Wind turbines operate on a simple principle. The energy in the wind turns two or three propeller-like blades around a rotor. The rotor is connected to the main shaft, which spins a generator to create electricity.
The majority of wind turbines consist of three blades mounted to a tower made from tubular steel. There are less common varieties with two blades, or with concrete or steel lattice towers. At 100 feet or more above the ground, the tower allows the turbine to take advantage of faster wind speeds found at higher altitudes.
Turbines catch the wind’s energy with their propeller-like blades, which act much like an airplane wing. When the wind blows, a pocket of low-pressure air forms on one side of the blade. The low-pressure air pocket then pulls the blade toward it, causing the rotor to turn. This is called lift. The force of the lift is much stronger than the wind’s force against the front side of the blade, which is called drag. The combination of lift and drag causes the rotor to spin like a propeller.
A series of gears increase the rotation of the rotor from about 18 revolutions a minute to roughly 1,800 revolutions per minute — a speed that allows the turbine’s generator to produce AC electricity.