MadSci Network: Engineering

Re: how much wind does it take to make enough electricity for people

Date: Thu Sep 15 09:01:01 2005
Posted By: Charles R Gamble, Post-doc/Fellow, Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Garrad Hassan and Partners Ltd
Area of science: Engineering
ID: 1126665469.Eg

Dear Ollie,

That’s a big question. Where you are in NY state there is almost certainly enough wind in open country, away from large buildings for modern wind turbines to operate well. After all most of the wind energy in the world that is installed and working now (over 50,000 MegaWatts) is in Germany where wind speeds are mostly lower than in NY state. Wind energy is already providing all the electricity needs of more than 50 million people around the world. The countries with the most installed and operating now are Germany, Spain, Denmark. In the USA there was 6,750 MegaWatts operating at the end of 2004. That’s enough to supply all the electricity needs of 5 million Americans.

The USA has vast wind power resources; more than you could possibly need, blowing across the prairies, all over Texas, Kansas, Montana, NY and up to Maine; and just about every State has some potential. The USA is catching up a little and may knock Spain off the number 2 spot in a year or so. This is a link to a US gov site that has a wind map of the whole of the USA:

It states about the North East including NY State….

The primary areas of good wind energy resource are the Atlantic coast, the Great Lakes, and exposed hilltops, ridge crests, and mountain summits from Pennsylvania to Maine. Areas of highest wind energy potential (class 5 and 6) are the outer coastal areas such as Cape Cod and Nantucket Island, offshore areas of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, and the higher mountain summits of the Appalachians. Winter is the season of maximum wind power throughout the Northeast region. During this season, all except the most sheltered areas have class 3 or better wind resource, and exposed coastal areas and mountain summits can expect class 6 or 7 wind resource. In summer, the season of minimum wind power, class 3 wind resource can be found only on the outer coastal areas and highest mountain summits………

A modern wind turbine will start up at a wind speed of about 9-10mph, a gentle breeze, and reach full power at 20-28 mph. Since the speed of the wind increases quite quickly with height ( 1/7th power law) up where the turbine is will be windier than on the ground. Since modern machines are about 250-300ft high they reach up into stronger winds. So it can feel just a breeze on the ground and still be very productive for a wind turbine.

Wind turbines are one of the fastest growing industries and one of the most fascinating things going on in the world today, that really affect our lives for the better. Fascinating because they are a real challenge for scientists and engineers; to turn clean invisible wind into clean invisible electricity at the right price is quite an art and a science.

And why are they affecting our lives for the better? We all need electrical energy. Some people use a lot, and some a little. If you do the math on the numbers in the first paragraph you will work out that American families use about twice as much electricity as European families. And use about 5-10 times as much as people in poorer countries. Making electricity with coal, oil, gas or wood (fossil fuels) emits Carbon Dioxide, the main greenhouse gas responsible for Global Climate Change. Climate Change is a massive threat to everyone on the planet. So cutting down energy use would be good. Making electricity with wind turbines emits no Carbon Dioxide. So the wind turbines around the world last year for example saved the emission of about 40 million tons of Carbon Dioxide. Now I’d like a world where my kids and their kids could grow up and have enough of what they need. I guess you would too. So support wind energy and do your part for the planet! You will find lots of interesting technology and stuff on line at the American Wind Energy Association and the European Wind Energy Association where you will find a great book Wind Energy – The Facts which you can download at This is a great source of stuff on technology. One of the largest wind turbines around is the E112 from Enercon; look at That’s nearly as big a blade span as two Boeing 777’s side by side!

Hope you find this interesting, it answers your question and you get involved in renewable energy!

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