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How do wind turbines work?

Like many countries around the world Australia is increasing its use of renewable energy solutions, which is why wind power is becoming an increasingly common resource.

Wind turbines are a key feature of many landscapes throughout the nation, but have you ever wondered just how they convert wind into electricity?

What's inside a wind turbine

Although the process of generating electricity is relatively simple, you'll find there are plenty of components inside the turbine itself.

At the front you'll find the blades, which lift and rotate whenever they come into contact with the wind. This in turn causes the rotor to turn around, which kicks the rest of the system into action.

One of the most crucial components is the gear box, which is responsible for connecting the low-speed and high-speed shafts. This causes the rotational speeds to increase from around 60 per minute to as many as 1,800 to enable electricity to be produced.

Believe it or not, wind turbines are not able to cope with high wind speeds. A controller is fitted that will automatically shut off the system when speeds exceed 55 miles per hour, as this could cause significant damage to the turbines.

You'll also find a wind vane that is able to measure the direction of the wind, enabling it to interact with the yaw drive to ensure the blades are pointing in the right direction. This isn't the case with downwind turbines, as the wind will blow the rotor in whichever way is necessary.

Generating electricity

Magnets found inside the wind turbine move over coils of wire, which are known as the stator. As they pass over, AC electricity is produced.

This is converted into DC electricity that can be used for a wide range of purposes. Much of it is fed back into the national grid so it can be put to good use in homes and businesses throughout the country.

Wind energy in Australia

Although wind power can be used for a range of different purposes, here in Australia it's mainly used to generate electricity. However, in some rural regions it is used to pump bore water.

There are generally two options when it comes to wind energy - offshore and onshore. It's the latter that is currently the most popular in Australia and at present there aren't any plans for offshore developments to be made.

Australia is in the enviable position of having strong wind resources across many of its regions. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) explains how the south-western, southern and south-eastern areas are the best locations.

Wind power is still being developed in this country, with Clean Energy Council figures showing that it supplied just 4 per cent of Australia's electricity during 2013. Wind farms generated more than a quarter of Australia's clean energy over the course of the year, or the equivalent of enough to power 1.3 million homes.

Furthermore, the Clean Energy Council revealed how Australia had a total of 1,639 wind turbines spread across 68 wind farms at the end of 2013. Investment in the sector was around double that of the previous year.

Some states are performing better than others when it comes to embracing wind power, with South Australia leading the charge with a total of 561 turbines across 16 projects. There are currently no projects in either the Northern Territory or Australian Capital Territory.

A total of six new projects came to the fore in 2013, with many more in the pipeline for 2014. Among them was the biggest operational wind farm in the Southern Hemisphere, located at Macarthur in the west of Victoria.

Posted by Jeremy Elliott