The Simplest Wind Turbine Is The Most Satisfying

Sometimes there’s a satisfaction to be found not in the more complex projects but the simplest ones. We’ve featured wind turbines of all types here at Hackaday over the years, but HowToLou’s one is probably one of the least sophisticated. That notwithstanding, it does its job admirably, and provides a handy reminder of a parts source many of us might have overlooked.

At its heart is a motor from an exercise treadmill, which appears to be quite a powerful DC motor so that’s a source worth noting away for any future projects. To that he attaches the blades from a desk fan, and when placed outdoors on a windy day it generates enough power to run an LED head torch and charge his phone.

Of course, this most basic of wind turbines is not displaying its true potential in the video below the break. Were it mounted in a high position free from ground based wind obstacles it would no doubt catch a lot more wind, and in particular were it hooked up to a charge controller and a battery it could provide a much more useful power source. Then you could start optimizing fan blade designs… But this is a fun project that isn’t trying to masquerade as anything sophisticated, and it still has that potential.

This isn’t the first such simple turbine we’ve brought you.

37 thoughts on “The Simplest Wind Turbine Is The Most Satisfying

    1. nonsense – the smallest is the most irrelevant to putting an end to fossil fuels. Power output is proportional to the square of the diameter and the cube of the wind speed, which means the tallest and with the biggest diameter is by far the most satisfying. The Haliade-X is not only the most powerful wind turbine in the world but also features a 60-64% capacity. Name plate capacity 13 MW!!! and more. 13 unlucky number for dirty fossil fuels.

        1. Technically, any turbine can run at 60-64% capacity factor. It’s just a question of what capacity you print on the nameplate. The low capacity factor is a result of trying to capture the most energy per unit at the cheapest possible price, by designing the turbines to operate at very high wind speeds.

          This development came to be because nations chose to subsidize wind energy by the amount of energy in produces, per MWh, which bypasses the market mechanism that puts value both on the amount AND timing of the energy.

      1. So, interesting. Using numbers from the first few google hits published by IESO and LifeByNumbers, the average capacity factors actually seen in practice are roughly half the manufacturer claims — this is entirely due to turbines not being placed in the manufacturer’s notional “ideal” site.

        So that 13 MW turbine will (optimistically) produce on average roughly 5 MW.

        Since you need baseload plants or storage to cover for it when it’s not producing, you’re not saving capital costs: the only thing you save is the fuel that you don’t burn to make that wind-produced energy. At current published rates, that marginal wholesale power rate is around $6/MWh.

        So, that turbine will produce about $30 per hour of electricity, on average. A quarter million dollars per year.

        What’s the annualized cost of purchasing, installing and maintaining that $20M turbine and its connection to the grid?

        1. Hmmm.

          Data I found indicates wholesale rates in the $35-45/MWh range. Notable standout is Texas with a wholesale spike to $120/MWh….and that didnt include their rates from their recent Polar Vortex disaster (certainly 10x that, I would guess).

          1. $35-45 sounds reasonable for markets with high fuel costs. The $6 IESO numbers quoted above are in a market that’s got mostly nuclear and hydroelectric baseload plants, so the marginal rate is almost certainly lower than someplace fueled by gas or even coal.

            As I write this the current IESO price is $11.63/MWh ( ), up dramatically from the overnight rate of $0.00. In other words, there was so much surplus electricity capacity on the grid there last night that they would pay $0.00 for anything a windfarm might make.

            But, rejigging for the $40/MWh cost, the turbine makes $1.8 million per year. Question still stands: how does this compare with the annualized cost of that turbine?

          2. Nobody’s doing $6 per MWh wholesale, that’s just too low.

            What you’re looking at is the HOEP real-time market price which tracks the market clearing prices. What this means is, first you have the utilities purchasing agreements that deal with the daily market, at the daily wholesale prices, then you have the hourly prices that track what demand is left over from that market that couldn’t be predicted 24 hours in advance. The hourly price can go all over the place, but in the perfect case it should be exactly zero because supply is meeting demand already.

            The actual HOEP averages around 1.5 – 2 CENTS per kWh which is $15-20/MWh


            Such low hourly prices are the typical result of nuclear and hydro producing oversupply, so the load following is mostly accomplished by flexible power exports. This is because the river must run, and the nuclear plant catches a higher average price even when it’s selling at a loss because it has practically no fuel costs, so both are simply selling at whatever price the market gives them. They have separate bulk rates that the utilities agreed to pay (PPA), and the hourly price is just extra.

          3. Basically what’s happening is, an electric utility tells the nuclear plant operator they need X amount of megawatts tomorrow at Y hour. The nuclear plant owner promises to deliver that, but doesn’t turn down the reactor for the remainder and instead sells the excess power on the hourly market. From there it is pushed on further and further down the grid until someone buys it at any price, even zero. If the demand picks up, the price picks up and the zero-value consumers drop out.

        2. A general rule of thumb is between 3-5% purchase cost annually for upkeep. However, this depends on how long the turbine is run. They’re technically designed for 25 years, but the owners typically run them for little over 12 years because this is the common duration of the subsidy term. Then they’re left to abandon, or torn down and replaced with new turbines with new subsidies.

  1. Funny. Around here there are hundreds of windmills plopped in farmers’ fields. In many of those same fields are huge *fans*: These are turned on during cool, clear nights to blow away the cold inversion layer to prevent frost damage to the crop — The modern equivalent of a smudge pot.

    I’ve often wondered why they can’t just power up the windmills instead.

    1. We have those fans here too. I was surprised just how loud they can be. I hear them going 3 miles away.

      I suspect they don’t combine the fan and windmills for the same reason American air conditioners aren’t reversible. Mainly ..

    2. Why not power up the windmills instead? Because a wind turbine prop does not put out wind like a fan does. A wind turbine prop is made to be moved by the wind, not make wind. Most if not all of the wind hitting a turbines blades is thrown off the tips of the blades. Not off the trailing edge of the blade like fans do.

    1. Eh. I powered an incandescent flashlight bulb using only an RC car motor and some cardboard when I was 10.

      Now if you could turn 4 Copper, 2 Gears, 15 Steel, and 10 Aluminum into a windmill that produces 12 power Fallout style, that would be something.

  2. The real obstacle of the wind turbine thing in small scale is not that a turbine is generating electricity but the mean to utilize the power it harnesses.
    Arduino science forum has one topic on how to operate an off-the-shelves induction motor in grid tie generator mode at low, low low speed.

  3. Cool project! School children could build these then wire same to a foil helmet for stimulated thought. There is concern that if too many wind turbines are erected the earth’s rotation would increase flinging humans into the atmosphere. Saw it on the internet…

    1. hold my beer,

      3.1×10^15 g⋅cm/s^2

      assuming a 5w torch. 5w drawn from usb adapter. If you want to account for loss, you’d be safe drawing 4×10^15 g-cm/s^2.

  4. I had a treadmill motor hooked up to one of those decorative yard windmills for quite a while, and it ran string of incandescent outdoor mood/path lights. I forget what failed in it, but I have been on the lookout for another one of those decorative mills for a while now.

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