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. Developed for over a millennium, today’s wind turbines are manufactured in a range of vertical and horizontal axis types. The smallest turbines are used for applications such as battery charging or auxiliary power on sailing boats; while large grid-connected arrays of turbines are becoming an increasingly large source of commercial electric power.
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Windmills first appeared in Europe during the middle ages. The first historical records for their use in England date to the 11th or 12th centuries and there are reports of German crusaders taking their windmill-making skills to Syria around 1190. By the 14th century, Dutch windmills were in use to drain areas of the Rhine delta.
The first electricity generating wind turbine, was a battery charging machine installed in July 1887 by Scottish academic, James Blyth to light his holiday home in Marykirk, Scotland. Some months later American inventor Charles F Brush built the first automatically operated wind turbine for electricity production in Cleveland, Ohio. Although Blyth’s turbine was considered uneconomical in the United Kingdom electricity generation by wind turbines was more cost effective in countries with widely scattered populations. In Denmark by 1900, there were about 2500 windmills for mechanical loads such as pumps and mills, producing an estimated combined peak power of about 30 MW.
The largest machines were on 24-metre (79 ft) towers with four-bladed 23-metre (75 ft) diameter rotors. By 1908 there were 72 wind-driven electric generators operating in the US from 5 kW to 25 kW. Around the time of World War I, American windmill makers were producing 100,000 farm windmills each year, mostly for water-pumping. By the 1930s, windmills for electricity were common on farms, mostly in the United States where distribution systems had not yet been installed. In this period, high-tensile steel was cheap, and windmills were placed atop prefabricated open steel lattice towers.
Horizontal-axis wind turbines (HAWT) have the main rotor shaft and electrical generator at the top of a tower, and must be pointed into the wind. Small turbines are pointed by a simple wind vane, while large turbines generally use a wind sensor coupled with a servo motor. Most have a gearbox, which turns the slow rotation of the blades into a quicker rotation that is more suitable to drive an electrical generator.
Since a tower produces turbulence behind it, the turbine is usually positioned upwind of its supporting tower. Turbine blades are made stiff to prevent the blades from being pushed into the tower by high winds. Additionally, the blades are placed a considerable distance in front of the tower and are sometimes tilted forward into the wind a small amount.
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