Turbines come in a variety of sizes, from small installations on the top of houses to enormous structures on hills and out to sea. A single larger turbine has the capacity to meet the demands of more than 1,000 homes over the course of a year (or power 28 million kettles!), and as the UK is the windiest country in Europe we’re well-placed to take advantage of wind power.
But how do wind turbines work? Simply put, the blades of a turbine catch the wind. When the wind blows, the blades are moved around, driving a turbine which generates electricity. The stronger the wind, the more electricity is generated. This electricity can then be used for specific mechanical tasks (which is why some manufacturing plants and farms have their own turbines) or put through a generator and turned into electricity for use by homes and businesses.
Utility-scale turbines are often grouped together into wind farms which provide bulk power to the National Grid, while smaller pole-mounted or building-mounted turbines can be installed on houses to generate electricity in the home. People living in very windy areas are increasingly adopting this technology to help save money on their energy bills.
It’s important that wind turbines are positioned carefully – they won’t generate energy if there’s no wind! A well-positioned wind turbine will produce electricity around 70-85% of the time, but generates different outputs depending on wind speed. Throughout the year a wind turbine will typically generate 30% of its theoretical maximum output, but this is known as the ‘load factor’. It doesn't sound like much, but conventional power stations have a load factor of around 50%, so it’s clear that wind power does have an important role to play in contributing to the UK’s energy mix.