How do wind turbines work?

Put very simply, the blades of the turbine catch the wind. The wind blows the blades, and this movement spins the turbine, generating electricity. The stronger the wind that is blowing, the more electricity is produced.

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Technical information made simple

There are two types of domestic-sized wind turbine:

Mast mounted: these are free standing and can be put up in exposed positions such as in a large garden or nearby field, but you need to have the space. They have a capacity of around 2.5kW to 6kW.

Roof mounted: these have a smaller capacity than most mast mounted systems, typically around 1kW to 2kW. They are usually installed on the roof of a home if it is sufficiently exposed to the wind.

The capacity of a micro-wind turbine is described in kW, though this isn’t as accurate as it could be because different turbines reach their described capacity at different wind speeds. Because of this, the BWEA (British Wind Energy Association) Reference Annual Energy is also used to provide a measure of the energy performance of a turbine. There is also the BWEA Reference Sound Level describes the level of noise the turbine produces as heard from 25 and 60m away, rounded to the nearest decibel.

  1. When the wind blows over a micro wind turbine it turns the turbine’s blades. This motion turns the rotating shaft the blades are connected to. This shaft, in turn, sits inside a generator. The part of the shaft inside the generator is surrounded by a magnetic field, meaning that when the shaft turns it generates electricity. Smaller turbines’ blades can be attached directly to a generator.
  2. The turbine produces DC electricity. This electricity flows through an inverter, which sits between the turbine and your home’s electrical wiring. The inverter converts your DC electricity into AC electricity, and this electricity can then be used to power the lighting and appliances in your home.
  3. You have a choice as to whether you connect your turbine to the Grid. If you do, you can qualify to receive FIT payments for the electricity you generate and the surplus electricity you export to the grid. However, if you live in a rural location remaining off the Grid may be useful as you can then store your surplus electricity in batteries to use when the supply from your turbine is low, allowing you to be less reliant on electricity from the Grid.
  4. If you connect your turbine to the grid, any electricity that you generate but don’t use is automatically exported back to the grid. Similarly, any electricity you need to use from the grid is automatically supplied, for which you will be charged, though you will make a saving on your electricity bill overall.

The FIT scheme is a government backed scheme designed to reduce the payback time for renewable technology installations. If you qualify, it pays you per unit of electricity generated, regardless of whether you use it, and for every unit generated and then exported. These payments are made according to tariff rates which are set when you sign up, and the rates are linked to the RPI too. Under current rules, you will receive these payments for 20 years. Current tariff rates for a standard (1.5-15kW) installation are 21.65p/kWh, and the export rate is 4.64p/kWh. A typical, well sited mast mounted turbine could make £160 a year from the Export Tariff and £2,700 a year from the Generation Tariff. For more information visit our FIT page.

You can get the cost of the installation paid for you using a loan from the Green Deal scheme. Another government-backed initiative, it collects your loan repayments through the savings your system makes on your energy bill, making the installation in effect free to you. Visit our Green Deal page for more information on the scheme.

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Installation

If you are planning to install a domestic wind turbine it is recommended that your location is exposed to an average wind speed of 5 meters per second to make the turbine a worthwhile investment. You can test the wind speed of your location (or even test multiple locations) using an anemometer, which should be placed in your location for at least 3 months but ideally 12 months.

In order to qualify for the Feed-in-Tariff the turbine must be fitted by a MCS accredited installer. Find out more about the Installation of Wind Turbines here.

 

FAQs

How do I find out if my site is windy enough for a wind turbine?
Our survey takes into account the average wind speed in your area, so should give you a broad indication of whether your location is suitable for a wind turbine. We do recommend that you measure the average wind speeds in the turbine locations you're considering for at least a year before committing to an installation. You can measure your wind speed using an anemometer (wind meter). A good anemometer will record your specific wind profile (e.g. average wind speeds, wind spikes, changes in wind direction) which will help you select the most appropriate wind turbine for the wind characteristics of your site. The Power Predictor anemometer from www.bettergeneration.co.uk is a good choice for a domestic installation.
How does a wind turbine generate electricity?
Most wind turbines have three blades which face into the wind; the wind turns these blades round. This spins the shaft, which is connected to a generator. The generator turns this mechanical energy into electrical energy, generating electricity. This electricity is passed through an inverter to convert it from CD to AC electricity, and this AC electricity is then supplied to your house through your wiring.
How tall are domestic wind turbines?
The height of a domestic turbine will vary according to manufacturer and model, but generally it varies from 6 to 15 meters (for a roof mounted system) up to 24 meters for a freestanding turbine. In general, the higher up the blades are, the higher the average wind speed that the turbine will experience, giving you a more efficient system. The rotor diameter of domestic wind turbines ranges from 2 meters for a roof mounted turbine, up to around 7 meters for a freestanding turbine, again depending on the model.
What happens to my electricity supply when the wind stops blowing?
Without adequate wind blowing, the turbine will not turn and create electricity, therefore you will have to draw power from the grid. This will happen automatically as long as you are connected to the Grid.
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