A wind farm is simply a group of wind turbines. The UK has the largest offshore wind farm in the world, Hornsea One, located off the coast of Yorkshire.

What happens when the wind doesn’t blow?

Electricity generated from other sources is used to fill the gap if there’s not sufficient wind power. Excess wind-generated electricity can be stored in batteries to be used when needed.

Do wind turbines harm birds?

There is debate about this. Birds can be at risk from turbines in several ways. Their nesting environment may be damaged when turbines are put up, they may collide with the turbines and their migration routes may be disrupted by the structures. However, supporters of wind power argue that this needs to be balanced with the threat that climate change presents to birds.