The Sun is the source of energy for Earth. Sunlight is not evenly distributed, so some areas receive more solar energy than others. In regions that are heated by intense solar rays, air rises. Areas of cooler air rush in to take the place of the rising, warm air. This moving air is wind.
The kinetic energy of wind can be used to generate electricity using a windmill. Wind turns the blades of a windmill, which are connected to a shaft. As the shaft rotates, it powers an electrical generator, a device that produces electricity by moving a magnet through a coil of wire. Electricity travels to transformers that convert the electricity into a form that can travel along transmission lines. In this experiment, you will design blades for a windmill then test the blades to see how they affect the voltage produced by that windmill.
Windmills, also known as wind turbines, are sometimes clustered in large areas called wind farms. In the United States, wind farms supply about 10,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity, enough to power 2.5 million homes, or less than 1 percent of the total energy produced. The largest of these farms is Horse Hollow, a 100-acre (40.5-hectare) development in Texas that houses 421 wind turbines. Texas is number one in wind-generated electricity, followed by California, Iowa, Minnesota, and Oklahoma. Most energy-producing plants are owned by public utility companies. Wind farms are different; they are usually run by businesses that sell the electricity they produce to public utilities.
Generation of electricity using the wind offers many advantages over traditional, coal-powered power plants. Wind, a renewable resource, is clean and does not produce carbon dioxide, a culprit in global warming, or oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, which contribute to acid rain. Compared to other electricity-producing technologies, wind power is economical. As a result, development of wind farms reduces the number of fossil fuel plants needed. Despite these pluses, wind farms are not a perfect solution to our growing energy demands. Winds must be blowing at a minimum of 15 miles per hour (mph) (24.14 kilometers per hour [kph]) to produce electricity, so not all locations can support turbines. Wind turbines are tall and obvious, and many people think they are unattractive. In addition, some migrating birds collide with wind turbines. As with all technologies, citizens must weigh the advantages and disadvantages of wind farms.
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