About Wind Power

Wind power

Wind power is the conversion of wind energy into a useful form of energy, such as using wind turbines to produce electrical power, windmills for mechanical power, windpumps for water pumping or drainage, or sails to propel ships.

Large wind farms consist of hundreds of individual wind turbines which are connected to the electric power transmission network. For new constructions, onshore wind is an inexpensive source of electricity, competitive with or in many places cheaper than fossil fuel plants. Offshore wind is steadier and stronger than on land, and offshore farms have less visual impact, but construction and maintenance costs are considerably higher. Small onshore wind farms can feed some energy into the grid or provide electricity to isolated off-grid locations.

Wind power, as an alternative to fossil fuels, is plentiful, renewable, widely distributed, clean, produces no greenhouse gas emissions during operation and uses little land. The effects on the environment are generally less problematic than those from other power sources. As of 2011, Denmark is generating more than a quarter of its electricity from wind and 83 countries around the world are using wind power to supply the electricity grid. In 2010 wind energy production was over 2.5% of total worldwide electricity usage, and growing rapidly at more than 25% per annum.

Wind power is very consistent from year to year but has significant variation over shorter time scales. As the proportion of windpower in a region increases, a need to upgrade the grid, and a lowered ability to supplant conventional production can occur. Power management techniques such as having excess capacity storage, geographically distributed turbines, dispatchable backing sources, storage such as pumped-storage hydroelectricity, exporting and importing power to neighboring areas or reducing demand when wind production is low, can greatly mitigate these problems. In addition, weather forecasting permits the electricity network to be readied for the predictable variations in production that occur. Wind power can be considered a topic in applied eolics.

Wind farms

A wind farm is a group of wind turbines in the same location used for production of electricity. A large wind farm may consist of several hundred individual wind turbines distributed over an extended area, but the land between the turbines may be used for agricultural or other purposes. A wind farm may also be located offshore.

Almost all large wind turbines have the same design — a horizontal axis wind turbine having an upwind rotor with three blades, attached to a nacelle on top of a tall tubular tower.

In a wind farm, individual turbines are interconnected with a medium voltage (often 34.5 kV), power collection system and communications network. At a substation, this medium-voltage electric current is increased in voltage with a transformer for connection to the high voltage electric power transmission system.

Feeding into grid

Induction generators, often used for wind power, require reactive power for excitation so substations used in wind-power collection systems include substantial capacitor banks for power factor correction. Different types of wind turbine generators behave differently during transmission grid disturbances, so extensive modelling of the dynamic electromechanical characteristics of a new wind farm is required by transmission system operators to ensure predictable stable behaviour during system faults (see: Low voltage ride through). In particular, induction generators cannot support the system voltage during faults, unlike steam or hydro turbine-driven synchronous generators. Doubly fed machines generally have more desirable properties for grid interconnection. Transmission systems operators will supply a wind farm developer with a grid code to specify the requirements for interconnection to the transmission grid. This will include power factor, constancy of frequency and dynamic behavior of the wind farm turbines during a system fault.

Offshore wind power

Offshore wind power refers to the construction of wind farms in large bodies of water to generate electricity. These installations can utilise the more frequent and powerful winds that are available in these locations and have less aesthetic impact on the landscape than land based projects. However, the construction and the maintenance costs are considerably higher.

Siemens and Vestas are the leading turbine suppliers for offshore wind power. DONG Energy, Vattenfall and E.ON are the leading offshore operators. As of October 2010, 3.16 GW of offshore wind power capacity was operational, mainly in Northern Europe. According to BTM Consult, more than 16 GW of additional capacity will be installed before the end of 2014 and the UK and Germany will become the two leading markets. Offshore wind power capacity is expected to reach a total of 75 GW worldwide by 2020, with significant contributions from China and the US.

At the end of 2012, 1,662 turbines at 55 offshore wind farms in European are generating 18 TWh, which can power almost five million households.[36] As of August 2013 the London Array in the United Kingdom is the largest offshore wind farm in the world at 630 MW. This is followed by the Greater Gabbard Wind Farm (504 MW), also in the UK. The Gwynt y Môr wind farm (576 MW) is the largest project currently under construction.

Wind power capacity and production

Worldwide there are now over two hundred thousand wind turbines operating, with a total nameplate capacity of 282,482 MW as of end 2012. The European Union alone passed some 100,000 MW nameplate capacity in September 2012, while the United States surpassed 50,000 MW in August 2012 and China‘s grid connected capacity passed 50,000 MW the same month.

World wind generation capacity more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2006, doubling about every three years. The United States pioneered wind farms and led the world in installed capacity in the 1980s and into the 1990s. In 1997 German installed capacity surpassed the U.S. and led until once again overtaken by the U.S. in 2008. China has been rapidly expanding its wind installations in the late 2000s and passed the U.S. in 2010 to become the world leader.

At the end of 2013, worldwide nameplate capacity of wind-powered generators was 318 gigawatts (GW), growing by 35 GW over the preceding year. According to the World Wind Energy Association, an industry organization, in 2010 wind power generated 430 TWh or about 2.5% of worldwide electricity usage, up from 1.5% in 2008 and 0.1% in 1997. Between 2005 and 2010 the average annual growth in new installations was 27.6%. Wind power market penetration is expected to reach 3.35% by 2013 and 8% by 2018.

The actual amount of electricity that wind is able to generate is calculated by multiplying the nameplate capacity by the capacity factor, which varies according to equipment and location. Estimates of the capacity factors for wind installations are in the range of 35% to 44%.

Several countries have already achieved relatively high levels of penetration, such as 28% of stationary (grid) electricity production in Denmark (2011), 19% in Portugal(2011), 16% in Spain (2011),16% in Ireland (2012) and 8% in Germany (2011).As of 2011, 83 countries around the world were using wind power on a commercial basis.[5]

Europe accounted for 48% of the world total wind power generation capacity in 2009. In 2010, Spain became Europe’s leading producer of wind energy, achieving 42,976 GWh. Germany held the top spot in Europe in terms of installed capacity, with a total of 27,215 MW as of 31 December 2010

Europe accounted for 48% of the world total wind power generation capacity in 2009. In 2010, Spain became Europe’s leading producer of wind energy, achieving 42,976 GWh. Germany held the top spot in Europe in terms of installed capacity, with a total of 27,215 MW as of 31 December 2010.

Top 10 countries
by nameplate windpower capacity
(2013 year-end)
Country New 2013
capacity (MW)
Windpower total capacity
 % world total
China 16,088 91,412 28.7
United States 1,084 61,091 19.2
Germany 3,238 34,250 10.8
Spain 175 22,959 7.2
India 1,729 20,150 6.3
UK 1,883 10,531 3.3
Italy 444 8,552 2.7
France 631 8,254 2.6
Canada 1,599 7,803 2.5
Denmark 657 4,772 1.5
(rest of world) 7,761 48,332 15.2
World total 35,289 MW 318,105 MW 100%
Top 10 countries
by windpower electricity production
(2012 totals)
Country Windpower production
 % world total
United States 140.9 26.4
China 118.1 22.1
Spain 49.1 9.2
Germany 46.0 8.6
India 30.0 5.6
UK 19.6 3.7
France 14.9 2.8
Italy 13.4 2.5
Canada 11.8 2.2
Denmark 10.3 1.9
(rest of world) 80.2 15.0
World total 534.3 TWh 100%

Growth trends

In 2010, more than half of all new wind power was added outside of the traditional markets in Europe and North America. This was largely from new construction in China, which accounted for nearly half the new wind installations (16.5 GW).

Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) figures show that 2007 recorded an increase of installed capacity of 20 GW, taking the total installed wind energy capacity to 94 GW, up from 74 GW in 2006. Despite constraints facing supply chains for wind turbines, the annual market for wind continued to increase at an estimated rate of 37%, following 32% growth in 2006. In terms of economic value, the wind energy sector has become one of the important players in the energy markets, with the total value of new generating equipment installed in 2007 reaching €25 billion, or US$36 billion.

Although the wind power industry was affected by the global financial crisis in 2009 and 2010, a BTM Consult five-year forecast up to 2013 projects substantial growth. Over the past five years the average growth in new installations has been 27.6% each year. In the forecast to 2013 the expected average annual growth rate is 15.7%. More than 200 GW of new wind power capacity could come on line before the end of 2014. Wind power market penetration is expected to reach 3.35% by 2013 and 8% by 2018.

Capacity factor

Since wind speed is not constant, a wind farm’s annual energy production is never as much as the sum of the generator nameplate ratings multiplied by the total hours in a year. The ratio of actual productivity in a year to this theoretical maximum is called the capacity factor. Typical capacity factors are 15–50%; values at the upper end of the range are achieved in favourable sites and are due to wind turbine design improvements.

Online data is available for some locations, and the capacity factor can be calculated from the yearly output. For example, the German nation-wide average wind power capacity factor over all of 2012 was just under 17.5% (45867 GW·h/yr / (29.9 GW × 24 × 366) = 0.1746), and the capacity factor for Scottish wind farms averaged 24% between 2008 and 2010.

Unlike fueled generating plants, the capacity factor is affected by several parameters, including the variability of the wind at the site and the size of the generator relative to the turbine’s swept area. A small generator would be cheaper and achieve a higher capacity factor but would produce less electricity (and thus less profit) in high winds. Conversely, a large generator would cost more but generate little extra power and, depending on the type, may stall out at low wind speed. Thus an optimum capacity factor of around 40–50% would be aimed for.

In a 2008 study released by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the capacity factor achieved by the U.S. wind turbine fleet is shown to be increasing as the technology improves. The capacity factor achieved by new wind turbines in 2010 reached almost 40%


Wind energy penetration refers to the fraction of energy produced by wind compared with the total available generation capacity. There is no generally accepted maximum level of wind penetration. The limit for a particular grid will depend on the existing generating plants, pricing mechanisms, capacity for energy storage, demand management and other factors. An interconnected electricity grid will already include reserve generating and transmission capacity to allow for equipment failures. This reserve capacity can also serve to compensate for the varying power generation produced by wind plants. Studies have indicated that 20% of the total annual electrical energy consumption may be incorporated with minimal difficulty. These studies have been for locations with geographically dispersed wind farms, some degree of dispatchable energy or hydropower with storage capacity, demand management, and interconnected to a large grid area enabling the export of electricity when needed. Beyond the 20% level, there are few technical limits, but the economic implications become more significant. Electrical utilities continue to study the effects of large scale penetration of wind generation on system stability and economics.

A wind energy penetration figure can be specified for different durations of time. On an annual basis, as of 2011, few grid systems have penetration levels above 5%: Denmark – 29%, Portugal – 19%, Spain – 19%, Ireland – 18%, and Germany – 11%. For the U.S. in 2011, the penetration level was estimated at 3.3%. To obtain 100% from wind annually requires substantial long term storage. On a monthly, weekly, daily, or hourly basis—or less—wind can supply as much as or more than 100% of current use, with the rest stored or exported. Seasonal industry can take advantage of high wind and low usage times such as at night when wind output can exceed normal demand. Such industry can include production of silicon, aluminum, steel, or of natural gas, and hydrogen, which allow long term storage, facilitating 100% energy from variable renewable energy. Homes can also be programmed to accept extra electricity on demand, for example by remotely turning up water heater thermostats


Electricity generated from wind power can be highly variable at several different timescales: hourly, daily, or seasonally. Annual variation also exists, but is not as significant. Because instantaneous electrical generation and consumption must remain in balance to maintain grid stability, this variability can present substantial challenges to incorporating large amounts of wind power into a grid system. Intermittency and the non-dispatchable nature of wind energy production can raise costs for regulation, incremental operating reserve, and (at high penetration levels) could require an increase in the already existing energy demand managementload shedding, storage solutions or system interconnection with HVDC cables.

Wind power is however, variable, but during low wind periods it can be replaced by other power sources. Transmission networks presently cope with outages of other generation plants and daily changes in electrical demand, but the variability of intermittent power sources such as wind power, are unlike those of conventional power generation plants which, when scheduled to be operating, may be able to deliver their nameplate capacity around 95% of the time.

Presently, grid systems with large wind penetration require a small increase in the frequency of usage of natural gas spinning reserve power plants to prevent a loss of electricity in the event that conditions are not favorable for power production from the wind. At lower wind power grid penetration, this is less of an issue.

GE has installed a prototype wind turbine with onboard battery similar to that of an electric car, equivalent of 1 minute of production. Despite the small capacity, it is enough to guarantee that power output complies with forecast for 15 minutes, as the battery is used to eliminate the difference rather than provide full output. The increased predictability can be used to take wind power penetration from 20 to 30 or 40 per cent. The battery cost can be retrieved by selling burst power on demand and reducing backup needs from gas plants.

A report on Denmark’s wind power noted that their wind power network provided less than 1% of average demand on 54 days during the year 2002. Wind power advocates argue that these periods of low wind can be dealt with by simply restarting existing power stations that have been held in readiness, or interlinking with HVDC. Electrical grids with slow-responding thermal power plants and without ties to networks with hydroelectric generation may have to limit the use of wind power. According to a 2007 Stanford University study published in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, interconnecting ten or more wind farms can allow an average of 33% of the total energy produced (i.e. about 8% of total nameplate capacity) to be used as reliable, baseload electric power which can be relied on to handle peak loads, as long as minimum criteria are met for wind speed and turbine height.

Conversely, on particularly windy days, even with penetration levels of 16%, wind power generation can surpass all other electricity sources in a country. In Spain, on 16 April 2012 wind power production reached the highest percentage of electricity production till then, with wind farms covering 60.46% of the total demand. In Denmark, which had power market penetration of 30% in 2013, over 90 hours, wind power generated 100% of the countries power, peaking at 122% of the countries demand at 2am on the 28th October.

A 2006 International Energy Agency forum presented costs for managing intermittency as a function of wind-energy’s share of total capacity for several countries, as shown in the table on the right. Three reports on the wind variability in the UK issued in 2009, generally agree that variability of wind needs to be taken into account, but it does not make the grid unmanageable. The additional costs, which are modest, can be quantified.

The combination of diversifying variable renewables by type and location, forecasting their variation, and integrating them with dispatchable renewables, flexible fueled generators, and demand response can create a power system that has the potential to meet power supply needs reliably. Integrating ever-higher levels of renewables is being successfully demonstrated in the real world:

In 2009, eight American and three European authorities, writing in the leading electrical engineers’ professional journal, didn’t find “a credible and firm technical limit to the amount of wind energy that can be accommodated by electricity grids”. In fact, not one of more than 200 international studies, nor official studies for the eastern and western U.S. regions, nor the International Energy Agency, has found major costs or technical barriers to reliably integrating up to 30% variable renewable supplies into the grid, and in some studies much more. – Reinventing Fire

Solar power tends to be complementary to wind. On daily to weekly timescales, high pressure areas tend to bring clear skies and low surface winds, whereas low pressure areas tend to be windier and cloudier. On seasonal timescales, solar energy peaks in summer, whereas in many areas wind energy is lower in summer and higher in winter. Thus the intermittencies of wind and solar power tend to cancel each other somewhat. In 2007 the Institute for Solar Energy Supply Technology of the University of Kassel pilot-tested a combined power plant linking solar, wind, biogas and hydrostorage to provide load-following power around the clock and throughout the year, entirely from renewable source

Energy storage

Typically, conventional hydroelectricity complements wind power very well. When the wind is blowing strongly, nearby hydroelectric plants can temporarily hold back their water. When the wind drops they can, provided they have the generation capacity, rapidly increase production to compensate. This gives a very even overall power supply and virtually no loss of energy and uses no more water.

Alternatively, where a suitable head of water is not available, pumped-storage hydroelectricity or other forms of grid energy storage such as compressed air energy storage and thermal energy storage can store energy developed by high-wind periods and release it when needed. The type of storage needed depends on the wind penetration level – low penetration requires daily storage, and high penetration requires both short and long term storage – as long as a month or more. Stored energy increases the economic value of wind energy since it can be shifted to displace higher cost generation during peak demand periods. The potential revenue from this arbitrage can offset the cost and losses of storage; the cost of storage may add 25% to the cost of any wind energy stored but it is not envisaged that this would apply to a large proportion of wind energy generated. For example, in the UK, the 1.7 GW Dinorwig pumped-storage plant evens out electrical demand peaks, and allows base-load suppliers to run their plants more efficiently. Although pumped-storage power systems are only about 75% efficient, and have high installation costs, their low running costs and ability to reduce the required electrical base-load can save both fuel and total electrical generation costs.

In particular geographic regions, peak wind speeds may not coincide with peak demand for electrical power. In the U.S. states of California and Texas, for example, hot days in summer may have low wind speed and high electrical demand due to the use of air conditioning. Some utilities subsidize the purchase of geothermal heat pumps by their customers, to reduce electricity demand during the summer months by making air conditioning up to 70% more efficient;widespread adoption of this technology would better match electricity demand to wind availability in areas with hot summers and low summer winds. A possible future option may be to interconnect widely dispersed geographic areas with an HVDC “super grid”. In the U.S. it is estimated that to upgrade the transmission system to take in planned or potential renewables would cost at least $60 billion.

Germany has an installed capacity of wind and solar that can exceed daily demand, and has been exporting peak power to neighboring countries, with exports which amounted to some 14.7 billion kilowatt hours in 2012. A more practical solution is the installation of thirty days storage capacity able to supply 80% of demand, which will become necessary when most of Europe’s energy is obtained from wind power and solar power. Just as the EU requires member countries to maintain 90 days strategic reserves of oil it can be expected that countries will provide electricity storage, instead of expecting to use their neighbors for net metering.

Wind power hardly ever suffers major technical failures, since failures of individual wind turbines have hardly any effect on overall power, so that the distributed wind power is highly reliable and predictable, whereas conventional generators, while far less variable, can suffer major unpredictable outages.

Cost trends

Wind power is capital intensive, but has no fuel costs. The price of wind power is therefore much more stable than the volatile prices of fossil fuel sources. The marginal cost of wind energy once a plant is constructed is usually less than 1-cent per kW·h. This cost has additionally reduced as wind turbine technology has improved. There are now longer and lighter wind turbine blades, improvements in turbine performance and increased power generation efficiency. Also, wind project capital and maintenance costs have continued to decline.

The estimated average cost per unit incorporates the cost of construction of the turbine and transmission facilities, borrowed funds, return to investors (including cost of risk), estimated annual production, and other components, averaged over the projected useful life of the equipment, which may be in excess of twenty years. Energy cost estimates are highly dependent on these assumptions so published cost figures can differ substantially. In 2004, wind energy cost a fifth of what it did in the 1980s, and some expected that downward trend to continue as larger multi-megawatt turbines were mass-produced. As of 2012 capital costs for wind turbines are substantially lower than 2008–2010 but are still above 2002 levels. A 2011 report from the American Wind Energy Association stated, “Wind’s costs have dropped over the past two years, in the range of 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour recently…. about 2 cents cheaper than coal-fired electricity, and more projects were financed through debt arrangements than tax equity structures last year…. winning more mainstream acceptance from Wall Street’s banks…. Equipment makers can also deliver products in the same year that they are ordered instead of waiting up to three years as was the case in previous cycles…. 5,600 MW of new installed capacity is under construction in the United States, more than double the number at this point in 2010. Thirty-five percent of all new power generation built in the United States since 2005 has come from wind, more than new gas and coal plants combined, as power providers are increasingly enticed to wind as a convenient hedge against unpredictable commodity price moves.”

A British Wind Energy Association report gives an average generation cost of onshore wind power of around 3.2 pence (between US 5 and 6 cents) per kW·h (2005). Cost per unit of energy produced was estimated in 2006 to be comparable to the cost of new generating capacity in the US for coal and natural gas: wind cost was estimated at $55.80 per MW·h, coal at $53.10/MW·h and natural gas at $52.50. Similar comparative results with natural gas were obtained in a governmental study in the UK in 2011.[114] The presence of wind energy, even when subsidised, can reduce costs for consumers (€5 billion/yr in Germany) by reducing the marginal price, by minimising the use of expensive peaking power plants.

In February 2013 Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported that the cost of generating electricity from new wind farms is cheaper than new coal or new baseload gas plants. When including the current Australian federal government carbon pricing scheme their modeling gives costs (in Australian dollars) of $80/MWh for new wind farms, $143/MWh for new coal plants and $116/MWh for new baseload gas plants. The modeling also shows that “even without a carbon price (the most efficient way to reduce economy-wide emissions) wind energy is 14% cheaper than new coal and 18% cheaper than new gas.” Part of the higher costs for new coal plants is due to high financial lending costs because of “the reputational damage of emissions-intensive investments”. The expense of gas fired plants is partly due to “export market” effects on local prices. Costs of production from coal fired plants built in “the 1970s and 1980s” are cheaper than renewable energy sources because of depreciation.

The wind industry in the USA is now able to produce more power at lower cost by using taller wind turbines with longer blades, capturing the faster winds at higher elevations. This has opened up new opportunities and in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, the price of power from wind turbines built 300 feet to 400 feet above the ground can now compete with conventional fossil fuels like coal. Prices have fallen to about 4 cents per kilowatt-hour in some cases and utilities have been increasing the amount of wind energy in their portfolio, saying it is their cheapest option

Incentives and community benefits

The U.S. wind industry generates tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of economic activity. Wind projects provide local taxes, or payments in lieu of taxes and strengthen the economy of rural communities by providing income to farmers with wind turbines on their land. Wind energy in many jurisdictions receives financial or other support to encourage its development. Wind energy benefits from subsidies in many jurisdictions, either to increase its attractiveness, or to compensate for subsidies received by other forms of production which have significant negative externalities.

In the US, wind power receives a production tax credit (PTC) of 1.5¢/kWh in 1993 dollars for each kW·h produced, for the first ten years; at 2.2 cents per kW·h in 2012, the credit was renewed on 2 January 2012, to include construction begun in 2013. A 30% tax credit can be applied instead of receiving the PTC. Another tax benefit is accelerated depreciation. Many American states also provide incentives, such as exemption from property tax, mandated purchases, and additional markets for “green credits”. The Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 contains extensions of credits for wind, including microturbines. Countries such as Canada and Germany also provide incentives for wind turbine construction, such as tax credits or minimum purchase prices for wind generation, with assured grid access (sometimes referred to as feed-in tariffs). These feed-in tariffs are typically set well above average electricity prices. In December 2013 U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander and other Republican senators argued that the “wind energy production tax credit should be allowed to expire at the end of 2013.”[128]

Secondary market forces also provide incentives for businesses to use wind-generated power, even if there is a premium price for the electricity. For example, socially responsible manufacturers pay utility companies a premium that goes to subsidize and build new wind power infrastructure. Companies use wind-generated power, and in return they can claim that they are undertaking strong “green” efforts. In the US the organization Green-e monitors business compliance with these renewable energy credits

Small-scale wind power

Small-scale wind power is the name given to wind generation systems with the capacity to produce up to 50 kW of electrical power. Isolated communities, that may otherwise rely on diesel generators, may use wind turbines as an alternative. Individuals may purchase these systems to reduce or eliminate their dependence on grid electricity for economic reasons, or to reduce their carbon footprint. Wind turbines have been used for household electricity generation in conjunction with battery storage over many decades in remote areas.

Recent examples of small-scale wind power projects in an urban setting can be found in New York City, where, since 2009, a number of building projects have capped their roofs with Gorlov-type helical wind turbines. Although the energy they generate is small compared to the buildings’ overall consumption, they help to reinforce the building’s ‘green’ credentials in ways that “showing people your high-tech boiler” can not, with some of the projects also receiving the direct support of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Grid-connected domestic wind turbines may use grid energy storage, thus replacing purchased electricity with locally produced power when available. The surplus power produced by domestic microgenerators can, in some jurisdictions, be fed into the network and sold to the utility company, producing a retail credit for the microgenerators’ owners to offset their energy costs.

Off-grid system users can either adapt to intermittent power or use batteries, photovoltaic or diesel systems to supplement the wind turbine. Equipment such as parking meters, traffic warning signs, street lighting, or wireless Internet gateways may be powered by a small wind turbine, possibly combined with a photovoltaic system, that charges a small battery replacing the need for a connection to the power grid.

A Carbon Trust study into the potential of small-scale wind energy in the UK, published in 2010, found that small wind turbines could provide up to 1.5 terawatt hours (TW·h) per year of electricity (0.4% of total UK electricity consumption), saving 0.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (Mt CO2) emission savings. This is based on the assumption that 10% of households would install turbines at costs competitive with grid electricity, around 12 pence (US 19 cents) a kW·h. A report prepared for the UK’s government-sponsored Energy Saving Trust in 2006, found that home power generators of various kinds could provide 30 to 40% of the country’s electricity needs by 2050.

Distributed generation from renewable resources is increasing as a consequence of the increased awareness of climate change. The electronic interfaces required to connect renewable generation units with the utility system can include additional functions, such as the active filtering to enhance the power quality


Central government

Part of the Seto Hill Windfarm in Japan, one of several windfarms that continued generating without interruption after the severe 2011 earthquake and tsunami followed by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Nuclear power and fossil fuels are subsidized by many governments, and wind power and other forms of renewable energy are also often subsidized. For example a 2009 study by the Environmental Law Institute assessed the size and structure of U.S. energy subsidies over the 2002–2008 period. The study estimated that subsidies to fossil-fuel based sources amounted to approximately $72 billion over this period and subsidies to renewable fuel sources totalled $29 billion. In the United States, the federal government has paid US$74 billion for energy subsidies to support R&D for nuclear power ($50 billion) and fossil fuels ($24 billion) from 1973 to 2003. During this same time frame, renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency received a total of US$26 billion. It has been suggested that a subsidy shift would help to level the playing field and support growing energy sectors, namely solar power, wind power, and biofuels. History shows that no energy sector was developed without subsidies.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) (2011), energy subsidies artificially lower the price of energy paid by consumers, raise the price received by producers or lower the cost of production. “Fossil fuels subsidies costs generally outweigh the benefits. Subsidies to renewables and low-carbon energy technologies can bring long-term economic and environmental benefits”. In November 2011, an IEA report entitled Deploying Renewables 2011 said “subsidies in green energy technologies that were not yet competitive are justified in order to give an incentive to investing into technologies with clear environmental and energy security benefits”. The IEA’s report disagreed with claims that renewable energy technologies are only viable through costly subsidies and not able to produce energy reliably to meet demand.

In the U.S., the wind power industry has recently increased its lobbying efforts considerably, spending about $5 million in 2009 after years of relative obscurity in Washington. By comparison, the U.S. nuclear industry alone spent over $650 million on its lobbying efforts and campaign contributions during a single ten-year period ending in 2008.

Following the 2011 Japanese nuclear accidents, Germany’s federal government is working on a new plan for increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy commercialization, with a particular focus on offshore wind farms. Under the plan, large wind turbines will be erected far away from the coastlines, where the wind blows more consistently than it does on land, and where the enormous turbines won’t bother the inhabitants. The plan aims to decrease Germany’s dependence on energy derived from coal and nuclear power plants

Turbine design

Wind turbine design is the process of defining the form and specifications of a wind turbine to extract energy from the wind.[1] A wind turbine installation consists of the necessary systems needed to capture the wind’s energy, point the turbine into the wind, convert mechanical rotation into electrical power, and other systems to start, stop, and control the turbine.

This article covers the design of horizontal axis wind turbines (HAWT) since the majority of commercial turbines use this design.

In 1919 the physicist Albert Betz showed that for a hypothetical ideal wind-energy extraction machine, the fundamental laws of conservation of mass and energy allowed no more than 16/27 (59.3%) of the kinetic energy of the wind to be captured. This Betz’ law limit can be approached by modern turbine designs which may reach 70 to 80% of this theoretical limit.

In addition to aerodynamic design of the blades, design of a complete wind power system must also address design of the hub, controls, generator, supporting structure and foundation. Further design questions arise when integrating wind turbines into electrical power grids.



Wind rotor profile

The aerodynamics of a horizontal-axis wind turbine are not straightforward. The air flow at the blades is not the same as the airflow far away from the turbine. The very nature of the way in which energy is extracted from the air also causes air to be deflected by the turbine. In addition the aerodynamics of a wind turbine at the rotor surface exhibit phenomena that are rarely seen in other aerodynamic fields.


In 1919 the physicist Albert Betz showed that for a hypothetical ideal wind-energy extraction machine, the fundamental laws of conservation of mass and energy allowed no more than 16/27 (59.3%) of the kinetic energy of the wind to be captured. This Betz’ law limit can be approached by modern turbine designs which may reach 70 to 80% of this theoretical limit.

Power control

The speed at which a wind turbine rotates must be controlled for efficient power generation and to keep the turbine components within designed speed and torque limits. The centrifugal force on the spinning blades increases as the square of the rotation speed, which makes this structure sensitive to overspeed. Because the power of the wind increases as the cube of the wind speed, turbines have to be built to survive much higher wind loads (such as gusts of wind) than those from which they can practically generate power. Wind turbines have ways of reducing torque in high winds.

A wind turbine is designed to produce power over a range of wind speeds. All wind turbines are designed for a maximum wind speed, called the survival speed, above which they will be damaged. The survival speed of commercial wind turbines is in the range of 40 m/s (144 km/h, 89 MPH) to 72 m/s (259 km/h, 161 MPH). The most common survival speed is 60 m/s (216 km/h, 134 MPH).

If the rated wind speed is exceeded the power has to be limited. There are various ways to achieve this.

A control system involves three basic elements: sensors to measure process variables, actuators to manipulate energy capture and component loading, and control algorithms to coordinate the actuators based on information gathered by the sensors.


Stalling works by increasing the angle at which the relative wind strikes the blades (angle of attack), and it reduces the induced drag (drag associated with lift). Stalling is simple because it can be made to happen passively (it increases automatically when the winds speed up), but it increases the cross-section of the blade face-on to the wind, and thus the ordinary drag. A fully stalled turbine blade, when stopped, has the flat side of the blade facing directly into the wind.

A fixed-speed HAWT inherently increases its angle of attack at higher wind speed as the blades speed up. A natural strategy, then, is to allow the blade to stall when the wind speed increases. This technique was successfully used on many early HAWTs. However, on some of these blade sets, it was observed that the degree of blade pitch tended to increase audible noise levels.

Vortex generators may be used to control the lift characteristics of the blade. The VGs are placed on the airfoil to enhance the lift if they are placed on the lower (flatter) surface or limit the maximum lift if placed on the upper (higher camber) surface.

Pitch control

Furling works by decreasing the angle of attack, which reduces the induced drag from the lift of the rotor, as well as the cross-section. One major problem in designing wind turbines is getting the blades to stall or furl quickly enough should a gust of wind cause sudden acceleration. A fully furled turbine blade, when stopped, has the edge of the blade facing into the wind.

Loads can be reduced by making a structural system softer or more flexible.[2] This could be accomplished with downwind rotors or with curved blades that twist naturally to reduce angle of attack at higher wind speeds. These systems will be nonlinear and will couple the structure to the flow field – thus, design tools must evolve to model these nonlinearities.

Standard modern turbines all furl the blades in high winds. Since furling requires acting against the torque on the blade, it requires some form of pitch angle control, which is achieved with a slewing drive. This drive precisely angles the blade while withstanding high torque loads. In addition, many turbines use hydraulic systems. These systems are usually spring-loaded, so that if hydraulic power fails, the blades automatically furl. Other turbines use an electric servomotor for every rotor blade. They have a small battery-reserve in case of an electric-grid breakdown. Small wind turbines (under 50 kW) with variable-pitching generally use systems operated by centrifugal force, either by flyweights or geometric design, and employ no electric or hydraulic controls.

Fundamental gaps exist in pitch control, limiting the reduction of energy costs, according to a report from a coalition of researchers from universities, industry, and government, supported by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. Load reduction is currently focused on full-span blade pitch control, since individual pitch motors are the actuators currently available on commercial turbines. Significant load mitigation has been demonstrated in simulations for blades, tower, and drive train. However, there is still research needed, the methods for realization of full-span blade pitch control need to be developed in order to increase energy capture and mitigate fatigue loads.

A control technique applied to the pitch angle is done by comparing the current active power of the engine with the value of active power at the rated engine speed (active power reference, Ps reference). Control of the pitch angle in this case is done with a PI controller controls. However, in order to have a realistic response to the control system of the pitch angle, the actuator uses the time constant Tservo, an integrator and limiters so as the pitch angle to be from 0° to 30° with a rate of change (± 10° per sec).

Pitch Controller

From the figure at the right, the reference pitch angle is compared with the actual pitch angle b and then the error is corrected by the actuator. The reference pitch angle, which comes from the PI controller, goes through a limiter. Restrictions on limits are very important to maintain the pitch angle in real terms. Limiting the rate of change is very important especially during faults in the network. The importance is due to the fact that the controller decides how quickly it can reduce the aerodynamic energy to avoid acceleration during errors.

Other controls

Generator torque

Modern large wind turbines are variable-speed machines. When the wind speed is below rated, generator torque is used to control the rotor speed in order to capture as much power as possible. The most power is captured when the tip speed ratio is held constant at its optimum value (typically 6 or 7). This means that as wind speed increases, rotor speed should increase proportionally. The difference between the aerodynamic torque captured by the blades and the applied generator torque controls the rotor speed. If the generator torque is lower, the rotor accelerates, and if the generator torque is higher, the rotor slows down. Below rated wind speed, the generator torque control is active while the blade pitch is typically held at the constant angle that captures the most power, fairly flat to the wind. Above rated wind speed, the generator torque is typically held constant while the blade pitch is active.

One technique to control a permanent magnet synchronous motor is Field Oriented Control. Field Oriented Control is a closed loop strategy composed of two current controllers (an inner loop and outer loop cascade design) necessary for controlling the torque, and one speed controller.

Constant torque angle control

In this control strategy the d axis current is kept zero, while the vector current is align with the q axis in order to maintain the torque angle equal with 90o. This is one of the most used control strategy because of the simplicity, by controlling only the Iqs current. So, now the electromagnetic torque equation of the permanent magnet synchronous generator is simply a linear equation depend on the Iqs current only.

So, the electromagnetic torque for Ids = 0 (we can achieve that with the d-axis controller) is now:

Te= 3/2 p (λpm Iqs + (Lds-Lqs) Ids Iqs )= 3/2 p λpm Iqs

Machine Side Controller Design

So, the complete system of the machine side converter and the cascaded PI controller loops is given by the figure in the right. In that we have the control inputs, which are the duty rations mds and mqs, of the PWM-regulated converter. Also, we can see the control scheme for the wind turbine in the machine side and simultaneously how we keep the Ids zero (the electromagnetic torque equation is linear).


Percent output vs. wind angle

Modern large wind turbines are typically actively controlled to face the wind direction measured by a wind vane situated on the back of the nacelle. By minimizing the yaw angle (the misalignment between wind and turbine pointing direction), the power output is maximized and non-symmetrical loads minimized. However, since the wind direction varies quickly the turbine will not strictly follow the direction and will have a small yaw angle on average. The power output losses can simply be approximated to fall with (cos(yaw angle))3. Particularly at low-to-medium wind speeds, yawing can make a significant reduction in turbine output, with wind direction variations of ±30° being quite common and long response times of the turbines to changes in wind direction. At high wind speeds, the wind direction is less variable.

Electrical braking

2kW Dynamic braking resistor for small wind turbine.

Braking of a small wind turbine can be done by dumping energy from the generator into a resistor bank, converting the kinetic energy of the turbine rotation into heat. This method is useful if the kinetic load on the generator is suddenly reduced or is too small to keep the turbine speed within its allowed limit.

Cyclically braking causes the blades to slow down, which increases the stalling effect, reducing the efficiency of the blades. This way, the turbine’s rotation can be kept at a safe speed in faster winds while maintaining (nominal) power output. This method is usually not applied on large grid-connected wind turbines.

Mechanical braking

A mechanical drum brake or disk brake is used to stop turbine in emergency situation such as extreme gust events or over speed. This brake is a secondary means to hold the turbine at rest for maintenance, with a rotor lock system as primary means. Such brakes are usually applied only after blade furling and electromagnetic braking have reduced the turbine speed generally 1 or 2 rotor RPM, as the mechanical brakes can create a fire inside the nacelle if used to stop the turbine from full speed. The load on the turbine increases if the brake is applied at rated RPM. Mechanical brakes are driven by hydraulic systems and are connected to main control box.

Turbine size

There are different size classes of wind turbines. The smallest having power production less than 10 kW are used in homes, farms and remote applications whereas intermediate wind turbines (10-250 kW ) are useful for village power, hybrid systems and distributed power. The largest wind turbines (660 kW – 2+MW) are used in central station wind farms, distributed power and community wind.

For a given survivable wind speed, the mass of a turbine is approximately proportional to the cube of its blade-length. Wind power intercepted by the turbine is proportional to the square of its blade-length. The maximum blade-length of a turbine is limited by both the strength and stiffness of its material.

Labor and maintenance costs increase only gradually with increasing turbine size, so to minimize costs, wind farm turbines are basically limited by the strength of materials, and siting requirements.

Typical modern wind turbines have diameters of 40 to 90 metres (130 to 300 ft) and are rated between 500 kW and 2 MW. As of 2014 the most powerful turbine, the Vestas V-164, is rated at 8 MW and has a rotor diameter of 164m.


Gearbox, rotor shaft and brake assembly

Commercial size generators have a rotor carrying a field winding so that a rotating magnetic field is produced inside a set of windings called the stator. While the rotating field winding consumes a fraction of a percent of the generator output, adjustment of the field current allows good control over the generator output voltage.

For large, commercial size horizontal-axis wind turbines, the electrical generator is mounted in a nacelle at the top of a tower, behind the hub of the turbine rotor. Typically wind turbines generate electricity through asynchronous machines that are directly connected with the electricity grid. Usually the rotational speed of the wind turbine is slower than the equivalent rotation speed of the electrical network—typical rotation speeds for wind generators are 5–20 rpm while a directly connected machine will have an electrical speed between 750-3600 rpm. Therefore, a gearbox is inserted between the rotor hub and the generator. This also reduces the generator cost and weight.

In conventional wind turbines, the blades spin a shaft that is connected through a gearbox to the generator. The gearbox converts the turning speed of the blades 15 to 20 rotations per minute for a large, one-megawatt turbine into the faster 1,800 rotations per minute that the generator needs to generate electricity. Analysts from GlobalData estimate that gearbox market grows from $3.2bn in 2006 to $6.9bn in 2011, and to $8.1bn by 2020. Market leaders were Winergy in 2011. The use of magnetic gearboxes has also been explored as a way of reducing wind turbine maintenance costs.

Older style wind generators rotate at a constant speed, to match power line frequency, which allowed the use of less costly induction generators[citation needed]. Newer wind turbines often turn at whatever speed generates electricity most efficiently. The varying output frequency and voltage can be matched to the fixed values of the grid using multiple technologies such as doubly fed induction generators or full-effect converters where the variable frequency current produced is converted to DC and then back to AC. Although such alternatives require costly equipment and cause power loss, the turbine can capture a significantly larger fraction of the wind energy. In some cases, especially when turbines are sited offshore, the DC energy will be transmitted from the turbine to a central (onshore) inverter for connection to the grid.

Gearless wind turbines (also called direct drive) get rid of the gearbox completely. Instead, the rotor shaft is attached directly to the generator, which spins at the same speed as the blades. Enercon and EWT (Formerly known as Lagerwey) have produced gearless wind turbines with separately electrically excited generators for many years,[11] and Siemens produces a gearless “inverted generator” 3 MW model while developing a 6 MW model. To make up for a direct drive generator’s slower spinning rate, the diameter of the generator’s rotor is increased hence containing more magnets which lets it create a lot of power when turning slowly.

Gearless wind turbines are often heavier than gear based wind turbines. A study by the EU called “Reliawind”based on the largest sample size of turbines, has shown that the reliability of gearboxes is not the main problem in wind turbines. The reliability of direct drive turbines offshore is still not known, since the sample size is so small.

Experts from Technical University of Denmark estimate that a geared generator with permanent magnets may use 25 kg/MW of the rare earth element Neodymium, while a gearless may use 250 kg/MW.

In December 2011, the US Department of Energy published a report stating critical shortage of rare earth elements such as neodymium used in large quantities for permanent magnets in gearless wind turbines. China produces more than 95% of rare earth elements, while Hitachi holds more than 600 patents covering Neodymium magnets. Direct-drive turbines require 600 kg of PM material per megawatt, which translates to several hundred kilograms of rare earth content per megawatt, as neodymium content is estimated to be 31% of magnet weight. Hybrid drivetrains (intermediate between direct drive and traditional geared) use significantly less rare earth materials. While PM wind turbines only account for about 5% of the market outside of China, their market share inside of China is estimated at 25% or higher. Demand for neodymium in wind turbines is estimated to be 1/5 of that in electric vehicles.


Unpainted tip of a blade

The ratio between the speed of the blade tips and the speed of the wind is called tip speed ratio. High efficiency 3-blade-turbines have tip speed/wind speed ratios of 6 to 7. Modern wind turbines are designed to spin at varying speeds (a consequence of their generator design, see above). Use of aluminum and composite materials in their blades has contributed to low rotational inertia, which means that newer wind turbines can accelerate quickly if the winds pick up, keeping the tip speed ratio more nearly constant. Operating closer to their optimal tip speed ratio during energetic gusts of wind allows wind turbines to improve energy capture from sudden gusts that are typical in urban settings.

In contrast, older style wind turbines were designed with heavier steel blades, which have higher inertia, and rotated at speeds governed by the AC frequency of the power lines. The high inertia buffered the changes in rotation speed and thus made power output more stable.

It is generally understood that noise increases with higher blade tip speeds. To increase tip speed without increasing noise would allow reduction the torque into the gearbox and generator and reduce overall structural loads, thereby reducing cost. The reduction of noise is linked to the detailed aerodynamics of the blades, especially factors that reduce abrupt stalling. The inability to predict stall restricts the development of aggressive aerodynamic concepts.

A blade can have a lift-to-drag ratio of 120,compared to 70 for a sailplane and 15 for an airliner.

The hub

A Wind turbine hub being installed

In simple designs, the blades are directly bolted to the hub and hence are stalled. In other more sophisticated designs, they are bolted to the pitch mechanism, which adjusts their angle of attack according to the wind speed to control their rotational speed. The pitch mechanism is itself bolted to the hub. The hub is fixed to the rotor shaft which drives the generator directly or through a gearbox.

Blade count

The 98 meter diameter, two-bladed NASA/DOE Mod-5B wind turbine was the largest operating wind turbine in the world in the early 1990s

The number of blades is selected for aerodynamic efficiency, component costs, and system reliability. Noise emissions are affected by the location of the blades upwind or downwind of the tower and the speed of the rotor. Given that the noise emissions from the blades’ trailing edges and tips vary by the 5th power of blade speed, a small increase in tip speed can make a large difference.

Wind turbines developed over the last 50 years have almost universally used either two or three blades. However, there are patents that present designs with additional blades, such as Chan Shin’s Multi-unit rotor blade system integrated wind turbine. Aerodynamic efficiency increases with number of blades but with diminishing return. Increasing the number of blades from one to two yields a six percent increase in aerodynamic efficiency, whereas increasing the blade count from two to three yields only an additional three percent in efficiency. Further increasing the blade count yields minimal improvements in aerodynamic efficiency and sacrifices too much in blade stiffness as the blades become thinner.

Theoretically, an infinite number of blades of zero width is the most efficient, operating at a high value of the tip speed ratio. But other considerations lead to a compromise of only a few blades.

Component costs that are affected by blade count are primarily for materials and manufacturing of the turbine rotor and drive train. Generally, the fewer the number of blades, the lower the material and manufacturing costs will be. In addition, the fewer the number of blades, the higher the rotational speed can be. This is because blade stiffness requirements to avoid interference with the tower limit how thin the blades can be manufactured, but only for upwind machines; deflection of blades in a downwind machine results in increased tower clearance. Fewer blades with higher rotational speeds reduce peak torques in the drive train, resulting in lower gearbox and generator costs.

System reliability is affected by blade count primarily through the dynamic loading of the rotor into the drive train and tower systems. While aligning the wind turbine to changes in wind direction (yawing), each blade experiences a cyclic load at its root end depending on blade position. This is true of one, two, three blades or more. However, these cyclic loads when combined together at the drive train shaft are symmetrically balanced for three blades, yielding smoother operation during turbine yaw. Turbines with one or two blades can use a pivoting teetered hub to also nearly eliminate the cyclic loads into the drive shaft and system during yawing. A Chinese 3.6 MW two-blade is being tested in Denmark.[23] Mingyang won a bid for 87 MW (29 * 3 MW) two-bladed offshore wind turbines near Zhuhai in 2013.

Finally, aesthetics can be considered a factor in that some people find that the three-bladed rotor is more pleasing to look at than a one- or two-bladed rotor.

Blade materials

Wood and canvas sails were used on early windmills due to their low price, availability, and ease of manufacture. Smaller blades can be made from light metals such as aluminium. These materials, however, require frequent maintenance. Wood and canvas construction limits the airfoil shape to a flat plate, which has a relatively high ratio of drag to force captured (low aerodynamic efficiency) compared to solid airfoils. Construction of solid airfoil designs requires inflexible materials such as metals or composites. Some blades also have incorporated lightning conductors.

New wind turbine designs push power generation from the single megawatt range to upwards of 10 megawatts using larger and larger blades. A larger area effectively increases the tip-speed ratio of a turbine at a given wind speed, thus increasing its energy extraction. Computer-aided engineering software such as HyperSizer (originally developed for spacecraft design) can be used to improve blade design.

As of 2013, production wind turbine blades are as large as 120 meters in diameter with prototypes reaching 160 meters. In 2001, an estimated 50 million kilograms of fibreglass laminate were used in wind turbine blades.

An important goal of larger blade systems is to control blade weight. Since blade mass scales as the cube of the turbine radius, loading due to gravity constrains systems with larger blades. Gravitational loads include axial and tensile/ compressive loads (top/bottom of rotation) as well as bending (lateral positions). The magnitude of these loads fluctuates cyclically and the edgewise moments (see below) are reversed every 180° of rotation. Typical rotor speeds and design life are ~10rpm and 20 years, respectively, with the number of lifetime revolutions on the order of 10^8. Considering wind, it is expected that turbine blades go through ~10^9 loading cycles. Wind is another source of rotor blade loading. Lift causes bending in the flapwise direction (out of rotor plane) while air flow around the blade cause edgewise bending (in the rotor plane). Flapwise bending involves tension on the pressure (upwind) side and compression on the suction (downwind) side. Edgewise bending involves tension on the leading edge and compression on the trailing edge.

Wind loads are cyclical because of natural variability in wind speed and wind shear (higher speeds at top of rotation).

Failure in ultimate loading of wind-turbine rotor blades exposed to wind and gravity loading is a failure mode that needs to be considered when the rotor blades are designed. The wind speed that causes bending of the rotor blades exhibits a natural variability, and so does the stress response in the rotor blades. Also, the resistance of the rotor blades, in terms of their tensile strengths, exhibits a natural variability.

Manufacturing blades in the 40 to 50 metre range involves proven fibreglass composite fabrication techniques. Manufactures such as Nordex and GE Wind use an infusion process. Other manufacturers use variations on this technique, some including carbon and wood with fibreglass in an epoxy matrix. Othere options include prepreg fibreglass and vacuum-assisted resin transfer molding. Each of these options use a glass-fibre reinforced polymer composite constructed with differing complexity. Perhaps the largest issue with more simplistic, open-mould, wet systems are the emissions associated with the volatile organics released. Preimpregnated materials and resin infusion techniques avoid the release of volatiles by containing all reaction gases. However, these contained processes have their own challenges, namely the production of thick laminates necessary for structural components becomes more difficult. As the preform resin permeability dictates the maximum laminate thickness, bleeding is required to eliminate voids and insure proper resin distribution. One solution to resin distribution a partially preimpregnated fibreglass. During evacuation, the dry fabric provides a path for airflow and, once heat and pressure are applied, resin may flow into the dry region resulting in a thoroughly impregnated laminate structure.

Epoxy-based composites have environmental, production, and cost advantages over other resin systems. Epoxies also allow shorter cure cycles, increased durability, and improved surface finish. Prepreg operations further reduce processing time over wet lay-up systems. As turbine blades pass 60 metres, infusion techniques become more prevalent; the traditional resin transfer moulding injection time is too long as compared to the resin set-up time, limiting laminate thickness. Injection forces resin through a thicker ply stack, thus depositing the resin where in the laminate structure before gelatin occurs. Specialized epoxy resins have been developed to customize lifetimes and viscosity.

Carbon fibre-reinforced load-bearing spars can reduce weight and increase stiffness. Using carbon fibres in 60 metre turbine blades is estimated to reduce total blade mass by 38% and decrease cost by 14% compared to 100% fibreglass. Carbon fibres have the added benefit of reducing the thickness of fiberglass laminate sections, further addressing the problems associated with resin wetting of thick lay-up sections. Wind turbines may also benefit from the general trend of increasing use and decreasing cost of carbon fibre materials.


Tower production

Typically, 2 types of towers exist: floating towers and land-based towers.

Tower height

Wind velocities increase at higher altitudes due to surface aerodynamic drag (by land or water surfaces) and the viscosity of the air. The variation in velocity with altitude, called wind shear, is most dramatic near the surface.

Typically, in daytime the variation follows the wind profile power law, which predicts that wind speed rises proportionally to the seventh root of altitude. Doubling the altitude of a turbine, then, increases the expected wind speeds by 10% and the expected power by 34%. To avoid buckling, doubling the tower height generally requires doubling the diameter of the tower as well, increasing the amount of material by a factor of at least four.

At night time, or when the atmosphere becomes stable, wind speed close to the ground usually subsides whereas at turbine hub altitude it does not decrease that much or may even increase. As a result the wind speed is higher and a turbine will produce more power than expected from the 1/7 power law: doubling the altitude may increase wind speed by 20% to 60%. A stable atmosphere is caused by radiative cooling of the surface and is common in a temperate climate: it usually occurs when there is a (partly) clear sky at night. When the (high altitude) wind is strong (a 10-meter wind speed higher than approximately 6 to 7 m/s the stable atmosphere is disrupted because of friction turbulence and the atmosphere will turn neutral. A daytime atmosphere is either neutral (no net radiation; usually with strong winds and heavy clouding) or unstable (rising air because of ground heating—by the sun). Here again the 1/7 power law applies or is at least a good approximation of the wind profile. Indiana had been rated as having a wind capacity of 30,000 MW, but by raising the expected turbine height from 50 m to 70 m, the wind capacity estimate was raised to 40,000 MW, and could be double that at 100 m.

For HAWTs, tower heights approximately two to three times the blade length have been found to balance material costs of the tower against better utilisation of the more expensive active components.

Sections of a wind turbine tower, transported in a bulk carrier ship

Road size restrictions makes transportation of towers with a diameter of more than 4.3 m difficult. Swedish analyses show that it is important to have the bottom wing tip at least 30 m above the tree tops, but a taller tower requires a larger tower diameter. A 3 MW turbine may increase output from 5,000 MWh to 7,700 MWh per year by going from 80 to 125 meter tower height. A tower profile made of connected shells rather than cylinders can have a larger diameter and still be transportable. A 100 m prototype tower with TC bolted 18 mm ‘plank’ shells has been erected at the wind turbine test center Høvsøre in Denmark and certified by Det Norske Veritas, with a Siemens nacelle. Shell elements can be shipped in standard 12 m shipping containers, and 2½ towers per week are produced this way.

Wood is being investigated as a material for wind turbine towers, and a 100 metre tall tower supporting a 1.5 MW turbine has been erected in Germany. The wood tower shares the same transportation benefits of the segmented steel shell tower, but without the steel resource consumption.

Connection to the electric grid

All grid-connected wind turbines, from the first one in 1939 until the development of variable-speed grid-connected wind turbines in the 1970s, were fixed-speed wind turbines. As of 2003, nearly all grid-connected wind turbines operate at exactly constant speed (synchronous generators) or within a few percent of constant speed (induction generators). As of 2011, many operational wind turbines used fixed speed induction generators (FSIG). As of 2011, most new grid-connected wind turbines are variable speed wind turbines—they are in some variable speed configuration.

Early wind turbine control systems were designed for peak power extraction, also called maximum power point tracking—they attempt to pull the maximum possible electrical power from a given wind turbine under the current wind conditions. More recent wind turbine control systems deliberately pull less electrical power than they possibly could in most circumstances, in order to provide other benefits, which include:

spinning reserves to quickly produce more power when needed—such as when some other generator suddenly drops from the grid—up to the max power supported by the current wind conditions.

Variable-speed wind turbines can (very briefly) produce more power than the current wind conditions can support, by storing some wind energy as kinetic energy (accelerating during brief gusts of faster wind) and later converting that kinetic energy to electric energy (decelerating, either when more power is needed elsewhere, or during short lulls in the wind, or both).

damping (electrical) subsynchronous resonances in the grid

damping (mechanical) resonances in the tower

The generator in a wind turbine produces alternating current (AC) electricity. Some turbines drive an AC/AC converter—which converts the AC to direct current (DC) with a rectifier and then back to AC with an inverter—in order to match the frequency and phase of the grid. However, the most common method in large modern turbines is to instead use a doubly fed induction generator directly connected to the electricity grid.

A useful technique to connect a permanent magnet synchronous generator to the grid is by using a back-to-back converter. Also, we can have control schemes so as to achieve unity power factor in the connection to the grid. In that way the wind turbine will not consume reactive power, which is the most common problem with wind turbines that use induction machines. This leads to a more stable power system. Moreover, with different control schemes a wind turbine with a permanent magnet synchronous generator can provide or consume reactive power. So, it can work as a dynamic capacitor/inductor bank so as to help with the power systems’ stability.

Grid Side Controller Design

Below we show the control scheme so as to achieve unity power factor :

Reactive power regulation consists of one PI controller in order to achieve operation with unity power factor (i.e. Qgrid = 0 ). It is obvious that IdN has to be regulated to reach zero at steady-state (IdNref = 0).


Wind turbine foundations

Wind turbines, by their nature, are very tall slender structures, this can cause a number of issues when the structural design of the foundations are considered.

The foundations for a conventional engineering structure are designed mainly to transfer the vertical load (dead weight) to the ground, this generally allows for a comparatively unsophisticated arrangement to be used. However in the case of wind turbines, due to the high wind and environmental loads experienced there is a significant horizontal dynamic load that needs to be appropriately restrained.

This loading regime causes large moment loads to be applied to the foundations of a wind turbine. As a result, considerable attention needs to be given when designing the footings to ensure that the turbines are sufficiently restrained to operate efficiently. In the current Det Norske Veritas (DNV) guidelines for the design of wind turbines the angular deflection of the foundations are limited to 0.5°.[62] DNV guidelines regarding earthquakes suggest that horizontal loads are larger than vertical loads for offshore wind turbines, while guidelines for tsunamis only suggest designing for maximum sea waves. In contrast, IEC suggests considering tsunami loads.

Scale model tests using a 50-g centrifuge are being performed at the Technical University of Denmark to test monopile foundations for offshore wind turbines at 30 to 50-m water depth.


Liftra Blade Dragon installing a single blade on wind turbine hub.

The modern wind turbine is a complex and integrated system. Structural elements comprise the majority of the weight and cost. All parts of the structure must be inexpensive, lightweight, durable, and manufacturable, under variable loading and environmental conditions. Turbine systems that have fewer failures,[68] require less maintenance, are lighter and last longer will lead to reducing the cost of wind energy.

One way to achieve this is to implement well-documented, validated analysis codes, according to a 2011 report from a coalition of researchers from universities, industry, and government, supported by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

The major parts of a modern turbine may cost (percentage of total) : tower 22%, blades 18%, gearbox 14%, generator 8%.

Efficiency and wind speed

The efficiency of a wind turbine is a maximum at its design wind velocity, and efficiency decreases with the fluctuations in wind. The lowest velocity at which the turbine develops its full power is known as rated wind velocity. Below some minimum wind velocity, no useful power output can be produced from wind turbine. There are limits on both the minimum and maximum wind velocity for the efficient operation of wind turbines.

Design specification

The design specification for a wind-turbine will contain a power curve and guaranteed availability. With the data from the wind resource assessment it is possible to calculate commercial viability. The typical operating temperature range is −20 to 40 °C (−4 to 104 °F). In areas with extreme climate (like Inner Mongolia or Rajasthan) specific cold and hot weather versions are required.

Wind turbines can be designed and validated according to IEC 61400 standards.

Low temperature

Utility-scale wind turbine generators have minimum temperature operating limits which apply in areas that experience temperatures below –20 °C. Wind turbines must be protected from ice accumulation. It can make anemometer readings inaccurate and which can cause high structure loads and damage. Some turbine manufacturers offer low-temperature packages at a few percent extra cost, which include internal heaters, different lubricants, and different alloys for structural elements. If the low-temperature interval is combined with a low-wind condition, the wind turbine will require an external supply of power, equivalent to a few percent of its rated power, for internal heating. For example, the St. Leon, Manitoba project has a total rating of 99 MW and is estimated to need up to 3 MW (around 3% of capacity) of station service power a few days a year for temperatures down to –30 °C. This factor affects the economics of wind turbine operation in cold climates.