How Wind Turbines Generate Electricity

For centuries wind turbines have harnessed the force of wind to pump water and grind grain. Around 1910, the first wind turbines were built in Europe to produce electricity. Today, advances in technology and the need for renewable energy sources has made wind a fast growing source of electricity. Click on the video for an animation showing how wind turbines generate electricity.

On top of each wind turbine is a box known as a nacelle. Attached to the nacelle are three propeller-like blades that connect to a rotor. Also on the nacelle is an anemometer to measure wind speed and direction. Click here for an inside view of a wind turbine.

The wind direction rotates the nacelle to face into the wind. The energy in the wind (called kinetic energy) turns the turbine blades around the rotor (creating mechanical energy).

The rotor connects to the main shaft, which turns inside the generator housing. Here, a magnetic rotor spins inside loops of copper wire. This causes electrons inside the cooper to flow; creating electrical energy (what we call electricity in our daily lives).

The electricity generated then travels down large cables from the nacelle, through the tower, and into an underground cable. At wind farms, cables from different turbines take the electricity generated to a substation. Here, a step-up transformer again increases the electrical output.

A transmission line connects the electricity output at the substation to the electrical grid serving communities throughout the region.