What is wind energy and how do wind turbines work?
Wind energy (or wind power) refers to the process by which wind turbines convert the movement of wind into electricity. Wind is caused by the Sun’s uneven heating of the atmosphere, the irregularities of the Earth's surface, and the rotation of the Earth. Humans use wind for many purposes: sailing boats, pumping water, and generating electricity. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy of the moving air into electricity.
A wind turbine works like a fan but in reverse: instead of using electricity to make wind like a fan, wind turbines use wind to make electricity. The wind turns the turbine's blades, which spin a shaft connected to a generator to make electricity. Learn more about how a wind turbine works or view an interactive wind turbine animation to explore power plants, gearboxes, and everything in between.
For more information, watch our Energy 101 video.
How can I get a wind turbine or wind farm at my house or property?
The basic steps for installing a small wind turbine on your property are:
- Determine whether the wind resource in your area makes a small wind system economical.
- Determine your household electricity needs by looking at monthly or yearly electricity usage.
- Find out whether local zoning ordinances will allow wind turbine installations.
- Purchase and install a wind turbine sized to the needs of your household.
- Decide where to place the turbine.
While there have been instances of wind turbines mounted on rooftops, it should be noted that all wind turbines vibrate and transmit the vibration to the structure on which they are mounted. This can lead to noise problems within the building. Also, the wind resource on the rooftop is in an area of increased turbulence, which can shorten the life of the turbine and reduce energy production. Additional costs related to mitigating these concerns, combined with the fact that roof-mounted turbines produce less power, make rooftop-mounted wind turbines less cost-effective than small wind systems that are installed on a tower connected to the ground. For more information, see Deployment of Wind Turbines in the Built Environment: Risks, Lessons, and Recommended Practices.
How much energy comes from wind in the United States?
In 2021, wind turbines operating in all 50 states generated more than 9% of the country’s total electricity generation. Wind power was the second largest source of U.S. electric-generating capacity additions in 2021 (behind solar) with 13,413 megawatts (MW) of U.S. wind capacity installed, bringing the cumulative total to 135,886 MW.
Where are wind farms located?
Land-based utility-scale wind farms are located all across the United States, with the majority of projects concentrated in the Midwest and Texas. Distributed wind projects (wind turbines installed near where the power will be used) are in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. Offshore wind projects are located off the coasts of Virginia and Block Island, Rhode Island. The U.S. Wind Turbine Database provides the locations of land-based and offshore wind turbines across the country, including corresponding wind project information and turbine technical specifications.
Wind provided more than 9% of electricity nationwide, over 50% in Iowa and South Dakota, and over 30% in Kansas, Oklahoma, and North Dakota. Globally, the United States ranks second behind China in both installed capacity and electricity generation from wind. Denmark, Portugal, and Ireland each get more than 20% of their nations’ electricity from wind.
What is the wind resource like in my area?
The Wind Energy Technologies Office provides validated, high-resolution state wind maps that show average wind speeds at several different heights above the ground (appropriate for different sized turbines). These maps provide a good overview of a state's wind resources. However, wind resources can significantly vary thanks to local site characteristics such as trees, hills, and buildings, so you should get a professional evaluation of your specific site before purchasing and installing a wind energy system.
What happens to the electricity supply when the wind isn’t blowing?
The U.S. power grid consists of a huge number of interconnected transmission lines that connect a variety of generation sources to loads. The wind does not always blow, and the sun does not always shine, which creates additional variability and uncertainty (as nobody can perfectly forecast wind or solar output).
But power grid operators have always had to deal with variability. Many forms of power generation can unexpectedly trip offline without notice and some only produce power at certain times. There is also uncertainty due to ever-changing loads (energy demand) that cannot be perfectly predicted.
Grid operators use the interconnected power system to access other forms of generation when contingencies occur and continually turn generators on and off when needed to meet the overall grid demand. Integrating variable renewable power to the grid does not change how this process of balancing electricity supply and demand works.
How are wind farms developed?
Commercial wind farms are typically built by wind energy developers using private sources of financing. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) maintains that it is important for energy project developers to engage with the local community, state and local authorities, and other stakeholders early and often in the siting and development process. Before installing turbines, the developer will assess the wind resource at a particular site by collecting meteorological data, determining access to transmission lines, and considering environmental and community impacts.
If sufficient wind resources are found, the developer will secure land leases from property owners, obtain the necessary permits and financing, and purchase and install wind turbines. The completed facility is often sold to an independent operator (called an independent power producer) who generates electricity to sell to the local utility, although some utilities own and operate wind farms directly.
HOW DO WIND TURBINES AFFECT WILDLIFE ON LAND AND IN THE OCEAN AS WELL AS HUMAN HEALTH?
As with all energy projects, wildlife impacts from wind project development vary by location. The wind industry incorporates pre- and post-development studies, educated siting, and other impact reduction tools to decrease wildlife impacts.
Research shows that wind projects rank near the bottom of the list of human-related bird mortalities, resulting in far fewer annual deaths than those caused by house cats, building collisions, or vehicle impacts. In fact, the Audubon Society strongly supports properly sited wind power as a renewable energy source that reduces the threat posed to birds by climate change. Since 2000, the impact of wind development on birds has been greatly reduced by improvements in turbine design and particularly through improved project and turbine siting. To understand how to avoid, minimize, and mitigate potential impacts from wind development, the Wind Energy Technologies Office has invested in peer-reviewed research for more than 20 years through collaborative partnerships with federal regulatory organizations, the wind industry, and environmental organizations, including the Renewable Energy Wildlife Institute and the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative.
Despite concerns about stranded whales along the U.S. East Coast, there is no evidence for the cause being noise from offshore wind energy development, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in accordance with the Marine Mammal Commission and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. These federal agencies, partners, and the U.S. Department of Energy continue to monitor and gather data on whale mortality events. Their ongoing R&D aims to better understand, assess, and mitigate the environmental and wildlife impacts of renewable energy to protect and promote marine mammals during offshore wind farm development. These efforts are highlighted in the U.S. Department of Energy’s strategy to reach the nation’s goal to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030. The strategy includes work from the Wind Energy Technologies Office to create a database to catalog research, fund projects on sustainable ocean co-use, and support the development of marine monitoring systems.
For more information about the Wind Energy Technologies Office’s work in this area, visit our Environmental Impacts and Siting webpage. For additional context and resources, see the WINDExchange webpage on wildlife impacts.
Although research to develop sound mitigation techniques is ongoing, global peer-reviewed scientific data and independent studies consistently conclude that sound from wind plants has no direct impact on physical human health. The sound level from wind turbines at common residential setbacks is not sufficient to cause hearing impairment or other direct adverse health effects. Low frequency sound and infrasound from upwind wind turbines are also well below the pressure of sound levels known to affect health.
While some wind turbines may cause a shadow flicker when the blades of the turbine pass between the sun and the observer, this effect can only be seen from a distance of less than 1,400 meters from the turbine during certain seasons and times of day. Furthermore, when shadow flicker is present, it typically occurs at a frequency of 0.3–1.1 Hertz (Hz), which is well below the threshold known to elicit seizures in those with epilepsy.
Recent research from DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has helped quantify the health benefits of wind plants.
Do wind turbines make noise?
Wind turbines can create two kinds of sound: a mechanical hum produced by the generator and a “whooshing” sound produced by the blades moving through the air. Most wind turbines are designed so that the turbine is upwind of the tower, which mitigates low-frequency and impulsive sound. The presence of turbine sound depends on atmospheric conditions, and the ability for humans to perceive wind turbine sound varies based on the presence of other nearby sources of sound and site-specific topography. However, the sound pressure levels for modern wind turbines at distances greater than 400 meters are typically less than 40 decibels (dBA), which is comparable to the lowest limit of urban ambient sound.
Depending on the site, proximity to nearby residences, and the permitting regulations, wind farm developers are typically required to address potential sound issues in the permitting process through setback requirements and must demonstrate that the project will comply with the applicable sound level regulations. Setbacks are standards defined to create space between areas of concern and the wind project. Common areas of concern include property lines, inhabited structures, and public roads, as well as communication and electrical lines. Sound requirements create a standard maximum level of allowed sound due to the operation of wind systems. These standards often include a defined method of measuring sound level.
There are no nationally or internationally defined standards for wind turbine setbacks, with many organizations or local governments defining their own standards, typically incorporated into town or county ordinances. For more information, see the WINDExchange webpage on wind turbine sound and the list of other resources on OpenEI: Sound.
Is wind power more expensive than other forms of energy?
The average levelized cost of wind power purchase agreements signed in recent years has been 2–3 cents per kilowatt-hour, depending on the wind resource and the project’s financing. Because the electricity from wind farms is sold at a fixed price over a long period of time (e.g., 20 years) and its fuel is free, wind energy mitigates the price uncertainty that fuel costs add to traditional sources of energy.
Since 2008, wind turbine prices have declined sharply while performance has improved. In addition, federal tax incentives have helped both wind and solar power purchase agreement prices fall below the projected cost of burning natural gas in existing gas-fired combined cycle units. For more information on the current state of the U.S. wind power market, refer to the Energy Department’s Wind Market Reports.
Where are wind turbines manufactured?
Most of the components of wind turbines installed in the United States are manufactured domestically at the more than 500 wind-related manufacturing facilities across the United States. For more information and for a map of wind-related manufacturing facilities, see our Wind Manufacturing and Supply Chain web page.
How can I find a job in the wind industry?
American Clean Power, a renewable energy trade association, has a web page on careers in the wind industry that includes job postings from its members and other companies working in the industry. See DOE’s Wind Career Map to chart a path among the wind industry’s broad range of occupations and learn about experience and skill expectations, wage information, and educational requirements.
For those interested in continuing education for careers in the wind industry, WINDExchange maintains a list of universities and community colleges that offer wind energy training courses.
What is the federal government doing to advance wind power?
The Wind Energy Technologies Office invests in wind energy science research and development activities to enable greater use of abundant domestic wind resources for electric power generation that will help stabilize energy costs, enhance energy security, and improve our environment. These activities are conducted through competitively selected, cost-shared research and development projects with national laboratories, industry, universities, and other agencies. For more information, see our About the Office, Research and Development, Multi-Year Program Plan, and Key Activities web pages.
What funding opportunities are currently available from the U.S. Department of Energy?
The Wind Energy Technologies Office focuses primarily on research and development activities to improve the reliability and affordability of wind energy, as well as addressing barriers to wind energy deployment. The Wind Energy Technologies Office prefers to award funding for research and development activities, including research into and development of new inventions, through a competitive solicitation process.
For a list of current opportunities from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office, see our funding opportunities web page. To be considered for funding, proposals for wind energy research and development should be submitted in response to competitive solicitations posted on this page. Future solicitations are dependent on Congressional appropriations to DOE for wind energy research.
DOE also awards competitively-sourced funding for research and development through its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and Small Business Voucher Pilot program. Wind energy projects may also qualify for loan guarantees from DOE. For more information, please visit the DOE Loan Guarantee Program.
If you are interested in applying for funding, but your project does not fit within the scope of the posted solicitations, you may submit a proposal to DOE's Unsolicited Proposal Office.
How can students learn about wind energy?
The Wind Energy Technologies Office supports a variety of programs that help students learn about and prepare for careers in wind energy.
The U.S. Department of Energy Collegiate Wind Competition (CWC) provides students with real-world experience as they prepare to enter the wind industry workforce. CWC teams design and build a model turbine, generate a wind project development plan, and conduct outreach with the wind industry, their local communities, and local media outlets.
Also at the university level, the Wind for Schools project helps develop a future wind energy workforce by encouraging students at higher education institutions to join Wind Application Centers and serve as project consultants for small wind turbine installations at rural elementary and secondary schools. Wind for Schools project goals are to:
- Improve wind energy workforce development through wind-focused deployment and educational activities.
- Introduce teachers and students to wind energy.
- Equip college juniors and seniors with an education in wind energy applications.
- Engage America’s communities in wind energy applications, benefits, and challenges.
Wind for Schools aims to educate college students in wind energy applications with a focus on hands-on small wind project development through classes and field work. The Wind Application Centers develop and share curricula, with each institution focusing on technical areas that are the strengths of the respective professors and institutions.
The Wind for Schools project works closely with the KidWind Project and the National Energy Education Development Project to provide hands-on, interactive curricula that are supported through teacher training workshops in different states. The project has also provided teacher training science kits for use in the classroom, as well as links to additional teaching materials.
The following websites feature student-focused information on wind energy, including hands-on activities and lesson plans:
Curricula and Lesson Plans
- Educators for the Environment: Energy for Keeps (includes a wind energy section)