When it comes to utility applications, the energy produced by wind turbines is exponentially more cost- and space-effective than solar panels. Only one of these giant machines can generate enough electricity for more than a thousand households – on its own.
Even small and medium wind turbines can output a significant amount of power, which is why more and more remote households and farms are using them instead of attempting a connection to the grid. But how much energy does a wind turbine produce and what are the factors that can influence its efficiency? Below, you’ll find the answer to this question and more.
How Do Wind Turbines Produce Energy?
How much energy does a wind turbine produce? To be able to answer this question, you first need to understand the basics of how turbines work. Believe it or not, wind is also a form of solar energy because it results from a combination of factors that include the sun’s heating of the atmosphere, the irregular surface of the planet, and the Earth’s rotation. All of the above determine the strength and frequency of the wind in a particular area, which, in turn, can predict whether a wind turbine or farm is a good investment.
For instance, across the United States, the patterns and speeds of the wind vary to a great extent so that some regions are suitable for the installation of wind turbines, while others are not. When the speed of the wind is high enough, the blades of a turbine begin to spin along with the rotor. The latter is connected to a generator, while the transition of the aerodynamic force of the wind to the physical rotation of the generator creates electricity.
In some types of wind turbines, the rotor is not connected directly to the generator, but rather through a series of gears that increase the speed of rotation even further. This is particularly useful with turbines for home applications because it allows for the use of a smaller generator.
How Much Energy Does a Wind Turbine Produce: Decisive Factors
It’s impossible to provide just one universal answer to the question of how much wind energy does a wind turbine produce. Basically, this depends on a few important factors, as we will explain in what follows. (Want to compare how much energy is produced by a wind turbine compared to a solar panel?)
The Size of the Wind Turbine
Wind turbines come in a variety of different sizes that can range from modest domestic home wind turbines to majestic installations of several MW each. As such, the first factor that influences energy production is the size and design of the turbine itself.
The following are the most common sizes currently on the market:
- Domestic wind turbines are advertised to produce a peak 10,000 kWh per year, which is sufficient to power a single average home in the United States.
- The General Electric 1.5MW model features a 212ft tower and 116ft blades. It can produce 4,500,000 kWh per year, which is enough to power between 400 and 500 homes in a community.
- Alternatively, the Vestas V90 3MW model is about 25% larger than its GE counterpart and can produce up to 9,000,000 kwh per year.
- Even larger wind turbines are currently in use around the world. One of the most massive installations to this date is the MHI Vestas V164, a model designed for an output of 9MW and that is, therefore, three times more powerful than the Vestas V90.
The Placement of the Wind Turbine
The numbers describing the wind turbines above are estimative. In fact, they represent the amount of electricity that a turbine can generate in optimal wind conditions. However, the wind is not always a reliable source of energy and, over the course of one year, a turbine is likely to produce approximately 24% of its maximum output on land and up to 41% offshore.
Placement, then, is another essential factor in answering the question of how much energy does a wind turbine produce. A few things to consider in this respect:
- To work efficiently, a wind turbine must be installed at an appropriate height. If you want to install one on your roof, for example, you should discuss the feasibility of this plan with the manufacturer.
- Wind turbines are most effective off-shore, where the wind is strong and often reliable.
- If placed on land, wind turbines perform best in wide, flat areas, where no obstacles get in the way of the wind. In addition, the turbines must be placed at a certain distance from one another, although space in-between can be used for other purposes.
- There is no need to worry about the direction of the wind, however, because turbines are either designed to turn according to the latter (horizontal-axis) or can transfer the aerodynamic force of the wind regardless of its direction (vertical axis).
The Speed and Consistency of the Wind
Not all regions in the United States are equally suitable for wind turbine installations. For example, it has been determined that the best, most consistent winds travel between the Midwest and the West Coast, across what is known as the Great Planes. This is part of the reason why you’ll find most wind farms in this region and almost no such installations towards the East coast.
All the effort that goes into the design and placement of a wind turbine is an attempt to get better wind conditions. So long as the wind has a predictable pattern, travels with speeds between 4-5m per second and 15m per second, and is fairly consistent, even the most basic domestic wind turbine can function effectively. Below this speed, the blades generally do not start moving, while above this speed, the turbine slows down or even shuts down automatically to prevent any mechanical damage from taking place.
So, then, exactly how much energy does a wind turbine produce? Overall, the two most important factors that influence the efficiency of a turbine are its design and its placement. These determine both how much aerodynamic force the generator can handle and whether or not it gets enough wind to function at an optimal rate. Otherwise, depending on the size of each turbine, the latter can produce anywhere from 10,000 kWh per year to 216,000 kWh per day. (Want to see some more cool articles about renewable energy products? Check out these awesome solar briefcases!)