Monday, August 15, 2016

Wind Turbines: Got Energy?

We've probably all seen the enormous wind turbines and heard that they are generating energy. But how do they work?

Basically, the wind turns the blades of the turbine, the turbine feeds that energy to a generator, and the generator makes it into electricity. There is a cable running down the center of the base of the turbine which sends it to a power plant, where the electricity can be used by whoever needs it. Construction begins with the parts, and then it's assembled on site using cranes and people brave enough to climb up and work on it.
This isn't going altogether well....

They have even been installed in the ocean:

There is evidence that windmills, the predecessor to these giant wind turbines, were being used as early as 200 BC. We always think of the picturesque windmills of Holland, but forget they were functional and not just to look pretty---the term "windmill" indicates what they did originally. They have always been used to generate energy for milling grains or for pumping water. Here's a picture of an old one in the Netherlands. Notice how it's right by a body of water, but in an area open enough to catch the wind as it passes through..

Interest in harnessing wind power is becoming more popular throughout the world. Did you know:
  • The tallest wind turbines are about 600' tall (located in Poland).
  • The more typical height we see is about 160' tall.
  • Individual homeowners can purchase and use a tall wind turbine for their energy needs. You have to live in a rural area in order to capture the most energy.
  • The blades usually rotate clockwise.

  • Computers sense the direction of the wind and turn the turbine blades towards it.
  • They have brakes in case they get going too fast.
  • The fan blades are about 50' in diameter.
  • It costs about $40,000 for one that will generate 10 kw (kilowatts) of energy.
How would you like to go to the top of one of them to fix it?

Go to for everything you could ever want to know about these turbines. Really, everything.

What other sources of power can we find that could replace gasoline, coal, or even electricity? Besides harnessing the power of the wind, solar energy has experienced a 'rebirth' so to speak from the 1970's when it was thought to be the way everyone would power their homes... but the awkward glass plates on the roofs of homes never seemed to catch on.

Biomass Energy is generated from any kind of plant life as it decays. This material can be burned to create coal. The decay naturally creates methane gas, also, which is a component of natural gas used to heat homes, for example. The U.S. doesn't use this type of energy anywhere near as much as other countries do.

Geothermal Energy-the term comes from 'geo' meaning earth and 'therm' meaning heat; this is heat generated below the surface of the earth.

Hydroelectricity-this is electricity caused by the power of water falling. It can be created inside of dams so that it can be used year-round (the water won't freeze in cold areas). Water rushes through a wheel and the wheel powers another machine.

Tidal or Wave Energy is similar to hydroelectricity, but involves waiting for the ocean tide to maximize, damming it up in ponds, and then releasing it to make a 'waterfall,' essentially, that will then move components of a machine. Hydroelectricity has its problems, though; water that is manipulated can lose nutrients that are valuable to the creatures living in the water.

Read more about wind power in Minnesota from the DNR:
Majors/Careers that are involved:
  • Computer Technology
  • Meteorology
  • Environmental science
  • Engineering
  • Geology
  • Earth Science
  • Hydrologist
  • Earth Science

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