Wind Power, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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windpower wind turbines

Wind Power in American
This section Courtesy of Susan Sundwall

If you stand outside on a windy day you will experience the power of the wind as it blows your hair all over your head. At other times you may have to push against the wind just to walk down the sidewalk. Have you ever seen a hurricane weather report? Talk about power! American scientists and engineers are always working on more efficient ways to capture and use the force of all that moving air. Their methods have been built on an idea that's been around for centuries.

An Old Idea. Thousands of years ago people used simple wind machines to grind grain and pump water. Then the Dutch improved the ancient windmill designs and actually lived in them. The men who made the windmills work were called wind smiths.

In 1888 a man from the state of Ohio named Charles F. Brush built a windmill dynamo. His machine was a real monster, but it worked. The electricity produced from it was used to light his mansion for twenty years. He set an example of how the wind could be harnessed for human energy needs. The Dutch windmills and the example of the Brush dynamo helped other American engineers design the modern wind turbine.

What's a Wind Turbine? A modern wind turbine has five basic parts; the tower, nacelle, transformer, rotor and foundation. A computer controls the turbines movements. All of its mechanical parts are in the nacelle. That's the long piece sitting on the tower, which is about the size of an RV. On the outside is the rotor, which has three blades that turn in the wind. The rotor turns a large shaft that is connected to a gearbox and is converted to electricity that passes through the tower in large electrical cables. The cables deliver the electricity to a grid, which sends electric power to homes, businesses and schools.

Early Troubles. In the 70's and 80's turbine rotors were noisy enough to keep people awake at night. Experiments with different designs, like the lattice design, didn't work well because birds loved the nooks and crannies and used them to build their nests. Older designs had more blades, turned faster and sometimes the birds were killed in them. The need for better design was crucial.

New and Improved. Modern turbines have many improvements over older types. Some of them are:

  1. Improved insulation and quieter gearboxes.
  2. Carefully placed holes in the large nacelles to help prevent vibration noise.
  3. Fewer blades that turn much slower.
  4. A sleek design that doesn't allow bird nesting.

Developers of wind energy products work hard to get the best results from wind turbines. Wind energy does not pollute the air with gases like coal and oil do and each turbine takes up only a small amount of land. They are relatively easy to put up and take down. Farmers often make money by leasing land to companies that build turbines. The land beneath the turbines can still be used for crops or animal grazing. This benefits everyone.

Wind Farms. Wind farms are a new and exciting part of the 'green energy' movement in the United States . Large pieces of land that contain many turbines are called wind farms. Wind power is measured in megawatts with the southern state of Texas producing the most energy from over seven thousand installations. They have names like Bull Creek Wind Farm, the Hackberry Wind project, and Octotillo Wind Farm. As of late 2008 there are 33 states that have wind farms producing thousands of megawatts of power. The potential for more exists in every case. All across the country wind turbines line sea walls along our coastlines, stand like patient giants in Minnesota cow pastures, and whirr back and forth on the hillsides south of San Francisco Bay in California.

The Future. We imagine a future where all energy needs will be met. That dream will take time, cost money and require input from many different sources and caring minds. Fortunately, in the United States , there are people in all levels of the energy business working hard to develop the full potential of the wind to serve those needs.


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