A turbine is a machine that spins around in a moving fluid (liquid or gas) and catches some of the energy passing by. All sorts of machines use turbines, from jet engines to hydroelectric power plants and from diesel railroad locomotives to windmills. Even a child's toy windmill is a simple form of turbine.
The huge rotor blades (propellers) on the front of a wind turbine are the "turbine" part. As wind passes by, the kinetic energy (energy of movement) it contains makes the blades spin around (usually quite slowly). The blades have a special curved shape so they capture as much energy from the wind as possible.Although we talk about "wind turbines," the turbine is only one of the three main parts inside these giant machines. The second part is a gearbox whose gears convert the slow speed of the spinning blades into higher-speed rotary motion—turning the drive shaft quickly enough to power the electricity generator.The generator is the third main part of a turbine and it's exactly like an enormous, scaled-up version of the dynamo on a bicycle. When you ride a bicycle, the dynamo touching the back wheel spins around and generates enough electricity to make a lamp light up. The same thing happens in a wind turbine, only the "dynamo" generator is driven by the turbine's rotor blades instead of by a bicycle wheel, and the "lamp" is a light in someone's home dozens of miles away. Read more in our main article about generators.Photo: Head for heights! You can see just how big a wind turbine is compared to this engineer, who's standing right inside the nacelle (main unit) carrying out maintenance. Notice how the white blades at the front connect via an axle (gray—under the engineer's feet) to the gearbox and generator behind (blue). Photo by Lance Cheung courtesy of US Air Force.