NARRATOR: Wind is a powerful source of energy on our planet. In fact, many of us have seen it in action, propelling sailboats across open seas or turning the blades of a farm’s windmill to grind grain or pump water.
Modern wind turbines are basically sleeker, higher-tech versions of the windmills of the past. But, instead of using the wind to do farm work, they’re designed to convert wind energy into electricity.
Here’s how it works. Wind blowing across a turbine’s blade creates more pressure on one side of the blade than the other. This causes the mechanism of all three connected blades to turn.
This rotation pushes on a series of spinning parts inside the body of the turbine, which in turn spins a generator, producing electricity.
Because wind is always blowing somewhere across the surface of the Earth, it’s considered a renewable resource. And because the only thing required to turn a wind turbine is moving air, wind farms emit no greenhouse gases.
However, even though it’s clean and abundant, there are a number of reasons we still don’t use wind power more widely. The first, and perhaps most important, is that the wind doesn’t always blow—at least not always in the same spot—and technologies for storing lots of electricity for later use are currently very expensive.
Another problem is location. It doesn’t make sense to put wind farms just anywhere. The best sites are open, windy places, which are often far from city centers, where energy demand is greatest. So, long transmission lines are necessary to move the electricity to where it’s needed.
Finally, while wind farms are relatively cheap to operate, they cost a lot to build, especially in comparison to existing coal and natural gas power plants. The result is that many wind projects simply never get off the ground.
At the moment, wind power makes up only a small portion of the electricity produced in America. But it’s a rapidly growing industry that many experts believe could one day slash fossil fuel consumption. And, just like solar, it will become cheaper and easier to use if we can find better ways to store the electrical energy it generates.
Additional wind power footage courtesy University of Minnesota Eolos Wind Research Consortium.
ARCHIVAL MATERIAL CREDIT
Puget Sound Energy