Wind energy has become one of the most viable clean energy sources on the planet. Windmills were actually used in ancient times, however, it really wasn’t until 1854 when a man named Daniel Hallady started building and manufacturing them. Still, these weren’t electricity-generating machines, but were more commonly used to pump water. It wasn’t until 1888 that Charles F. Brush invented a wind turbine that could generate electricity.

Today’s wind turbines are much different than Brush’s early versions. Now, one wind turbine is estimated to power between 225 to 300 households. If its in a location like an offshore wind farm, where the wind is more powerful and consistent, that number could reach over 400 homes. But how do wind turbines work, and what role do permanent magnets play?

How wind turbines work

Today’s wind turbines have become highly complex pieces of machinery. Each part plays a significant role in how it functions and captures wind energy. The basic premise for how wind turbines work is that strong winds turn the blades, and the blades of the fan are connected to a main shaft in the center. Connected to that shaft is a generator that can convert that motion into electricity. Certain conditions are needed for this, which is why wind turbines are built to certain heights.

Permanent magnets and wind energy

Within the past decade or so, some wind turbines have been upgraded to utilize direct drive permanent magnet generator (PMG) systems, which has eliminated the need for gearboxes. Permanent magnets systems are used because they can be more cost-efficient, reliable and low-maintenance. Instead of needing electricity to emit a magnetic field, large neodymium magnets are usually used to produce their own. This eliminates the need for some parts that previous generators required and decreases the wind speed needed to produce energy.

If you want to learn more about wind energy, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has a great online library of resources. If you have questions about permanent magnets, feel free to share in the comments.