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Home > Schools Resources > Wind Turbines
Energy Research Unit

Schools Resources: Wind Turbines

In years gone by, windmills were a common sight in our countryside. They were used for grinding corn or pumping water. Nowadays, a new type of windmill or "wind turbine" can be seen. This type of wind turbine can turn the energy from the wind into a different but perhaps even more useful form, namely electricity. In order to do this efficiently and reliably the turbine must be designed to precise engineering standards. ERU has been involved in several research projects fundamental to the development of modern day wind turbines.

Wind turbines convert the kinetic (movement) energy in the wind into mechanical power. This mechanical power can be used for specific tasks (such as grinding grain or pumping water) or a generator can convert this mechanical power into electricity. A wind turbine works in the opposite way to a fan: instead of using electricity to make wind, wind turbines use wind to make electricity. The wind turns the blades, which spin a shaft, which connects to a generator and makes electricity.

There are two types of wind turbine:

Wind Harvester in the snowHorizontal Axis (HAWT): the shaft from the blades to the generator is horizontal, so the blades rotate vertically. The tall tower means the turbine can use higher wind speeds found higher up - near the ground, friction reduces the speed of the wind. HAWTs need a mechanism to keep the blades pointing into the wind.

Globuan VAWTVertical Axis (VAWT): the shaft from the blades to the generating equipment is vertical, and the blades go round it horizontally. This means that the generator and/or gearbox can be placed at the bottom, near the ground, so the tower doesn't need to support it, and that the turbine doesn't need to be pointed into the wind

Currently economic considerations mean UK windfarms are being built with Horizontal Axis Wind Turbines. Up-to-date statistics about the number, size and location of UK windfarms can be found at renewableUK:


A wind turbine converts the motion of the wind into electricity

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Updated 17 May, 2018
Energy Research Unit at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Energy Research Unit
Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
Science & Technology Facilities Council