WIND FARM To match the output of traditional power plants, hundreds of wind turbines are usually installed in one favorable location, such as the Klondike wind farm in Oregon pictured here. Image: Courtesy of GE
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In the past decade the amount of electricity produced by harnessing the wind in the U.S. has grown 13-fold, now supplying some 2.3 percent of U.S. electricity needs, or enough juice to power the state of Wisconsin. Wind turbines have been rising above the plains in Texas, cropping up on ridge lines in Oregon and even threatening to appear offshore in Massachusetts's Nantucket Sound—all to take advantage of the uneven heating of Earth's surface that creates air currents, or wind.
But in order to make a significant contribution to the effort to combat climate change, such wind power would have to provide roughly 20 percent of U.S. electricity needs—and that means turbines covering some 400,000 square kilometers, or roughly the entire state of Montana. Whereas other uses for land can continue beneath the sweep of a turbine's massive blades, such sprawling wind energy infrastructure does mean that many more people are going to become familiar—for good or for ill—with this modern technology for turning the breeze into electricity.
So what goes into a latter-day descendant of the creaky old windmill on a sodbuster's farm? This slide show walks through the parts of a modern wind turbine and how they work together to generate power.
Slide Show: The Making of a Modern Wind Turbine and Wind Farm