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Sustainability Learning Lab at Bellevue University

How a Wind Turbine Works

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Homeowner's Guide to Going Solar

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Solar power is energy from the sun that is converted into thermal or electrical energy. Solar energy is the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy source available, and the U.S. has some of the richest solar resources in the world. Solar technologies can harness this energy for a variety of uses, including generating electricity, providing light or a comfortable interior environment, and heating water for domestic, commercial, or industrial use.

There are three primary technologies by which solar energy is harnessed: photovoltaics (PV), which directly convert light to electricity; concentrating solar power (CSP), which uses heat from the sun (thermal energy) to drive utility-scale, electric turbines; and solar heating and cooling (SHC) systems, which collect thermal energy to provide hot water and air heating or conditioning.

SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association website

Solar thermal power/electric generation systems collect and concentrate sunlight to produce the high temperature heat needed to generate electricity. All solar thermal power systems have solar energy collectors with two main components: reflectors (mirrors) that capture and focus sunlight onto a receiver. In most types of systems, a heat-transfer fluid is heated and circulated in the receiver and used to produce steam. The steam is converted into mechanical energy in a turbine, which powers a generator to produce electricity. The map below shows total annual solar electricity generation in each state from utility-scale solar power plants 

Click map for more informaiton

U.S. Energy Information Administration: Solar Explained

Wind is caused by uneven heating of the earth's surface. As portions of the earth are heated by the sun, the heated air rises, and air rushes to fill low-pressure areas, creating wind. The wind is slowed as it brushes the ground so it may not feel windy at ground level. However, the power in the wind might be five times greater at the height of the blade tip on a large modern wind turbine.

Wind generates electricity as it moves the blades of a windmill or wind turbine converting the,kinetic energy of the wind  into electrical energy by the rotational motion caused by a rotor (a three-bladed assembly at the top of the wind turbine). The rotor turns a shaft that enters a gearbox that greatly increases the rotational shaft speed. The output shaft is connected to a generator that converts the rotational movement into electricity.

Proponents of this type of energy say that it is nonpolluting, plentiful, and renewable form of energy that can meet the energy needs of the world. With the amount of wind flowing across the United States, it could theoretically meet all our electricity needs using today's technology to harness Others argue that the noise the turbines create can cause headaches in some people and even death in some animals, including goats and wildlife. .       

                                            Encyclopedia of Contemporary American Social Issues(Vol. 4: Environment, Science, and Technology (2011), p.1680.   
Historically, wind power in the form of windmills has been used for centuries for such tasks as grinding grain and pumping water. Today, wind turbines in the United States were the source of about 7.3% of total U.S. utility-scale electricity generation in 2019.( Utility scale includes facilities with at least one megawatt (1,000 kilowatts) of electricity generation capacity.) By 2019, 42 states had utility-scale wind power plants; the five states with the most electricity generation from wind in 2019 were Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas, and California. These states combined produced nearly 60% of total U.S. wind electricity generation in 2019. Click image for more information.

U.S. Energy Information Administration, Wind Explained

The solar and wind stations are scheduled for the next phase of the Sustainability Learning Lab. This page will be updated when they are built.

Solar and Wind Energy Resources