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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.

Peter Earl
From the Energy team
3
minute read
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Posted 30 SEPTEMBER 2020

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.

How much electricity can a wind turbine produce?

It depends on the size of the turbine. It’s estimated that an average onshore wind turbine can generate enough electricity a year to power around 1,500 average homes.

The UK’s largest onshore windfarm, Whitelee in Scotland, has 215 turbines generating up to 539 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough to power almost 300,000 homes.

Wind turbine facts

  • The UK is one of the windiest countries in Europe.
  • According to the latest government figures, wind power contributed 30% of the UK’s total electricity generation in the first three months of 2020.
  • There are currently around 8,620 onshore wind turbines and 2,292 offshore turbines in the UK.
  • The average life of a wind turbine is 20 to 25 years.

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 32.5 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 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.

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 in our guide to renewable energy.

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