Making the Turbines Go Around

You’ve posed the question: “How do wind turbines generate power?” So we’re giving you the answer. But, let’s start with a brief history lesson.

As far back as 500-900 A.D., wind power from windmills was used by the Persians for grinding grain and pumping water. The concept spread to other areas of the Middle East and eventually came to northern Europe around 1,000 A.D. Jump ahead to 1850, and that’s when the first U.S. wind engine company was established. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy created a timeline of the history of wind power in the United States. Take a few minutes to review the progress that’s been made since then, like when the first steel blades for windmills were invented in 1890.

Now, let’s talk about the modern-day wind turbines we see sprawled across open land on wind farms in places like California, Wyoming, Colorado and Texas. These machines work differently than the original windmills used in Persia, but they are definitely similar in that they harness the power of wind. Wind turbines convert mechanical energy generated by wind into electrical power without emitting any harmful greenhouse gases into the air.

There are three main parts of a wind turbine: 1) the tower that’s connected to the ground; 2) the blades (normally two or three) that connect to the rotor; and 3) the nacelle, which is the box that sits behind the blades and houses a generator.

As wind passes over the blades, they begin to turn along with the rotor (the two are connected). The drive shaft is attached to the rotor, so it starts to spin, too. The drive shaft leads into the nacelle, which triggers the generator to create electricity. Finally, a transformer converts the electricity into the right voltage for the electricity grid.

Our Renewable Energy 101: Wind Power video illustrates how wind turbines use the fresh air all around us to make electricity.

Putting power on the grid from reliable, renewable sources, like wind, helps diminish the need for fossil fuel sources, like coal, that emit harmful pollution and greenhouse gases into the air. To better understand how choosing clean energy for your home supplies renewable energy to the grid, check out our “bathtub” video, How Clean Energy Works.

As the longest-serving renewable energy provider in the U.S., we are committed to our mission of using consumer choice to change the way power is made. If you haven’t made the switch to electricity generated from pollution-free, 100% renewable sources, it’s time. Find affordable, clean energy plans that power your home and help protect the environment.