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12.13: Wind Power

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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What does "NIMBY" stand for?

Not in my backyard. As much as any type of power source, wind power pits people who are concerned about the environment against, well, people who are concerned about the environment. Some people want the benefits of clean wind power but don't want the turbines in their vicinity.

Wind Energy

Energy from the Sun also creates wind, which can be used as wind power. The Sun heats different locations on Earth by different amounts. Air that becomes warm rises and then sucks cooler air into that spot. The movement of air from one spot to another along the ground creates wind. Since wind is moving, it has kinetic energy.

Wind power is the fastest growing renewable energy source in the world. Windmills are now seen in many locations, either individually or, more commonly, in large fields.

Wind Power Use

Wind is the source of energy for wind power. Wind has been used for power for centuries. For example, windmills were used to grind grain and pump water. Sailing ships traveled by wind power long before ships were powered by fossil fuels. Wind can be used to generate electricity, as the moving air spins a turbine to create electricity (Figure below).

Wind turbines provide electricity

Wind turbines like the ones shown here turn wind into electricity without creating pollution.

Consequences of Wind Power

Wind power has many advantages. It does not burn, so it does not release pollution or carbon dioxide. Also, wind is plentiful in many places. Wind, however, does not blow all of the time, even though power is needed all of the time. Just as with solar power, engineers are working on technologies that can store wind power for later use.

Windmills are expensive and wear out quickly. A lot of windmills are needed to power a region, so nearby residents may complain about the loss of a nice view if a wind farm is built. Coastlines typically receive a lot of wind, but wind farms built near beaches may cause unhappiness for local residents and tourists.

The Cape Wind project off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts has been approved but is generating much controversy. Opponents are in favor of green power but not at that location. Proponents say that clean energy is needed and the project would supply 75% of the electricity needed for Cape Cod and nearby islands (Figure below).

Cape Wind off of Cape Cod in Massachusetts

Cape Wind off of Cape Cod in Massachusetts receives a great deal of wind (red color) but is also popular with tourists for its beauty.

California was an early adopter of wind power. Windmills are found in mountain passes, where the cooler Pacific Ocean air is sucked through on its way to warmer inland valleys. Large fields of windmills can be seen at Altamont Pass in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area, San Gorgonio Pass east of Los Angeles, and Tehachapi Pass at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley.


  • Wind contains energy, which can move a turbine and generate electricity.
  • Wind power is clean and does not release greenhouse gases, but some people complain about the spread of windmills across certain locations.
  • Wind has been used as a local energy source for centuries and is now being scaled up for use regionally.


  1. Describe what causes wind and how wind energy can be harnessed.
  2. What are some of the downsides of using wind power?
  3. Why do you think that wind is the fastest growing non-renewable energy source?

Explore More

Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

  1. Think about what you know about local winds. Why would a desert near tall mountains be a good place for wind turbines?
  2. How does a wind turbine capture energy?
  3. Why are turbines high in the sky?
  4. Are all wind farms on land?


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    Difficulty Level:
    At Grade
    Date Created:
    Feb 24, 2012
    Last Modified:
    Aug 21, 2016
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