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Is One Answer Blowing in the Wind?

"Oh, man, it's windy today!" you say looking out your window. But how can you tell? Well, trees and bushes lean over and their branches wave wildly. Leaves, trash, and even trash cans fly down the street. The restless air rattles the windows.

Anything that can push trees and trash cans around must have a lot of energy. If only we could grab some and put it to work!

We can. For two thousand years, people have harnessed the wind to help with their work. Windmills have pumped water from wells, ground wheat into flour, pressed oil from seeds, and even helped with the laundry. When electric lights came into use in the late 1800s, the windmill was put to work to produce electricity.

However, most of our electricity has been made by burning coal or natural gas. Unfortunately, burning these fuels adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and makes global warming worse. Wind does not make carbon dioxide. And it never runs out. So more and more power companies are building wind "farms." A wind farm is a collection of wind mills, or wind turbines, built in a windy location, such as a mountain pass. A wind farm may have thousands of wind turbines. Together, they can make a lot of electricity.

One wind turbine in a nice, windy location can power around 200 homes. To power 200 homes for one month, a coal-fired power plant emits about 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere!

Still, in the United States, and over the whole Earth, only a small fraction of electricity is made using clean, renewable energy sources like wind.

Let's give more power to the wind!

Play the Power-Up game at NASA's Climate Kids website. Capture enough wind and solar energy to run a whole city. It's at http://climate.nasa.gov/kids/powerupcleanly. And at The Space Place, see the "Ecosphere." It is a tiny model of Earth's perfectly balanced air, water, land, and lifeā€”if we don't mess it up! Play word games while you're there at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/en/kids/earth/wordfind.

Over 4,000 separate wind turbines make up this wind farm in the San Gorgonio Pass in Southern California. It provides power for over 400,000 people.

This article was written by Diane K. Fisher and provided courtesy of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


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