What is Wind Power?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Wind power is energy that is derived from wind. There are a number of ways to collect and use energy created by the wind, and this type of power is among the most ancient forms of energy used by humans. Windmills, wind turbines, and sails all use it to some extent, and these collection methods can be used in a variety of ways. The power created by wind is considered to be a form of clean energy, since wind is an entirely renewable resource. As of 2008, around 1% of the world's energy came from wind, with the industry growing significantly.

Terrestrial wind farm.
Terrestrial wind farm.

One way to use wind power is to harness the power directly. On a sailing ship, for example, the sail is positioned to allow the wind to push the ship along. Windmills have historically used wind to turn millstones or operate a pump for a well, using the energy directly on-site for various needs. These techniques have been in operation for thousands of years.

A wind farm.
A wind farm.

In the case of a wind turbine, the wind turns the turbine, which generates electricity, a usable form of energy. Electricity is also convenient because it can be transported off site, allowing the power to generate energy that will be used at remote locations. This form is less efficient than using the energy directly, because energy is lost in the conversion and transmission process.

Many nations have wind power programs as part of a larger push to use clean energy. Wind turbines can be installed in a variety of locations, with companies developing newer and more efficient turbines all the time. Many wind farms are located in typically windy areas, taking advantage of an ample supply of wind.

Wind power is not inherently environmentally friendly, although it has some environmental advantages. Building turbines requires a great deal of resources, as does transporting the turbines and establishing infrastructure to transport the generated electricity. A wind farm can also take up valuable land that could be used for farming, wildlife habitat, or housing. Some firms have worked on developing wind turbines that can be integrated into usable land, so that a farm is multipurpose. Others have focused on using renewable resources and environmentally sustainable practices in the construction of generators to reduce the environmental cost of establishing a generation facility.

Despite these drawbacks, wind energy is considered preferable to many forms of energy generation, including coal burning power plants and nuclear power. These methods tend to be polluting, and they use resources that are not renewable. In the case of nuclear power, while the energy generation is itself fairly clean, the spent nuclear fuel represents a serious problem. Wind is also preferable to hydroelectric power, which involves constructing dams to harness the energy in water and can damage habitats and interfere with the health of waterways.

Sailboats are small vessels that use wind to provide forward power.
Sailboats are small vessels that use wind to provide forward power.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


You hear a lot of people object to the construction of wind turbines because they alter the look of the land. How do you guys feel about this? Would you object to looking out your back window and seeing a bunch of wind turbines?

Personally, I think they look pretty cool. And we already have power lines everywhere, even in pristine remote areas. I don't see how wind turbines would be that much different.


I am very excited about the potential of wind power generators moving forwards. I know that wind power has a number of very vocal detractors, but I think that most those complaints melt away when you consider the possibilities of wind power as the technology advances.

Plus, it is imperative that we start getting serious about renewable energy. Wind may not be perfect, but neither is coal or natural gas.


One more question: How much does it cost to build a wind turbine?


Wind power is the use of a windmill to drive an electric generator. Wind energy is renewable and it does not cause any pollution. It can also generate a large amount of electrical energy. Wind is caused by solar energy because the atmosphere is heated more at middle latitudes than at other latitudes. Moving air has kinetic energy, so this energy can be harness from the winds.

In many of the areas, the wind isn’t strong enough or frequent enough to generate this energy on the large scale, so usually, this wind power is in the area where there are lots of winds.


I have seen small wind power turbines that you can mount in a backyard. Is there anyone out there that can give me information on these and whether or not they are a worthwhile attempt for residential power generation? I live in a windy rural area of Minnesota, and I always have thought that it would be a great idea to try to generate electricity for my farm with a small wind turbine, but I do not know enough about them. I would appreciate any advice.


@ Submariner- I would like to add something about the water consumption of wind generated electricity. Unlike nuclear, fossil fuel, and some types of thermal solar technologies, wind power turbines barely use water. Wind power uses less water than any other electricity generation method, which makes it a very good option for regions that do not have access to fresh water. They may be constrained to windy regions to be profitable, but they are not limited by access to water like the other types of power generation. One sixth of the world's population lacks access to drinking water, so the most sustainable solution to the energy crisis is a solution that uses as little potable water as possible.


I would like to point out that even with the energy and ecological footprint of producing these utility scale wind power plants, they are still produce ninety nine percent less emissions from a comparable natural Gas Power plant over the plants life cycle. Natural gas plants are the most efficient emissions free fossil fuel power plant, yet wind still outperforms them by miles. Additionally, once the capital costs of a wind farm are covered, the farm only needs to pay maintenance costs and decommissioning costs. Wind utilities have no fuel costs, require very little maintenance, and can generate just as much power as the largest fossil fuel plants.

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