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Quick Questions: Wind Power

In my last Quick Questions article, I talked about solar power and how it’s becoming a popular form of clean energy. In this section, I talk about wind power, which is becoming a popular form of renewable energy. About 4% of the United States energy comes from wind. 

 

Q: What is wind power and how does it work? 

A: Wind power, also known as wind energy, is the power that is generated from wind. Wind is air flow that naturally occurs in the earth’s atmosphere. We experience wind almost everyday, from gentle breezes to hurricane-force gusts. Wind energy is collected using wind turbines. The air blowing past a turbine turns the blades, which are connected to an internal shaft. The internal shaft is connected to a gearbox, and when the shaft is rotated, the gearbox increases the speed of rotation by a factor of 100. The gearbox is connected to a generator, which is the component that produces electricity. Most wind turbines stand at 262 feet tall. Three blades and the nacelle, which houses the gearbox, generator, and controls, are supported by a long, steel tower. Most wind turbines start collecting energy when wind speeds are between 6-9 mph, but shut down after 55 mph to prevent damage to the equipment. 

Q: Are there different types of wind power? 

A: There are three types of wind power generation. First, utility-scale wind uses wind turbines that are capable of generating anywhere from 100 kilowatts to several megawatts of energy. The energy produced is sent to a power grid, where it is distributed to consumers by electric utility companies or power system operators. Second, distributed, or “small”, wind uses wind turbines that generate under 100 kilowatts of energy. These are used to directly power private homes, farms, business. Distributed wind is not connected to the power grid. Last, offshore wind uses larger wind turbines that sit offshore in large bodies of water, usually on a continential shelf. The turbines for offshore are much larger than utility-scale turbines, and are capable of generating more power. 

Q: How much power is produced from a wind turbine? 

A: Power production depends on the type of turbine that is being used. A small wind turbine for private homes and businesses generates 100 kilowatts or less of power. Larger, utility-scale turbines generate more than 100 kilowatts of power.  

Q: How much do wind turbines cost? 

A: The cost of a wind turbine depends on how much energy it can produce. A small wind turbine (under 100 kilowatts) is typically $3,000-$8,000 per kilowatt. It usually takes 10 kilowatts to power a large home, so a single turbine for that home would cost between $50,000-$80,000 or more to install. Utility-scale wind turbines (100 kilowatts or more) cost significantly more to install. The cost is anywhere between $1.3 million to $2.2 million per megawatt. Most utility-scale wind turbines 2 megawatts, so one wind turbine would cost $3-$4 million to install. 

I hope this helps answer some basic questions about wind power. If you would like to learn more, please check out the American Wind Energy Association (https://www.awea.org/wind-101/basics-of-wind-energy). 

Katherine Vogel

UW Stout '21

A native Minnesotan, Katie is a junior at UW-Stout. She is majoring in Interior Design and minoring in Sustainability. She plays the French Horn in the UW-Stout band. When she is back home, Katie loves traveling around Minnesota, spending time with her family, practicing archery and pistol shooting, trap shooting, and going horseback riding.
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