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All About Wind Turbines
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Inquiry Questions

Here are our inquiry questions. We used them to answer our main "Problem Question". We hope that they help you understand wind turbines better.

Charles Brush, inventor of the electric wind turbine

1)Who invented the electric wind turbine?
Although many believe that Darrius was the inventor of the wind turbine that we commonly see today, it is not true. Yes, he did invent a type of turbine, but what is now believed to be the first automatically operating wind turbine for electricity generation was invented by American Charles F. Brush (1849-1929). Mr. Brush was one of the founders of the American electrical industry. The company which he founded, Brush Electric, was based in Cleveland, Ohio. It later merged with Edison General Electric un der the new name General Electric (GE). Charles Brush built the first automatically operating wind turbine to be used for the generation of electricity in the winter of 1887-88 (boy, he must have had a lot of time on his hands!!!). For the time it was by far the worlds largest, with a rotor diameter of 17m (50 ft.) and 144 rotor blades consisting of cedar wood. The turbine charged the batteries in the basement of his luxurious mansion, and ran for 20 years.


Although the turbine was plenty large, it did not have a high level of efficiency and only produced 12kW. It was Dane Poul la Cour who discovered that fewer blade, faster rotating wind turbines were highly efficient in comparison to the model by Charles F. Brush.

2)How much does wind energy account for the amount of energy used in Canada?


            As Canada's demand for energy continues to grow, people look elsewhere to meet their energy needs. The Toronto turbine is an example of the changing markets to compensate for this changing demand. Wind energy is the quickest growing source of renewable energy.As of 2003, Canada's total wind capacity reached an all time high of 327 megawatts, an impressive number. However, the wind industry has much room to grow as the hydroelectric industry reached a generating capacity of 69, 206 megawatts in 2002. The Canadian government believes that our country has over 30,000 megawatts of renewable wind resources.The Toronto wind turbine alone has displaced 815 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions since original commision, and has generated 2, 864, 768 kWhrs. It produces 1000 megawatt hrs. of electricity each year, enough to light 250 homes, and prevents the emission of 272 tonnes of carbon dioxide yearly, which is equal to 25, 816 gallons of gasoline. It's a start on the right track.

model of wind turbine commonly used on old farms

3) When was wind power first used for energy?


            Humans have been able to harness the power of wind since the beginnings of recorded history. Even as early as 555 B.C., wind power pushed along boats in the Nile River. In 2000 B.C., a few simple windmills in China helped to pump water for irrigation and drinking water. At the same time, vertical axis windmills had recently made their appearance to grind grains in Persia, and other parts of the Middle East. By the 11th century A.D., middle eastern civilizations were harnessing this renewable resource commonly for food production, and merchant sailors would see this and bring the information back to Europe. The Dutch began to refine the design of windmills, and used them for the purpose of draining lakes and marshes in the Rhine River Delta. During the 19th century, windmills were built in North America for pumping water for farms, and later for the purpose of producing electricity. Up to today, the designs of these monster turbines have become more cutting edge and state of the art, and the turbine in downtown Toronto is one of the most modern you will find.

4) Where does wind energy stand in Canada's contribution to the Kyoto Accord?


            According to the Globe and Mail, $5 billion has been promised in the new Federal budget for the environment, which will include $920 million over a 15 year period in order to build wind power turbines across the country. Because of the massive amount of money involved, it will allow for a per-kilowatt subsidy. Over this period, the target for power generation by wind turbines is set at 4, 000 megawatts, which is up from the former projection of 1, 000 megawatts. This new target will raise enough energy to power 1, 000, 000 Canadian homes. Fortunately, people at the provincal level are also doing their part to prevent Global Warming. P.E.I., for example, is creating a plan to build enough wind farms so that all of the province's 11 megawatts are provided by the lofty wind that come off of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. They already have one wind farm, which produces 5% of the Islands electricity. In Ontario, the McGuinty government has signed agreements for 1, 370 megawatts of clean renewable power, coming from various sources including waterpower, landfill methane gas, biogas and windfarms, creating enough power for 350, 000 homes.

5) How does the Toronto wind turbine work?


            To state a complicated process simply, wind turbines work the exact opposite of a household fan. While a household fan uses electricity to create wind a wind turbine uses wind to make electricity. The wind turns (usually) three blades that are computer designed to prevent drag, which spin a shaft, which connects to the electrical generator. Modern turbines such as the one in downtown Toronto are very advanced and use a computer to control the turbine, in order to get the most power. The computer recieves information from many parts, such as the anemometer, which measures wind speed.  Brakes are used in emergencies to stop the turbine. Some other parts include the controller, gear box, nacelle, tower, yaw drive, yaw motor, and wind vane. A diagram of the inside of a wind turbine is available on this website.


6) What are some of the positive/negative environmental impacts of wind power?


            The Toronto wind turbine, like most others, have positive environmental impacts that far outweigh the negatives. In fact, it is commonly known that wind turbines require no energy whatsoever!! Also, they displace 272 tonnes of carbon dioxide, which would otherwise be in our lungs and contributing to Global Warming. This amount of CO2 is equal to:


- 49 passenger cars and light trucks not driven for one year

- 25, 816 gallons of gasoline

- 633 barrels of U.S. oil

- 227 acres of pine or fir forests storing carbon for one year

- 1.38 railcars of coal burned

- 92 tonnes of wastes recycled instead of landfilled


It is clean, free, and forever renewable energy, but only has one negative environmental impact. The rotors tend to kill birds. However, wind turbines only kill an average of two birds per year, for every turbine. Birds hit more buildings and cars than that by a long shot. Also, Canadian housecats kill as many as 140, 000, 000 birds per year.

7)What are the best spots for a wind turbine to operate? Are the conditions in Toronto adequate?


            Generally wind turbines can operate within some harsh conditions. These amazing machines are able to fully operate in extreme conditions with steady wind exceeding 90 km/hr, and gusts of 125 km/hr. They also operate at low wind speeds, as low as 10 km/hr, and reach full output at only 35 km/hr!! Wind turbines have survived major hurricanes with wind speeds of over 234 km/hr. Thanks to huge leaps in advanced aerodynamic design, these turbines have sleek blades to reduce drag, better brake and tower designs, and better computer design for lower operation costs and better system management.The toronto wind conditions are adequate, as the constant breeze from Lake ontario is enough to keep the turbine producing energy at full capacity.


8) How much does wind energy cost in comparison with other energy sources?


            Wind was formerly a much more expensive commodity, however the price of it is declining at a steady pace. Wind energy used to cost as much as 21 cents/kWh. Now the cost is less than 5 cents per kWh, not including all of the federal subsidies. This makes it a highly competitive source of energy. The following chart shows the costs of fuel as of a few years ago. Since the creation of this chart the cost of natural gas has risen to 20 cents/kWh, in some markets. Wind on the other hand has slightly declined in price.


Fuel             Levelized costs (cents/kWh) (1996)


Coal            4.8-5.5

Gas             3.9-4.4

Hydro          5.1-11.3

Biomass      5.8-11.6

Nuclear       11.1-14.5

Wind (without subsidies)   4.0-6.0

Wind (with subsidies)        3.3-5.3



So as you can see, even the most common sources of electricity are more expensive than wind, including nuclear. It makes much more sense to use the cheapest source of energy on the chart, and an added bonus is that it's so environmentally friendly. In my opinion, wind is the way to go. The windmill in downtown Toronto is the first windmill in North America to be constructed in an urban setting, which displays the versatility of this energy source. Finally, the government is beginning to recognize its benefits.

9) What effects are there on the economy?


            For this question, I will use Alberta as an example because it seems to be having the same problem as the rest of the oil-rich world. Alberta is home to the second largest oil reserve in the world, behind Saudi Arabia. Anyone would know this from watching CNN. Because it is a prime industry in Alberta, the introduction of wind energy would greatly reduce the market for oil, and thousands of jobs would be lost. This means that Alberta would have to diversify its economy, instead of relying on the oil sands. As well, the new green attitude would mean that all industries, as well as the oil industry, would be forced to lower their levels of pollution. The Albertan oil industry is concerned that they would have to increase the cost of production. However, the costs should be manageable. Suncor, for example, reduced its emissions well below Kyoto targets, and made a profit of $1 billion. The province's high-tech sector will receive more investment capital that has been diverted away from oil super-projects. Also, agriculture will benefit from production of ethanol, and there will be an increased production of natural gas, the cleanest fossil fuel in the world.

danish three rotor concept

10) What are some common wind turbine designs?


            There are three common wind turbine designs. The Danish three bladed concept, the two bladed (teetering) concept, and the one bladed concept. The Danish three bladed concept is the most modern design, with three blades in a position maintained upwind, using a yaw mechanism and electrical motors. It is the standard model to which all other designs are compared. The basic design was first displayed on the Gedser wind turbine. It represents the vast majority of turbines worldwide. The two-bladed (teetering) concept has two advantages: it saves the cost of a third rotor blade, and is lighter in weight. They have difficulty selling on the market, though, because they need a higher speed of rotation to get the same amount of electrical output. It causes more noise and more visual "intrusion". One advantage top both two and three bladed designs is that they need a much more complicated design which includes a teetering hub rotor, that tilts up and down in order to avoid strong shocks as the rotor blades pass the tower. This setup requires additional shock absorbers at time to avoid the rotor blade from hitting the tower. The one bladed concept do exist, and save the cost of two rotor blades. Although they are rare, they are built. They have the same problems as two bladed turbines, as the higher speed required to produce enough power creats visual intrusion and noise. They require that a counterweight be placed opposite to the blade to balance the rotor. This eliminates the savings in weight and cost compared to a two bladed design. The wind turbine in downtown Toronto is a three bladed design, the most efficient and most practical. Three bladed designs require lower speeds, and the winds off of Lake Ontario don't always come in at high speed.


two bladed (teetering) concept

one bladed concept (very rare)

Designed by Naomi & Daniel for Ms. Yuen's Geography Class Power assignment.