How Does a Windmill Work

Windmills are often cited as sources of clean energy, but how does a windmill work? The classic windmill was developed in northern Europe in the 12th century and was used to grind grain or pump water. Today, windmills capture the energy of the wind to produce clean electricity.

How A Windmill Does Its Work

  • Um, it's the wind. At some time, most places on the planet experience wind. Wind is simply the movement of air from one place to the next. As the sun warms air, the air rises. As the warm air rises, it creates a partial vacuum that is filled by cooler air that rushes in to fill the gap. A bigger temperature difference in adjacent areas will lead to stronger winds.
  • Blades of glory. The distinctive blades of a windmill are designed like the blades of an airplane propeller. Where an airplane uses its propeller blades to push against the air, a windmill's blades are pushed by the wind. As the wind pushes against a windmill's blades, the design of the blades causes them to rotate.
  • Talking about shaft. The blades of a windmill are connected to a drive shaft. This shaft can be horizontal or vertical, but the majority of windmills use horizontal shafts. As the blades rotate, the turn the drive shaft. Depending on the gearing and design of the windmill, the drive shaft can turn at hundreds of revolutions per minute.
  • The next generation. The rotating energy of the drive shaft is transmitted to an electrical generator. The generator can create anywhere from 100 watts to 6 or 7 megawatts for larger windmills (often called wind turbines).
  • What next? Electrical energy created by the windmill's generator is carried by wire to be used immediately (in a house or other building) or stored (in batteries) for later use.
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