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Wind energy is one of the cheapest forms of electricity generation, which makes it a great renewable energy option for WA. 

You might have seen wind turbines dotting the WA landscape and wondered how a wind farm works. Here’s your guide to how these giant structures are developed and use the wind to generate electricity.


Wind farms in WA

The process of how a wind farm works all starts with choosing the right location. This process takes many different factors into consideration. 

First, the site needs to be a location with enough wind to generate electricity. Wind speeds must be high and there needs to be plenty of windy days each year in the area. Before a site is chosen, the wind speed is monitored and data will be collected for at least one year to test a site’s viability. 

Higher ground, such as on top of a hill, is an ideal location for wind turbines to capture the fastest-moving wind. At Albany Wind Farm, for example, the wind turbines sit around 80 metres above the Southern Ocean, making it a great spot to turn the coastal wind energy into electricity.


Choosing the location of wind farms

The area surrounding a potential wind farm site is an extremely important factor in finding the right location. For example, somewhere near an airport would not be suitable as the wind turbines could pose a safety risk to air traffic. 

Before a wind farm is built, a detailed assessment of the area considering environmental and cultural impacts is undertaken, as well as how a wind farm could impact neighbouring communities.

Another important factor in determining the location of a wind farm is how close the site is to the electricity grid. Since the electricity the wind energy generates will be fed into our grid, the South West Interconnected System, the location needs to be close enough to export this electricity safely and efficiently.Once a suitable location for a wind farm has been found, the design, planning and approvals process can take a few years. After these processes have been completed, the wind farm can be constructed.


What are wind turbine blades made of?

A wind turbine is a rotor with blades sitting on top of a tall tower, angled to catch the most wind energy possible.

These wind turbine blades are usually made from a combination of fibreglass, carbon and polyester, with layers of resin and paint for extra weather-proofing. Three is usually the ideal number of blades to balance each structure and allow it to operate in the most efficient way.


What are the other parts of a wind turbine?

Along with the rotor of blades, the other main parts of a wind turbine are:

  • The generator – This is where kinetic energy from the rotating blades is turned into electricity that can be exported into the grid.
  • The nacelle – This is the structure which holds the generator on the top of the tower. Motors inside the nacelle make sure the rotor blades are pointed into the wind.
  • The tower – The tower can be up to 150 metres tall to hold the rotor and other parts of the turbine.

Compared with previous models, wind turbines are now generally larger and more efficient. With a larger rotor for example, more wind can be captured, so fewer wind turbines might be needed to produce the same amount of energy. 


The design and construction of wind turbines

The towers of a wind turbine can be made in three or four separate sections which are lifted by cranes and bolted together. Then, the main shaft and generator are added and finally the wind turbine blades are attached.

Wind turbines are designed to be extremely strong to withstand the impact of the wind and other weather conditions. If it’s too windy (generally over 130 km/h), the blades will stop turning as a safety precaution.


How do wind farms work to generate electricity?

Once a wind farm has been constructed, commissioned and tested, the electricity generated from wind energy begins. Here’s what happens:

  • When the wind speed reaches at least 10 to 15km/h, the rotors will start spinning. 
  • The rotor blades turn a main shaft at about 15 revolutions per minute. This isn’t fast enough to generate electricity but creates kinetic energy and gathers momentum by passing through a series of gears on the shaft.
  • The kinetic energy travels through the generator to a transformer.
  • The transformer moves the energy into the electricity grid. 

With large pieces of technology in motion, wind turbines create sound as they catch energy and generate electricity. Here in Australia, we have some of the strictest regulations in the world that apply to wind farms, aimed to keep noise levels at a manageable level for the surrounding communities.


What happens when there’s no wind?

Wind farms are constructed in areas with very windy conditions to produce or generate the most electricity from wind energy possible. At times when the wind is not fast enough to generate electricity, the grid has other forms of electricity available.

In Albany, for example, the wind is almost always just right. On average, there are only seven days in a year when the wind is not strong enough to power the turbines.


How many wind farms are there in South West Interconnected System?

Wind energy is one of the cheapest forms of energy to produce and an important part of our energy generation mix in WA. There are 15 wind farms currently connected to the South West Interconnected System (SWIS) with a combined generation capacity of over 1000MW.

Currently in 2022, Synergy has interest in over 50 per cent of the electricity generated by wind energy in the SWIS through ownership, joint ventures and power purchase agreements.

In total, through joint venture and purchase price agreement wind farms. Synergy contributes around 1695 gigawatt-hours of renewable electricity to the SWIS per year, which is enough to power over 340,000 WA homes. That equates to an emissions reduction of over 1,700 ,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas annually. 


An investment in renewable energy

If you have a solar PV system for your home or business, you’re probably familiar with the idea of a payback period. This is the length of time it takes for your system to generate enough electricity to essentially pay for itself.

The same concept applies to wind farms. In this case, the 'energy payback period' considers the time it takes to generate enough electricity to offset the energy needed to construct and operate the wind farm. The Clean Energy Council estimates that typically a wind farm will generate this much electricity within six months, however this depends on a number of factors.


Our energy landscape is changing, and Synergy is exploring renewable energy technology like wind power and other innovative energy projects to ensure we are ready to support the transition to WA’s intelligent energy future. You can learn more about electricity generated by wind energy and the value that wind farms add to our energy generation mix in WA by learning 15 fast facts about wind power