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How do wind turbines generate electricity?

Posted on 15 October 2016

At Co-operative Energy, we care about the world we live in. This is why one of our main objectives is to obtain a big 75% of our energy from renewable sources within the next three years.

Alongside tackling this worldwide issue, we also strive to be completely transparent with our customers about their energy. As well as offering clear, easy-to-understand prices, we think it's important you know where your energy comes from. Here, we explain how wind turbines generate electricity, using our helpful wind turbine diagram.

Wind turbines, to put it simply, convert kinetic energy (energy of motion) into electricity. Built at a height of 100 metres or above, wind turbines can be positioned on-land or off-shore, alone or part of a wind farm – where a number of turbines are grouped together. 

In 2016 the 7 community wind sites we support through Power Purchase Agreements produced 21,074 MWh of energy, enough to power 5,412 homes for a year and offsetting a huge 19,093 t of CO2 being released.

Key components of a wind turbine

There are many key parts to a wind turbine, which, when working together, generate electricity. These parts include:

  • Blades (also known as propellers)
  • Nacelle: The complete unit that houses all the gearbox
  • Gearbox
  • Generator
  • Transformer
  • Shaft
  • Anemometer: Device that measures wind speed

Step-by-step: How a wind turbine generates electricity

How wind turbines generate electricity diagram

How much energy does the average wind turbine generate?

According to the European Wind Energy Association, the average on-shore wind turbine, with a capacity of 2.5 – 3 MW (megawatts), will generate more than 6 million kWh per year - enough to supply an average of 1,500 homes. As off-shore wind turbines capture wind at faster speeds, they can generate more; the average off-shore wind turbine of 3.6 MW can produce power for more than 3,300 EU homes.

For wind farms, the full output of electricity depends on the number of wind turbines, their size and the location.

Advantages of wind power

  • Wind power is renewable energy: A form of solar energy and supplied by the environment, wind is free and will never run out (unless the sun stops shining and the wind stops blowing!).
  • Wind is green energy: Unlike coal, wind energy doesn’t pollute the environment, nor does it release any toxic emissions. It also reduces our reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Increases employment: To build wind turbines, we need trained engineers. Wind energy provides jobs, and also offers an income to land owners who install turbines. As it doesn’t use much space on land, it is also a popular option for farmers who own agricultural land.
  • It’s one of the cheapest forms of electricity: With the price of turbines falling, wind power has become one of the most cost-effective forms of energy.
  • Access to electricity for remote locations: Many buildings in inaccessible, distant areas can’t be connected to a power grid, however, wind turbines enable them to produce their own energy supply.

Disadvantages of wind turbines

  • Wind power is unpredictable: The weather, such as the wind’s strength, cannot be controlled, and therefore it can be hard to predict the output of energy supplied from wind power. Sometimes, a turbine may produce high amounts of energy, other times it could be nothing.
  • Wind power causes noise pollution: The speed of the blades moving causes noise, which can affect those living nearby.
  • Turbines can cause aesthetic pollution: Many believe wind turbines, their size and style, are an eyesore, particularly when placed in the countryside.
  • Threat to wildlife: The wind turbines’ blades can be dangerous for birds and other wildlife, although reviews of sites are becoming more important to prevent this.

At Co-operative Energy, we know the importance of sustainability, which is why we offer this form of renewable energy to our customers. Wind power is an important step in improving climate change, and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Alongside doing our bit to support climate change, we also encourage our customers to reduce their energy usage by providing energy-saving tips and advice.

Want to find out more about our commitment to sustainability? Take a look at the values and ethics at the heart of our business. 

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