Monday, September 05, 2016

Wind what?

What do you call that giant tower with spinning blades that produces electricity from wind?  Windmill?  Well, kinda, but not really.  The word "mill" that forms the latter portion of the word "windmill" is just that, a mill.  In this context, a mill is a machine that grinds and crushes something, such as grain.MD There isn't a whole lot of grinding and crushing of anything when using a rotor to produce electricity.  It's really the opposite of a mill.

The definition of "turbine" is a bit more broad.  A turbine is a machine that converts the movement of a fluid into rotary motion.TD  With that definition, a mill is a type of turbine.  However, a turbine is not necessarily a mill.

There is no specific word that provides a special name for an electricity producing turbine, so the word turbine itself is used.  Turbine is also used to name machines that make electricity from flowing water, such as those found at Hoover Dam.HD   So, that giant tower with spinning blades that produces electricity is more correctly called a wind turbine.  A collection of wind turbines at one location are frequently referred to as "wind farms".

Another wind powered machine is the windpump, which is used to pump water.  Windpumps and windmills have been in use for about 1500 years, being first developed in the Persian region between A.D. 500 and 900.WP  Wind turbines owe their existence to our long history of windmills and windpumps.  It's somewhat understandable that there is some confusion of terms.

Interesting modern examples of wind power in use

There's even a wind-powered record player!  Well, that's mostly art, but apparently it works well.  Then, there's this guy, William Kamkwamba, who built wind turbines and pumps for his village in Malawi at a time of famine and when such luxaries were only experienced by 2% of their population.

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