How Does Wind Power Work?

Wind is a form of solar energy which is caused by the uneven heating of the earth’s atmosphere combined with irregularities on the earth’s surface and its rotation.  When the wind blows, wind turbines work like a reverse fan.  Instead of electricity turning the blades to create wind, the wind turns the blades, spinning a generator, and creating electricity.

There are two types of modern wind turbines:

  • Horizontal-Axis Turbines – typically have three blades and are located upwind, with the blades facing into the wind
  • Vertical-Axis Turbines – come in several varieties, including the Darrieus egg-beater style with omnidirectional turbines which don’t need to be adjusted to point into the wind


A History of Wind

Wind power is one of the oldest forms of renewable energy and has been used by humans since around 5,000 B.C. to sail down the Nile River.  As early as 900 B.C., Persians harnessed the wind to pump water and grind grain, resulting in the spread of windmills throughout the Middle East for food production.   Eventually, European countries adapted windmills to help drain lakes and marshes in the Rhine River Delta.  In 1850, the U.S. Wind Engine Company built the Halladay Windmill, specifically designed for the landscape of the west, and since then, the development of wind power has continued to flourish.

  • 1890 – Farmers use windmills to pump water for irrigation and to generate electricity, and the replacement of wooden blades with steel not only increases their efficiency, but aids in six million windmills being erected across the countryside
  • 1893 – Fifteen windmill companies showcase their turbine designs at the World’s Fair in Chicago
  • 1941 – During World War II, the largest turbine of the era operates in Vermont, providing power to the local utility for several months
  • 1978 – President Carter signs the Public Utility Regulatory Policies act of 1978 requiring companies to purchase a certain amount of electricity from renewable sources
  • 1980 – Installation of the first utility scale wind farms in California result in a greater understanding of the impact proper placement and development of land for the farms has on the environment
  • 1981 – NASA scientists develop a method to predict wind turbine performance, which is still increasing wind power efficiency today
  • 1992 – A production tax credit of 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) of wind-power-generated electricity is authorized by the Energy Policy Act
  • 1993 – The nation’s top wind energy research facility, The National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) is built and continues to reduce the cost of energy allowing wind to compete with traditional energy sources
  • 2011 – The U.S. Department of Energy partners with the Department of the Interior to release the National Wind Strategy and reduce the cost of energy through technology and faster deployment
  • 2013 – The University of Maine, with backing from the U.S. Department of Energy, deploys the first concrete-composite floating platform wind turbine in the world
  • 2016 – The same year that the first U.S. offshore wind farm started operating off the coast of Rhode Island, the fastest growing job of the decade according to the U.S. Department of Labor is that of wind turbine service technician
  • 2018 – The wind energy installed in the U.S. surpasses 89 gigawatts (GW) and produces enough energy to power over 20 million homes

With a history so rich and extensive, it will be exciting to watch the continuation of wind power technology and development.  If you are interested in renewable energy, or possibly enrolling in an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional electricity plans, we offer ECO-Advantage®, which matches 100% of your electricity usage with national Green-e® Energy1certified, wind Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).  Check out all our options here and find a plan that’s right for you!.


1 ECO-Advantage is Green-e Energy certified and meets the environmental and consumer-protection standards set forth by the nonprofit Center for Resource Solutions. Learn more at


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