Those nice breezes that we can take for granted, should serve as a reminder of the endless possibilities that wind energy offers.
From it’s carbon-free footprint, to its free source of power – wind energy offers a sustainable source that may one day become a primary player in the energy sector. Using a natural source such as wind to produce electricity gives people a much cheaper source of electricity.
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With both onshore and offshore wind farms offering plenty of energy generating stations, costs will continue to decline. There is no shortage of wind, unlike coal or oil. The problem though is that wind is not constant and we have yet to develop the technology that is able to mimic wind, while still converting it into sustainable electricity at a mass scale.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look at wind as a major renewable energy resource. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “wind and solar electric generation, including small-scale solar photovoltaics, reached or exceeded 20 percent of total generation in 10 states in 2017.” In the U.S., wind and solar accounted for 8 to 10 percent. That percentage will continue to grow as offshore wind farms continue to become a norm.
To further understand the benefits of wind energy, we first need to understand exactly how wind is converted into energy. For this, we need to understand how turbines work – because without them, we’d be out of luck.
How wind turbines get the job done.
Wind turbines come in all shapes and sizes. But bigger blades tend to produce more electricity – especially at higher altitudes. Even though many vary in size, they tend to operate in the same fashion. There are a couple major proponents that operate a turbine, including:
- Gear Box
These parts help make the magic happen. Without them, there would be no wind energy.
Why blade design is the most important part of a wind turbine.
Blade design influences just how much energy is produced. According to World Wind Technology, “For any wind turbine manufacturer, the blades are undoubtedly the most heavily scrutinized component of the design. While the tower and the nacelle are subject to their own design challenges too, it is the blades where the real experimentation occurs.”
Blades go through rigorous testing, which is good considering that their efficiency ultimately determines the price consumers pay. It’s usually best practice for designers to make blades as light as possible, without sacrificing strength and power generating capabilities. This optimization yields savings on raw material and operations expenses.
Hence, testing occurs from the very beginning of the design. The point is for wind turbines to last a long time, while remaining efficient throughout their lifespan. Kevin Standish – R&D LAC engineering manager at Siemens Wind Power – was quoted in the article we mentioned earlier saying, “We simulate for every scenario imaginable that could occur over the 20-year lifespan of the turbine. This wide range of potential scenarios forms the design load envelope that defines the levels to which we test.”
How the gearbox speeds up the low-speed shaft.
The gear box is important because it connects the low-speed shaft that’s inside the turbine to a high-speed shaft that helps generate a faster rotational speed. Without a gear box, the rotational speed of the shaft would remain between 30 to 60 rpm. With a gear box the rotations per minute jump up to a range between 1,000 to 1,800 rpm – which is the typical range needed to produce electricity. Without it, a wind turbine wouldn’t have enough juice to produce electricity.
How the generator piggybacks off the gear box.
Once the faster motion is generated from the gearbox, the generator uses it to generate electricity.
When faster motion occurs, magnets surrounded by copper wire loops begin to turn, which leads to electromagnetic induction. Now for the few that don’t know what electromagnetic induction is, let us explain using Techopedia’s definition. “Electromagnetic induction is the production of voltage or electromotive force due to a chance in the magnetic field.”
Thanks to that definition, you can now see why turning magnets is so important to the production of electricity.
Without the controller, wind turbines would have a very short lifespan.
We are not exaggerating when we say that without a controller, a wind turbine would be doomed. Once wind speed exceeds 55 mph, turbines cease to operate, thanks in part to the controller.
Winds over 55 mph have the potential for major damage. With the amount of resources, testing, and money that goes into building an efficient turbine – the last thing needed is for the turbine to malfunction due to strong winds.
The controller doesn’t only protect the turbine, but also helps it get started. Once wind speed reaches at least 8 mph, the controller will start up the turbine.
How the tower offers safe passage for electricity.
A tower isn’t as flashy as a blade or a controller. But it’s still needed just as much as those other parts, because the tower allows electricity to travel through cables to a transformer.
Towers are usually made from tubular steel or concrete. Their design helps support the overall structure of the turbine. Without towers we would have a very hard time propping up the blades.
The overall height of the tower also plays an important part in determining the amount of electricity generated. As you go up in altitude, wind speed increases. So taller towers, meaning taller wind turbines, will typically generate more electricity.
What happens next, after the turbine has done its job.
After the turbine generates electricity and it travels through the tower, it stops at a transformer that is located at the base of the tower. From the transformer, the electricity continues to flow through cables located underground to an on-site substation.
Once at the on-site substation, overhead power lines transfer the electricity to an off-site substation, where it then flows through high voltage transmission lines. Electricity traveling through high voltage transmission lines needs to be lowered in voltage before it can be distributed to our homes and businesses.
So the final step before we turn on the lights, involves electricity going from high-voltage transmission lines to lower-voltage transmission lines – which we sometimes see on the side of the road.
What the future of wind energy can look like.
The future for wind continues to look prosperous as research and development continue to expand. Offshore wind farms represent the future of wind energy. According to Green Tech Media, “Onshore wind turbine size and capacity is on track to continue increasing at a steady pace, while offshore equipment will grow in leaps and bounds in the coming years.”
With most of our planet being covered in water, wind energy is not hampered by geographic borders. Offshore wind turbines can be much larger than inland, onshore ones. Therefore, companies like GE and Siemens Gamesa are looking to produce turbines with 12 to 15 megawatts, as opposed to the typical onshore turbines which fall between 3 to 4 megawatts.
Wind has the capability of becoming the primary source of electricity in the United States. With the latest developments, wind may one day find itself leading the way as our nation’s primary energy source.