A wind turbine is a rotating machine which converts the kinetic energy in wind into mechanical energy. If the mechanical energy is used directly by machinery, such as a pump or grinding stones, the machine is usually called a windmill. If the mechanical energy is then converted to electricity, the machine is called a wind generator, wind turbine, wind power unit (WPU), wind energy converter (WEC),or aerogenerator.
This article discusses electric power generation machinery. Windmill discusses machines used for grain-grinding, water pumping, etc. The article on wind power describes turbine placement, economics and public concerns. The wind energy section of that article describes the distribution of wind energy over time, and how that affects wind-turbine design. See environmental concerns with electricity generation for discussion of environmental problems with wind-energy production.
Wind machines were used in Persia as early as 200 B.C. This type of machine was introduced into the Roman Empire by 250 A.D. However, the first practical windmills were built in Sistan, Afghanistan, from the 7th century. These were vertical axle windmills, which had long vertical driveshafts with rectangle shaped blades. Made of six to twelve sails covered in reed matting or cloth material, these windmills were used to grind corn and draw up water, and were used in the gristmilling and sugarcane industries.
By the 14th century, Dutch windmills were in use to drain areas of the Rhine River delta. In Denmark by 1900 there were about 2500 windmills for mechanical loads such as pumps and mills, producing an estimated combined peak power of about 30 MW. The first known electricity generating windmill operated was a battery charging machine installed in 1887 by James Blyth in Scotland, UK. The first windmill for electricity production in the United States was built in Cleveland, Ohio by Charles F Brush in 1888, and in 1908 there were 72 wind-driven electric generators from 5 kW to 25 kW. The largest machines were on 24 m (79 ft) towers with four-bladed 23 m (75 ft) diameter rotors. Around the time of World War I, American windmill makers were producing 100,000 farm windmills each year, most for water-pumping. By the 1930s windmills for electricity were common on farms, mostly in the United States where distribution systems had not yet been installed. In this period, high-tensile steel was cheap, and windmills were placed atop prefabricated open steel lattice towers.
A forerunner of modern horizontal-axis wind generators was in service at Yalta, USSR in 1931. This was a 100 kW generator on a 30 m (100 ft) tower, connected to the local 6.3 kV distribution system. It was reported to have an annual capacity factor of 32 per cent, not much different from current wind machines.
The first utility grid-connected wind turbine operated in the UK was built by the John Brown Company in 1954 in the Orkney Islands. It had an 18 metre diameter, three-bladed rotor and a rated output of 100 kW.
The amount of power transferred to a wind turbine is directly proportional to the area swept out by the rotor, to the density of the air, and the cube of the wind speed.
The power in the wind is given by:
where P = power in watts, α = an efficiency factor determined by the design of the turbine, ρ = mass density of air in kilograms per cubic meter, r = radius of the wind turbine in meters, and v = velocity of the air in meters per second.
As the wind turbine extracts energy from the air flow, the air is slowed down, which causes it to spread out. Albert Betz, a German physicist, determined in 1919 (see Betz' law) that a wind turbine can extract at most 59% of the energy that would otherwise flow through the turbine's cross section, that is α can never be higher than 0.59 in the above equation. The Betz limit applies regardless of the design of the turbine.
This equation shows the effects of the mass rate of flow of air traveling through the turbine, and the energy of each unit mass of air flow caused by its velocity. As an example, on a cool 15 °C (59 °F) day at sea level, air density is 1.225 kilograms per cubic metre. An 8 m/s (28.8 km/h or 18 mi/h) breeze blowing through a 100 meter diameter rotor would move almost 77,000 kilograms of air per second through the swept area. The total power of the example breeze through a 100 meter diameter rotor would be about 2.5 megawatts. Betz' law states that no more than 1.5 megawatts could be extracted.
Since a tower produces turbulence behind it, the turbine is usually pointed upwind of the tower. Turbine blades are made stiff to prevent the blades from being pushed into the tower by high winds. Additionally, the blades are placed a considerable distance in front of the tower and are sometimes tilted up a small amount.
Downwind machines have been built, despite the problem of turbulence, because they don't need an additional mechanism for keeping them in line with the wind, and because in high winds, the blades can be allowed to bend which reduces their swept area and thus their wind resistance. Since turbulence leads to fatigue failures, and reliability is so important, most HAWTs are upwind machines.
There are several types of HAWT: 12th century windmills : These squat structures, typically (at-least) four-bladed, usually with wooden shutters or fabric sails, were developed in Europe. These windmills were pointed into the wind manually or via a tail-fan and were typically used to grind grain. In the Netherlands they were also used to pump water from low-lying land, and were instrumental in keeping its polders dry.
In Schiedam, the Netherlands, a traditional style windmill (the Noletmolen) was built in 2005 to generate electricity. The mill is one of the tallest Tower mills in the world, being some tall. 19th century windmills : The Eclipse windmill factory was set up around 1866 in Beloit, Wisconsin and soon became a huge success building mills for farm water pumping and railroad tank filling. Other firms like Star, Dempster, and Aeromotor also entered the market. Hundreds of thousands of these mills were produced before rural electrification and small numbers continue to be made. They typically had many blades, operated at tip speed ratios (defined below) not better than one, and had good starting torque. Some had small direct-current generators used to charge storage batteries, to provide a few lights, or to operate a radio receiver. The American rural electrification connected many farms to centrally-generated power and replaced individual windmills as a primary source of farm power by the 1950s. They were also produced in other countries like South Africa and Australia (where an American design was copied in 1876). Such devices are still used in locations where it is too costly to bring in commercial power. Modern wind turbines
Turbines used in wind farms for commercial production of electric power are usually three-bladed and pointed into the wind by computer-controlled motors. This type is produced by Danish and other manufacturers. These have high tip speeds of up to six times the wind speed, high efficiency, and low torque ripple which contributes to good reliability. The blades are usually colored light gray to blend in with the clouds and range in length from 20 to 40 metres (65 to 130 ft) or more. The tubular steel towers range from about 200 to 300 feet (60 to 90 metres) high. The blades rotate at 10-22 revolutions per minute. A gear box is commonly used to step up the speed of the generator, though there are also designs that use direct drive of an annular generator. Some models operate at constant speed, but more energy can be collected by variable-speed turbines which use a solid-state power converter to interface to the transmission system. All turbines are equipped with high wind shut down features to avoid over speed damage.
When the turbine turns to face the wind, the rotating blades act like a gyroscope. As it pivots, gyroscopic precession tries to twist the turbine into a forward or backward somersault. For each blade on a wind generator's turbine, precessive force is at a minimum when the blade is horizontal and at a maximum when the blade is vertical. This cyclic twisting can quickly fatigue and crack the blade roots, hub and axle of the turbines.
With a vertical axis, the generator and gearbox can be placed near the ground, so the tower doesn't need to support it, and it is more accessible for maintenance. Drawbacks are that some designs produce pulsating torque. Drag may be created when the blade rotates into the wind.
It is difficult to mount vertical-axis turbines on towers, meaning they are often installed nearer to the base on which they rest, such as the ground or a building rooftop. The wind speed is slower at a lower altitude, so less wind energy is available for a given size turbine. Air flow near the ground and other objects can create turbulent flow, which can introduce issues of vibration, including noise and bearing wear which may increase the maintenance or shorten the service life. However, when a turbine is mounted on a rooftop, the building generally redirects wind over the roof and this can double the wind speed at the turbine. If the height of the rooftop mounted turbine tower is approximately 50% of the building height, this is near the optimum for maximum wind energy and minimum wind turbulence.
Savonius wind turbine : These are drag-type devices with two (or more) scoops that are used in anemometers, Flettner vents (commonly seen on bus and van roofs), and in some high-reliability low-efficiency power turbines. They are always self-starting if there are at least three scoops. They sometimes have long helical scoops to give a smooth torque. The Alvin Benesh rotor and the Hamid Rahai rotor improve efficiency with blades shaped to produce significant lift as well as drag.
Wind turbines can also be classified by the location in which they are to be used. Onshore, offshore, or even aerial wind turbines have unique design characteristics, which are explained in more detail in the section on turbine design and construction.
Wind turbines convert wind energy to electricity for distribution. The turbine can be divided into three components. The rotor component, which is approximately 20% of the wind turbine cost, includes the blades for converting wind energy to low speed rotational energy. The generator component, which is approximately 34% of the wind turbine cost, includes the electrical generator, the control electronics, and most likely a gearbox component for converting the low speed incoming rotation to high speed rotation suitable for generating electricity. The structural support component, which is approximately 15% of the wind turbine cost, includes the tower and rotor pointing mechanism.
A series of lighter-than-air wind turbines are in development in Canada by Magenn Power. They deliver power to the ground by a tether system.
Wind turbines may also be used in conjunction with a large vertical solar updraft tower to extract the energy due to air heated by the sun.
Variable pitch wind turbines are another special (yet low-cost) design. Designs such as the Jacobs are said to be inexpensive, highly efficient and usable in DIY-construction.
Small wind turbines may be as small as a fifty watt generator for boat or caravan use. Small units often have direct drive generators, direct current output, aeroelastic blades, lifetime bearings and use a vane to point into the wind. Larger, more costly turbines generally have geared power trains, alternating current output, flaps and are actively pointed into the wind. Direct drive generators and aeroelastic blades for large wind turbines are being researched.
The turbine closest to the North Pole is a Nordex N-80 in Havøygavlen near Hammerfest, Norway. The ones closest to the South Pole are two Enercon E-30 in Antarctica, used to power the Australian Research Division's Mawson Station.
Matilda, was a wind turbine located on Gotland, Sweden. It produced a total of 61.4 GWh in the 15 years it was active. That is more renewable energy than any other single wind power turbine had ever produced to that date. It was demolished on June 6th, 2008