how do wind turbines work?

A brief guide to how electricity is generated from one of the UK’s most abundant renewable sources: wind.

How do we turn energy from the wind into clean electricity to power our homes?

Here’s (almost) everything that you need to know – from how turbines work and wind power efficiency to how many turbines there are in the UK.

How do wind turbines work?

From micro-turbines for an individual house right up to enormous, off-shore windfarms, all wind turbines use the same mechanics to generate electricity. Watch the video below for an introduction to how wind turbines work and why the UK is a perfect location for wind power all year round.

From micro-turbines for an individual house right up to enormous, off-shore windfarms, all wind turbines use the same mechanics to generate electricity.

How much electricity can a wind turbine create?

Most onshore wind turbines have a capacity of 2-3 megawatts (MW), which can produce over 6 million kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity every year. That’s enough to meet the electricity demand of around 1,500 average households. 

Up to a certain level, the faster the wind blows, the more electricity is generated. In fact, when wind speed doubles, up to eight times more electricity is generated. But if the wind is too strong, turbines will shut themselves down to prevent being damaged. 

Wind farms are carefully planned to make sure they’re in locations with a reliable amount of wind all year round. This tends to be in coastal regions or on the summit of hilltops with lots of open space around. It’s why there are quite a lot of wind farms in places such as Cornwall and Scotland.

How efficient is wind power?

A wind turbine is typically 30-45% efficient – rising to 50% efficient at times of peak wind. If that sounds low to you, remember that if wind turbines were 100% efficient, the wind would completely drop after going through one. 

Wind turbines in the UK produce electricity 70-80% of the time, making them a reliable source of power throughout the year. 

Why is the UK particularly well-suited to wind power?

The UK’s exposed position on the north-western edge of Europe makes it particularly windy, with Scotland being the windiest place in the whole of the continent. 

The wind blows all year round – making wind power a reliable renewable power source. It also tends to be windiest in winter, meaning wind turbines are producing more power at the time of the year when we’re also using the most electricity. 

Both of these points make the UK well positioned to make the most of both offshore and onshore wind power and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

How much of the UK’s electricity comes from wind power?

In 2019, just under 20% of the UK’s electricity was generated from wind power [1]. Just six years before, this percentage was just over 7% [2]. This demonstrates just how fast wind power capacity in the UK is growing.

How many wind turbines are there in the UK?

There are roughly 8,600 onshore wind turbines and 2,300 offshore turbines in the UK. Go to RenewableUK for the latest statistics. Altogether, they produce enough power to meet the annual electricity demand of around 12 million homes [1].

At Good Energy, we have two windfarms that together produce enough electricity to power almost 12,000 average UK homes. We also buy power from 1600 independent renewable generators, many of whom generate electricity using wind power.

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