Energy from moving air
Wind is caused by uneven heating of the earth's surface by the sun. Because the earth's surface is made up of different types of land and water, it absorbs the sun's heat at different rates. One example of this uneven heating is the daily wind cycle.
How uneven heating of water and land causes wind
Source: Adapted from National Energy Education Development Project (public domain)
The daily wind cycle
During the day, air above the land heats up faster than air over water. Warm air over land expands and rises, and heavier, cooler air rushes in to take its place, creating wind. At night, the winds are reversed because air cools more rapidly over land than it does over water.
In the same way, the atmospheric winds that circle the earth are created because the land near the earth's equator is hotter than the land near the North Pole and the South Pole.
Wind energy for electricity generation
Today, wind energy is mainly used to generate electricity. Water-pumping windmills were once used throughout the United States and some still operate on farms and ranches, mainly to supply water for livestock.
Last reviewed: December 9, 2020