Q? How Does Wind Energy Work?

A: Wind is simply air in motion. It is caused by the uneven heating of the earth’s surface by the sun. Since the earth’s face is made of very different types of land and water, it absorbs the sun’s heat at different rates.

During the day, the air above the land heats up more quickly than the air over water. The warm air over the land expands and rises, and the heavier, cooler air rushes in to take its place, creating winds. At night, the winds are reversed because the air cools more rapidly over land than over water. In the same way, the large atmospheric winds that circle the earth are created because the land near the earth’s equator is heated more by the sun than the land near the North and South Poles.

Today, wind energy is mainly used to generate electricity. Wind is called a renewable energy source because the wind will blow as long as the sun shines.

Q? How Wind Turbines Work

A: Like old fashioned windmills, today’s wind turbines use blades to collect the wind’s kinetic energy. Wind turbines work because they slow down the speed of the wind. The wind flows over the airfoil shaped blades causing lift, like the effect on airplane wings, causing them to turn. The blades are connected to a drive shaft that turns an electric generator to produce electricity.

With the new wind machines, there is still the problem of what to do when the wind isn’t blowing. At those times, other types of power plants must be used to make electricity.

Q? Bio-gas and its Benefits

A: Biogas typically refers to a gas produced by the biological breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen. Biogas originates from biogenic material and is a type of biofuel. One type of biogas is produced by anaerobic digestion or fermentation of biodegradable materials such as biomass, manure or sewage, municipal waste, and energy crops. This type of biogas is comprised primarily of methane and carbon dioxide. The other principal type of biogas is wood-gas which is created by gasification of wood or other biomass. This type of biogas is comprised primarily of nitrogen, hydrogen, and carbon monoxide, with trace amounts of methane.


The gases methane, hydrogen and carbon monoxide can be combusted or oxidized with oxygen. Air contains 21% oxygen. This energy release allows biogas to be used as a fuel. Biogas can be used as a low-cost fuel in any country for any heating purpose, such as cooking. It can also be utilized in modern waste management facilities where it can be used to run any type of heat engine to generate either mechanical or electrical power. Biogas is a renewable fuel and electricity produced from it can be used to attract renewable energy subsidies in some parts of the world.

Q? How Hydropower Works

A: Hydropower plants capture the energy of falling water to generate electricity. A turbine converts the kinetic energy of falling water into mechanical energy; then a generator converts the mechanical energy from the turbine into electrical energy. Hydroplants range in size from “micro-hydros” that power only a few homes to giant dams like the Hoover Dam that provide electricity for millions of people.

Parts Of A Hydroelectric Plant

Most conventional hydroelectric plants include four major components (see graphic below):

  • 1. Dam. Raises the water level of the river to create falling water. Also controls the flow of water. The reservoir that is formed is, in effect, stored energy.
  • 2. Turbine. The force of falling water pushing against the turbine’s blades causes the turbine to spin. A water turbine is much like a windmill, except the energy is provided by falling water instead of wind. The turbine converts the kinetic energy of falling water into mechanical energy.
  • 3. Generator. Connected to the turbine by shafts and possibly gears so when the turbine spins it causes the generator to spin also. Converts the mechanical energy from the turbine into electric energy. Generators in hydropower plants work just like the generators in other types of power plants.
  • 4. Transmission lines. Conduct electricity from the hydropower plant to homes and business.

Q? How Much Electricity Can A Hydroelectric Plant Make?

A: The amount of electricity a hydropower plant produces depends on two factors:

  • 1. How Far the Water Falls. The farther the water falls, the more power it has. Generally, the distance that the water falls depends on the size of the dam. The higher the dam, the farther the water falls and the more power it has. Scientists would say that the power of falling water is “directly proportional” to the distance it falls. In other words, water falling twice as far has twice as much energy.
  • 2. Amount of Water Falling. More water falling through the turbine will produce more power. The amount of water available depends on the amount of water flowing down the river. Bigger rivers have more flowing water and can produce more energy. Power is also “directly proportional” to river flow. A river with twice the amount of flowing water as another river can produce twice as much energy.

Q? What are Photovoltaics?

A: Photovoltaic cells look similar to solar panels but they work in a different way. Solar panels are used to produce hot water or even steam. Photovoltaic panels convert the sunlight directly into electricity. A typical example of a device powered by photovoltaic cells is a solar powered calculator. This type of device only needs a small amount of electrical power to work and can even be used in a room with artificial light (bulbs / fluorescent light).Although we see photovoltaic cells powering small devices such as calculators, they have a more practical application especially in the third world. Photovoltaic cells have been developed that will provide electrical power to pump drinking water from wells in remote villages. British Telecom have developed a system that can be used to power a radio telephone system. During the day the cells power the phone and also charge batteries. The batteries power the phone during the night. Often photovoltaic cells are used as a backup to conventional energy. If conventional fails, the cells are used to produce electricity.

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