How do wind turbines work?

Wind turbine blades act like aircraft wings, generating lift forces as the wind moves past them, moving the rotor blades around the central axis.  The internal layouts of the various wind turbine types differ at this point, but the traditional approach is for a central drive shaft to link to a gearbox, which increases the speed of rotation, linking to a high-speed shaft and then into the generator.  The generator produces electricity at low voltage (around 2-3kV) and is stepped up to 33kV with a transformer, either in the base of the turbine tower or in the nacelle.

Facts about wind energy

There are many sources of information regarding wind energy and its place in the energy mix.  Here are some of our favourite facts.

Fact 1

1. Australia has 3,240MW of wind energy projects currently installed. This compares with 61,290MW in the USA, 34,250MW in Germany, and 10,510MW in the UK.

Fact 2

2. As technology evolves, the size of wind turbines increases. Early installed turbines generated just a few kW of energy. Today's biggest wind turbines can generate 8MW of power each, with blades over 80m long.

Fact 3

3. Wind turbines produce electricity approximately 85% of the time. This is different from the capacity factor, which relates actual production to maximum theoretical production, normally around 35%.

Fact 4

4. A 75MW wind farm, such as that planned at Glen Innes, can save 180,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year, and produce enough electricity to power 30,000 homes.

Fact 5

5. Wind energy is the cheapest form of new-build generation. So when compared with building new coal and gas plants, wind is cheaper.

Why use wind energy?

Hover over to compare the energy sources

Wind is the leading form of new build renewable energy, currently supplying 3% of Australia's energy, but with no carbon emissions during operation. Each large turbine can power over 1,000 homes.

Australia produces 74% of its electricity from coal (51% black/bituminous, 23% brown/lignite). Coal produces roughly 1kg of CO2 per kWh of electricity generated. Australia generates 200TWh from coal each year, meaning 200 million tonnes of CO2 are released each year.

Solar projects contribute 2% of generation in Australia, including rooftop solar and larger scale generation. Australia's largest Solar farm is the Royalla project in the ACT developed by FRV, and can produce 20MW of electricity.

Natural gas produces far fewer carbon emissions than coal, and is the cleanest of the fossil fuel options, and produces 14% of Australia's electricity. Coal seam gas and shale gas (fracking) mean that gas production can be controversial.