Wind turbines

This section explains how energy is generated from the wind and how to identify opportunities to do this in your local area.

Why use wind energy?

  • It is one of the most cost-effective renewable energy sources in the UK.
  • The UK is the windiest country in Europe, and wind energy is expected to make the biggest contribution to achieving our targets for renewable energy.
  • Communities and local authorities can reap significant financial benefits by installing wind turbines of their own or working in partnership with commercial wind farm developers in their local area.
  • Wind turbines are available in a range of sizes to suit different locations. While big wind farms will generate the most energy and money, smaller turbines can be accommodated more easily in and around urban areas and may still be good value in the right location.
  • Wind energy is clean with relatively low environmental impacts compared to other energy sources, and produces no carbon emissions in operation.

Benefits and potential impacts of wind energy

Cost and funding

The cost of a wind energy project will vary depending on the scale, site and installation requirements. The efficiency and cost-effectiveness of turbines increases markedly with increasing size.

To give an example of the range, a building-mounted turbine with the capacity to generate 2.5kW would cost around £10,000 and may not payback in the equipment lifetime. Whereas a large scale turbine (1MW - 2.5MW) would cost £2 - £3.3 million and the payback period could range from five years to less than one year respectively.

For more detailed information on costs, funding and payback periods:

How much do wind turbines cost and where can I get funding?

Project timescales

Timescales from inception to commissioning vary depending on the scale of the project:

  • Building level: three months or more
  • Community and large scale: from one year to several years depending on the complexity of the planning process.

Currently planning permission is required for all scales of turbine. Planning permission can be one of the biggest barriers to larger schemes and can cause significant delays. More information on planning permission is available on the ‘Wind energy project checklist'.

Wind energy project checklist

How and where wind energy works

Diagram of a wind turbine

Wind turbines use the energy in the wind to turn a rotor, which drives a generator. The rotor either has a horizontal axis, which is the most common type, or a vertical axis.

The diagram on the left shows a horizontal axis turbine. The rotor blades join together at the hub, which is connected via a shaft to the gearbox and generator. In horizontal axis turbines, the generator is commonly housed in a box (nacelle).

The electricity they generate can be used directly, used to charge a battery, or converted from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) using an inverter and then fed into the electricity grid.

Wind turbines are designed to work best within a certain range of wind speeds. The electricity generated by a wind turbine increases with the wind speed and the area of the rotor. Therefore it is important to consider the location and the type of turbine used very carefully.

See below for more information about types of wind turbines, scale, output, wind speed, managing installation and maintenance.

Examples of how wind turbines are used

Practical issues

There are important issues to consider when identifying opportunities for wind energy. You may need to complete studies for planning permission to assess the impact of the project on the local area.

The ‘Wind energy project checklist' page provides a list of issues to check when looking for suitable sites for wind. This includes an explanation of designated areas and setback distances to consider as well as the planning process.

Wind energy project checklist

Case studies

Here are some examples of how some councils are already using wind energy:

Bristol City Council's wind turbines

South Wheatley wind turbine project

Sustainable Hockerton

Links to further information

Checklist for installing a small wind turbine - on the RenewableUK website (formerly the British Wind Energy Association)

Community Energy Online website

‘Delivering community benefits from wind energy development: a toolkit' (PDF, 52 pages, 540KB) - on the Centre for Sustainable Energy website

Microgeneration certification scheme website

Planning renewables website

NOABL wind speed database - on the RenewableUK website

Wind power in the UK (2005) - on the Sustainable Development Commission website

Natural England website

Countryside Council for Wales website


10 March 2011

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