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Wind energy will likely soon surpass hydroelectricity as the most common renewable energy source used to make electricity in the United States. In 2017, wind energy accounted for 6.3% of the nation’s total electricity generation — up significantly from 2.3% in 2010 and still growing.
The recent growth of wind energy, combined with increased public demand for clean energy and the declining costs of producing it, has led to a clean energy revolution across America. More power from sustainable energy sources like wind at an affordable price? That’s a win-win solution for us all, including the planet!
What is wind energy?
Wind energy harnesses the natural power of the wind to generate electricity for homes and businesses.
Did you know that people have been using the wind to their advantage for thousands of years? As early as 5000 B.C., Egyptians propelled boats along the Nile River using the wind. Around 200 B.C., simple windmills in China pumped water, and vertical-axis windmills helped grind grain in Persia and the Middle East. From the Dutch draining lakes and marshes in the Rhine River Delta, to U.S. farmers pumping water for crops, cutting wood at sawmills, and grinding wheat and corn, windmills have been used in many ways to make work easier and life better.
How do wind turbines create wind energy?
Today’s modern equivalent of the windmill, the wind turbine, can use the wind’s energy to generate electricity.
Most wind turbines have three blades mounted to a tower made from tubular steel. The towers rise 100 feet or more above the ground to take advantage of the faster wind speeds from higher altitudes.
Here’s the quick science behind how a wind turbine works:
- Computer systems control the direction of the turbine blades to match the direction of the wind.
- When the wind blows, a pocket of low-pressure air forms on one side of the blade.
- The air pocket pulls the blade toward it, causing the rotor to turn. This is called a lift.
- The lift’s force is stronger than the drag — the force against the front side of the blade.
- As a result, the rotor spins like a propeller.
- Gears increase the rotor rotation from about 18 revolutions per minute to about 1,800 revolutions per minute, allowing the turbine’s generator to convert mechanical energy into electricity.
- The generator sends the electricity through transmission lines to the power grid, bringing electricity to homes and businesses.
Though simple-looking against the sky, wind turbines have very advanced features to maintain safety and efficiency. The turbine’s anemometer continuously measures wind speed and transmits the data to the turbine’s controller, which keeps the rotor at a safe speed of 55 mph or less. And a brake in the turbine can stop the rotor electrically, mechanically or hydraulically in emergencies.
Wind farms provide clean energy worldwide
Today, numerous types of wind turbines bring renewable energy to people all over the world:
- Small wind turbines that generate 100 kilowatts (kw) or less can be found close to where the energy generated will be used, such as near homes or water pumping stations.
- Large wind turbines generating anywhere from 100 kw to several megawatts are grouped together on wind farms and can power tens of thousands of homes.
- Offshore wind turbines capture the strong, consistent winds found off of coastlines. Above American coastal waters, there is enough offshore wind to potentially provide more than 2,000 gigawatts of electricity — nearly double the nation’s current electricity use.
The benefits of wind energy
Wind energy offers numerous advantages:
- Wind is clean and good for the earth. Wind energy doesn’t pollute with particulate matter, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide or sulfur dioxide, and doesn’t cause smog or acid rain. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that wind energy could prevent the emission of 12.3 gigatons of greenhouse gases by 2050. Clean air is beneficial to us all.
- Wind power is cost-effective. The fuel itself is free, after all! Wind generation agreements typically provide 20-year fixed pricing, whereas price uncertainty surrounds traditional fuel sources. The addition of more wind energy into the electric utility sector reduces national vulnerability to price spikes and supply disruptions. Thanks to this long-term pricing and stability, the DOE anticipates wind energy will save consumers $280 billion by 2050.
- Wind power leads to job creation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 96% growth in wind technician jobs from 2016 to 2026, making it one of the fastest-growing occupations in America. The DOE reports that by 2050, wind energy could support more than 600,000 jobs in manufacturing, installation, maintenance and other related services.
- Wind is a domestic energy source.
Unlike oil and natural gas, the nation’s wind supply is inexhaustible and can be found in abundance above American soil. As a nation, we can generate wind power without worrying about rising commodity prices, international political relations or other global factors.
- Wind is good for business.
Leading with sustainability sets a positive tone for a business. According to a 2017 Cone Communications CSR Survey, 89% of customers are likely to switch to a company associated with a good cause (such as operating with clean energy!) given similar price and quality.
- Wind power is sustainable.
Simply put, wind always has been and always will be available. It’s just up to all of us to decide how much of a priority we want to make renewable energy generation in America.
Green Mountain Energy makes it simple to choose 100% clean energy made from national wind sources. Together, we can help change the way power is made.
Power your home with wind from Green Mountain Energy.
The top 5 wind power producing states, in order, are Texas, Iowa, California, Minnesota and Washington
Wind turbines can be as tall as a 20-story building, with blades as long as a football field
Wind has been used since the earliest civilizations to grind grain, pump water and power sailboats
This page is for general educational purposes only. Green Mountain Energy product offerings do not include all of the renewable sources shown.