What is Wind Energy and How Does it Work?

You've heard it discussed but what is wind energy? Wind power relies on using the natural wind currents in our atmosphere to produce power.

Windmills turn the cogs to provide mechanical power, wind pumps drain water and wind turbines can be used to create electricity. When you fly a kite or plow through waves on a sailboat, you are harnessing the power of wind.

Wind energy offers a clean alternative to the use of fossil fuels such as oil and coal. Wind is a widely available, renewable resource and produces no off gassing or emissions when in operation. When it comes to use of alternative energy sources, wind is the most environmentally friendly option.

There are wide areas of plains in the U.S. where wind is a constant every day. The same is true of many coastal areas and extend into the water of the ocean where breezes sweep across the waves constantly. Some countries have stopped asking "what is wind energy" and have been actively building wind farms.

Denmark processes over 20% of its electricity through wind farms. Eighty-three countries in the world capture wind power commercially including Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Germany. Spain leads the world in the amount of electricity generated by wind farms.


It's not difficult to answer when someone asks what is wind energy. The benefits of harnessing the wind to produce needed power are clear.

The wind is there for the taking in many parts of the U.S. where solar power is not the most viable option. Solar energy production can be limited in areas where days of cloud cover the norm for much of the year but clouds may only increase the wind.

Wind speed is not a constant as the strength and speed of the wind varies. Thus wind speed distribution is a function used to determine the amount of energy a wind turbine could product.

The average wind speed is not as useful as you might imagine because averages aren't enough. What is determined before installing a wind turbine is distribution of wind speed for that particular area.

Both the Weibull and Rayleigh distribution formulas based on probability statistics. The Rayleigh distribution is simpler to use but is considered less accurate. Both methods measure statistic probability using complex formulas.

No need to ask what is wind energy if you are driving past a wind farm. The wind farm is a collection wind turbines built in one location to produce electricity.

An advantage of wind farms is the land in between and around the wind towers can be cultivated for agriculture. There are no discharges that would damage the earth around a wind turbine.

It's also possible to create wind energy by placing turbines in a wind farm located offshore. Footers buried in the ocean floor near the shore allow wind farms to produce electricity without usage valuable acreage.


There are significant challenges in balance the production of wind energy to meet demand for power. To keep the power grid stable power must be available on demand and the demand varies widely due to heating and cooling conditions or even due to times of the day. Thus wind energy may not provide the reserve capacity a power grid must maintain.

The answer to this problem is to store the power created by wind turbines and use that power in conjunction with hydroelectricity or other electrical power generators. Stored wind power adds significant to the cost but is not necessary for every wind farm.

What is wind energy? It's an environmentally sound method of producing electricity. Yet there are groups who oppose wind farms. That is the biggest barrier to building wind turbines in the U.S. You might think a wind farm offshore would not generate debate. However, owners of pricey beach houses block construction of those wind farms claiming it will ruin their natural view.

The appearance of wind turbines generates considerable discussion. While many people see them as rather graceful additions to the landscape, others refer to wind towers as eyesores. No one is against wind energy but many people want the wind produced in someone else's back yard.

Costs and Incentives

We know what wind energy is and the cost to run wind turbines is negligible. The problem at the moment is the high cost of installing wind turbines.

These are huge machines and the cost must be analyzed with a view to future savings. Most new products on the market are introduced at a high price and that price begins to decline as the item become more successful in sales. That has not been true of wind turbines.

The cost of a wind turbine is measure by the number of years it will take to pay off that cost in the savings found with electricity produced. It is normal to see that expressed in terms of twenty years or so.

The high cost has led to wind energy only from commercial installed wind farms though the technology would appeal to many homeowners were it not for the high initial cost.

In areas where power grids are challenged by overuse, some electric companies and governments offer incentives to encourage people to think about what is wind energy and considered installing a wind turbine. Added to that is a federal tax credit for the electricity produced each year.

If you wonder what is wind energy and consider using wind power near or in an urban area, you will find special challenges. High-rise buildings create wind shear and occasional turbulence.

Chicago is a good example of this. This city has wind off the Great Lakes and the structures create shear and turbulence that lead to the nickname "the windy city". The uneven nature of the wind in such an environment is not useful for a wind farm.


What is wind energy? It may be the future for power generation in at least part of the country. Unlike solar panels, wind turbines do not eliminate the use of the acres of land where they reside.

Wind energy is environmentally responsible and does nothing to damage or pollute the earth. The cost of installing wind turbines is the major hurdle to the proliferation of wind farms. The idea if wind energy is one many people like but without subsidies or a reduction in cost this will be a slow growing energy program.

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