Students' Corner


Ten big questions about wind power!

Building a functional wind turbine is only part of what the KidWind Challenge is all about. We also want you to learn how wind power fits into the bigger energy picture. To help you think about this we have broken down these ideas into 10 Big Questions.

1. Devices that capture the energy in the wind come in many different forms: sailboats, kites, pinwheels, and so on. There are windmills to pump water and grind grain, there are wind turbines for your home and for the electrical grid, and there are vertical and horizontal axis machines. What defines each of these kinds of turbines? What are some important ways that they are similar and different? What makes your wind turbine similar to these devices? What makes your wind turbine different?

2. Climate change is major challenge facing the world. What are the environmental benefits of generating electricity using the wind? What are some of the tradeoffs? Why would we want to harness the power of the wind? What challenges might we face in generating 20–30% of US electricity from wind?

3. From what sources do we generate most of our electricity in the US? What are the primary sources of electricity used in your region of the US? How much does it cost to power your house each month? How much of the electricity that is used in the US is generated by wind? How has this changed over the last ten years?

4. In some local communities, wind power can be controversial. Below are concerns voiced by local communities. Evaluate the validity of these claims by doing your own research.

  • Sound. People who live near wind turbines sometimes complain that the sound from the wind turbines is causing health impacts from vibration and other acoustical affects. There is data that supports both sides of this argument. What do you think?

  • Aesthetics. Wind turbines can be an eyesore to some people. What can be done with wind turbines to minimize this problem?

  • Environmental Impact (Habitat). Wind turbines can change local habitats and have caused significant bird and bat kills in the past. What is the impact on wildlife from wind turbines today? How are biologists and ecologists dealing with these impacts?

5. As wind and solar power are relatively new energy sources to the US, they receive financial support to make them more economical. Fossil fuels and nuclear power receive subsidies as well. Do you feel that subsidies are appropriate in the energy industry? If so, what energy sources would you subsidize and why?

6. A great deal of research is going into making wind turbines more efficient. What components of wind turbines are undergoing rapid change and development? Which changes seem to be having the most impact in improving turbine performance?

7. What causes wind? What are the windiest parts of the US? Where are most of the wind turbines located in the US? Are there any offshore wind farms?

8. What is the equation that defines how much power is in the wind? What are the most important variables? How does this equation affect turbine design and placement?

9. Developing and installing renewable energy, like wind and solar, requires professionals and experts from many different fields of study. What are some of the careers and jobs that make renewable energy possible?

10. Wind turbines can only generate power when the wind is blowing, just as solar panels only generate power when the sun is shining. As we all know, the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine. How can we deal with this “variability” of renewable energy resources? How can we ensure that we have power whenever we need it without relying on fossil fuels?