How Does A Wind Turbine Work?

I don’t know about you, but I love the word turbine. It speaks of great, enormous machines, capable of moving vast quantities of something-or-other, and to me, have an unapproachability that makes them sexy. Kind of like the tall lanky outsider who comes to class in the middle of the quarter and never talks.

I used to work at the UCLA co-gen plant, albeit as an office-manager type person, but I did get to tour around the big co-generation plant and the engineers there would explain to me how things were working. Being the young, starry-eyed, English-major that I was, most of it went in one ear and out the other, as I wondered if my hazel-eyed, alt-rock listening, musician-on-the-side tour guide was going to ask me out.

Downtown Santa Cruz, Costa Rica Image from

But I digress. In later years, as I began to immerse myself in all sorts of alternative choices – from moving to Costa Rica to composting to not owning a TV or clothes dryer – my husband also began to immerse himself in alternative fuels. At the same time, we made frequent trips to our nearest biggish town, Santa Cruz (not to be confused with the fabulous, seaside Santa Cruz here in California). The road to said town was bumpy, rough, potholed dirt and gravel, but had some of the most breathtaking views I’ve seen in my lifetime – great, sweeping open spaces of forest and cattle land; soft hills that turned into layered mountain ranges, huge trees whose canopies dripped with ripe mangoes, no buildings or people for as far as your eyes could see, swirling dust and hot humid air.

Image from

Amidst these views, close to the road, was one fabulously solitary windmill. I fell in love with this windmill and have wanted one ever since.

I am quite sure that the simple country windmill of my Santa Cruz trips is not what I’d get if I invested in my own personal wind turbine, but this morning I decided it was time to find out.

So what is a wind turbine anyway?

1. From Princeton:
(n) turbine (rotary engine in which the kinetic energy of a moving fluid is converted into mechanical energy by causing a bladed rotor to rotate)

2. From Wikipedia: A turbine is a rotary engine that extracts energy from a fluid flow and converts it into useful work.

The simplest turbines have one moving part, a rotor assembly, which is a shaft or drum with blades attached. Moving fluid acts on the blades, or the blades react to the flow, so that they move and impart rotational energy to the rotor. Early turbine examples are windmills and water wheels.

3. From Wiktionary:

Noun: turbine (plural turbines) 1. any of various rotarymachines that use the kinetic energy of a continuousstream of fluid (a liquid or a gas) to turn a shaft

4. From Turbine – a rotary motor driven by a flow of water, steam or wind to produce electrical energy.

My first question is answered! My windmill IS a type (albeit old-fashioned) of wind turbine! This is such great news! So, now that we (I) know what a turbine is, what exactly is a wind turbine?

Wind Turbine definition from Wikipedia (what ever did we do before Wiki?):

A wind turbine is a device that converts kinetic energy from the wind into mechanical energy. If the mechanical energy is used to produce electricity, the device may be called a wind generator or wind charger. If the mechanical energy is used to drive machinery, such as for grinding grain or pumping water, the device is called a windmill or wind pump.

And finally, how can this be applied to my house to help save energy?

Well, if you’re this guy, you can build your own and fabricate a system to not only harvest the energy, but to transfer it into useful power for your home. If you’re not that brilliant, you can purchase a system and installation (rather like you would with solar) from several different companies including Skystream Energy, and WindSpot, or you can sift through My Wind Power System and find a system that works for you.

As for me, I think I’m going to see if I can’t talk my husband (he is, in fact, brilliant enough to build a windmill and convert the energy it makes into useful energy in our home) into building me one that looks a little old fashioned and a lot like the one on the road to nowhere.

-Jocelyn Broyles

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Ernie Miller
william Miller4 years ago

thanks not what I was expecting

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener4 years ago


Will L.
Past Member 4 years ago


Novinha L.
.4 years ago

Thanks for the article!

Novinha L.
.4 years ago

Thanks for the article!

Walter G.
Walter g.4 years ago

Why is it we don't see wind turbines all over Washington DC?

Walter G.
Walter g.4 years ago

Wind turbines tend to work very well so long as one does nto stick one's fingers in between the rotating blades.

Khat Bliss
Past Member 4 years ago

Wind is awesome!

Jennifer Martin
Jennifer M.4 years ago


Brian M.
Past Member 4 years ago

Wind turbines and solar power are vital components of the United States national energy components. We also have to strive harder to reduce energy consumption and to make our energy usage as efficient as possible. Finally, given the sheer extent of the climate change crisis that this planet is already experiencing, safe forms of nuclear power...if they can be developed...need to be considered.

I'm not in the habit of responding to other peoples' posts, but I would like to suggest that Jarrod is at least somewhat on the right track by suggesting veganism as a means of saving energy. A vegetarian, particularly vegan, diet takes very little energy to produce, especially when compared to the sheer amount of energy that it takes to produce even a single pound of beef. However, that being said, the single best thing a person can do beyond changing excessive or wasteful lifestyle habits is to embrace a reproduction-free lifestyle: the real source of all the energy consumption and pollution that is leading to climate change is human overpopulation. There are simply too many people consuming too much energy and resources on this planet. We have to learn to manage our own species' population size. We need to work as hard as possible to bring the rate of growth as close to zero as we can in every nation around the world. Then, if we can educate future generations as to the health benefits of a low meat or no meat lifestyle, then that would be a significant step forward as well.