How does a wind turbine work?

If you’ve ever flown a kite or sailed a boat, you’ll know that there’s plenty of power in the wind. Of course, making use of the wind's power is nothing new – windmills have been used around the world to grind flour or power machinery for hundreds of years. And wind powered boats have been around for millennia.

So there’s plenty of wind power, but how exactly do wind turbines turn wind energy into electricity?

 

Choosing the best spot

As with many natural energy sources they’re rarely 100% consistent. Winds can drop, blow too strongly or become gusty – none of these are very good for wind turbines. So finding the right spot where the wind strength is as predictable as possible is crucial.

Wind is influenced by the landscape: hills, valleys, forests and buildings. These all deflect and change the power available so flat, high and uninterrupted locations are best for wind turbines. That’s why there are plenty of off-shore wind farms and why you'll see turbines located at the top of hills.

Countries that have flat landscapes such as Belgium and the Netherlands are good locations for wind farms as there’s very little to interrupt the wind flow.

 

Facing the wind

Every wind turbine has a sensor which detects the direction of the strongest wind. The streamlined structure behind the blade (called the nacelle) houses the mechanics to turn the top of the structure, putting the blades in the perfect position for the strongest wind. When the wind is too strong, turbines have a brake to slow the rotors down, avoiding any damage.

 

Take a virtual wind farm tour!

Take a virtual tour of our very own EDF Energy wind farm in Belgium to see inside one of our wind turbines and get some fascinating insights to wind energy.

 

Kinetic and mechanical energy

Quite simply, the power of the wind blowing onto the angled blades of a rotor makes them spin.

Here's a step-by-step guide:

1. The wind turns the angled blades of the wind turbine.

2. The kinetic energy of the spinning blades is transferred into mechanical energy.

3. Mechanical energy creates electricity through the generator.

 

Creating electricity

Gears and a driveshaft take the spinning movement from the rotors into a generator. Electricity flows out of the generator into a substation. It's here that a transformer increases the voltage of the electricity so it can flow efficiently through the national grid and take electricity to our homes.

 

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