How To Build A Wind Turbine

This ‘How-To’ was  originally published on CleanTechnica

There is something remarkable in watching a wind turbine capturing the energy of the wind and converting it into clean electricity.

wind turbine field

For those unsure of a wind turbines workings, the Department of Energy provides this overview: “Wind turbines operate on a simple principle. The energy in the wind turns two or three propeller-like blades around a rotor. The rotor is connected to the main shaft, which spins a generator to create electricity.”  Windmills may look simple enough. But try building one, especially one with an industrial rating. Look at this poetic and exceptionally produced video from Siemens.

Humbled enough? There are other options out there for those wanting to design, construct, and operate their own brand of wind turbine, whether big or small. I will soon provide readers with a few examples I’ve looked at. Before we start down this pathway, let me provide a few basics about wind energy and wind turbines. How a wind turbine works

The workings of wind turbines

A wind turbine works on a simple principle. This DOE animation above shows how energy in the wind turns two or three propeller-like blades around a rotor. The rotor is connected to the main shaft, which spins a generator to create electricity. Wind turbines are mounted on a tower to capture the most energy. At 100 feet (30 meters) or more above ground, they can take advantage of faster and less turbulent wind. Wind turbines can be used to produce electricity for a single home or building, or they can be connected to an electrical grid (shown here) for more widespread electricity distribution.

Wind power history

According to the Wind Energy Foundation, wind power has been around for quite some time, starting with boats.

“Since early recorded history, people have harnessed the energy of the wind. Wind energy propelled boats along the Nile River as early as 5000 B.C. By 200 B.C., simple windmills in China were pumping water, while vertical-axis windmills with woven reed sails were grinding grain in Persia and the Middle East.

“New ways of using the energy of the wind eventually spread around the world. By the 11th century, people in the Middle East used windmills extensively for food production. Returning merchants and crusaders carried this idea back to Europe. The Dutch refined the windmill and adapted it for draining lakes and marshes in the Rhine River Delta. When settlers took this technology to the New World in the late 19th century, they began using windmills to pump water for farms and ranches and later to generate electricity for homes and industry. 

“American colonists used windmills to grind wheat and corn, to pump water and to cut wood at sawmills. With the development of electric power, wind power found new applications in lighting buildings remotely from centrally generated power. Throughout the 20th century, small wind plants, suitable for farms and residences, and larger utility-scale wind farms that could be connected to electricity grids were developed. 

“During World War II, the largest wind turbine known in the 1940s, a 1.25-megawatt turbine that sat on a Vermont hilltop known as Grandpa’s Knob, fed electric power to the local utility network.  Wind electric turbines persisted in Denmark into the 1950s but were ultimately sidelined due to the availability of cheap oil and low energy prices.”

Building your own turbine

If you look, you can find plenty of options. What follows are selected parts from just a few plans.

Determining wind speed from WikiHow

“Determine the average wind speed where you plan to build. To cost-effectively generate electricity, an efficient wind turbine needs wind to reach at least 7 to 10 miles per hour (11 to 16 kilometers per hour). Most wind turbines perform best at speeds from 12 to 20 mph (19 to 32 kph). To find the annual average wind speed for your area, you can check online wind maps that list the average wind speed in your area.”

Building magnet discs from Instructables wind turbine coils

“We had 12” steel disks hydro cut. We cut a template for mounting the magnets. Then we mounted 12 grade n50 magnets around the outside edge. We then built a form, and poured the resin with hardner.

“We wound the nine individual coils, soldered them in a 3 phase wye configuration, and encased them in resin. We used 35 turns of 2 parallel strands of 14 gauge enameled (magnet) wire for 12 volts.Use 70 turns of single strand for 24 volts. # 3 phase diagram shown here shows 3 stator coils. each of those coils is actually 3 coils in series. coils 1,4, and 7 are series together, 2,5, and 8 are series together, and 3,6, and 9 are series together.”

Trying out an inexpensive vertical axis option wind turbine

“Daniel Connell’s vertical axis wind turbine vertical axis wind turbine based on the Lenz2 lift+drag design.

“Connell’s design calls for using aluminum lithographic offset printing plates to catch the wind, which he says can be obtained cheaply (or possibly even free) from an offset printing company, and a variety of hardware and a bicycle wheel.”

Carefully make your materials list fit your budget and then pick your location to try out this version. Starting with these samples, you will find there are plenty more options to try out. Just remember, patience and tenacity are requisites for seeing any of these projects to fruition. When you’re successful, you might be getting a call from Siemens.

Images: wind turbine field via Shutterstock, How it works via DOE, Coils via Instructables, vertical axis option via TreeHugger Video via Siemens.

About the Author

Writer, documentary producer, and director. Meyers is a contributor to CleanTechnica, and founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.