What Is the Difference Between a Windmill & a Wind Turbine?

••• wind turbine image by Jim Parkin from Fotolia.com

Windmills and wind turbines both harness wind energy and put it to practical use. The difference is in how they do it: One is a machine with mechanics powered by the wind, the other generates electricity for use elsewhere.

Windmills

Windmills convert wind energy directly into mechanical energy for such tasks as milling grain--the source of the term--or pumping water, which is usually the purpose of windmills you see on farms.

Windmill Mechanism

The spinning vanes of a windmill turn a camshaft, which is connected by gears and rods to the machinery that does the work. All power is directed into the work

Wind Turbine

A wind turbine converts wind energy into electricity, which can then be used to power electrical equipment, stored in batteries or transmitted over power lines.

Wind Turbine Mechanism

A wind turbine has essentially the same parts as a simple electric motor, but it works in reverse: A motor uses electrical current to produce motion; a wind turbine uses motion to create electrical current.

Terminology

Though "windmill" is frequently used by laypeople to describe electricity-generating wind turbines, the wind power industry and windmill manufacturers both make a careful distinction between the terms.

References

About the Author

Cam Merritt is a writer and editor specializing in business, personal finance and home design. He has contributed to USA Today, The Des Moines Register and Better Homes and Gardens"publications. Merritt has a journalism degree from Drake University and is pursuing an MBA from the University of Iowa.

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