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Energy Is Blowing in the Wind

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Have you ever watched how trees sway and bend in a strong wind? Have you ever thought about all the homes that could be powered with forces from the wind? In this project you'll discover, through trees, good places in your community for generating wind power.


Areas of Science
Time Required
Average (6-10 days)
Material Availability
Readily available
Very Low (under $20)
Use caution and have an adult with you at unfamiliar locations or locations with traffic nearby.

Kristin Strong, Science Buddies


In this project you will use trees to identify good and bad locations for harvesting wind energy.


Wind is a free resource. It can be used to make electrical power. A wind generator is a machine that takes the forces in wind and changes them into power. A wind generator does a better job of making power if it is in a good location, which means one that has an average wind speed of 10-13 miles per hour, or better, for over a year. A good location is also free from "bad winds" that can damage the wind generator, such as turbulent or chaotic winds that change quickly in force, speed, and direction.

Why is the location for a wind generator so important? Let's look at a graph showing how the power that a wind generator can produce changes with wind speed:

Example graph of power generated by a wind generator based on wind speed

Example graph shows the power output of a wind generator based on wind speed. The graph curves upward which indicates that small increases in wind speed will greatly increase power output.

Figure 1. How wind generator power changes with wind speed.

The graph shows that the power the generator is able to produce increases by the cube of the wind speed (see Equation 1, below). To cube a number means to multiply the number by itself twice. For example, two cubed (written mathematically as 23) is 23 = 2×2×2 = 8. Therefore, a small increase in wind speed results in a large increase in the power that the wind generator can produce.

Equation 1:

It is the job of environmental engineers to figure out where to locate wind generators. They study the land for clues that a location has a good source of strong, non-turbulent wind. One of the most important clues they use is trees. Trees change their shape in response to winds as they grow:

Environmental engineers can use the amount of "tree flagging" to estimate the average wind speed in a location over a year. The Griggs-Putnam Index is the visual chart that allows them to make those estimations.

Environmental engineers are also on the lookout for evidence of bad, turbulent winds like "tree throwing," which results in a leaning tree trunk, as shown below in Figure 3. Broken branches around the tree are also indicators of wind turbulence.

Drawing of two wave like arrows pointing to the right under the words turbulent wind A tree growing at a forty-five degree angle
Figure 3. Example of tree throwing.

Terms and Concepts

To do this project, you should know what the following terms mean. Have an adult help you search the Internet, or take you to your local library to find out more.



  • This source discusses how to find the best location for placing small wind generators, as well as how structures and terrain influence winds:
    Southwest Windpower. (2007). Siting Wind Generators. Retrieved February 22, 2008.
  • This website shows the Griggs-Putnam Index:
    Southwest Windpower. (n.d.). Griggs-Putnam Energy Index. Retrieved February 22, 2008.
  • This book provides a complete discussion of the methods used to locate wind generators. It also includes the Barsch Index, which is the visual chart that classifies wind-caused tree deformation for broad-leaf trees.
    Hiester, T.R. and Pennell, W.T., Siting Handbook for Large Wind Energy Systems, Windbooks, Inc., 1981.

Materials and Equipment

To do this project, you will need the following materials and equipment:

Experimental Procedure

  1. Find several windy locations that have different types of terrain. Examples are:
    1. Windward side of a hill
    2. Crest of a hill
    3. Leeward side of a hill
    4. Windward side of a building or natural structure
    5. Leeward side of a building or natural structure
    6. Flat ground
  2. Pick out three trees at each of the locations.
  3. Make two data charts to record your observations: one for recording each tree's wind speed index and one for recording evidence of turbulence. See the examples below.

    Wind Speed Index Data Chart
      Windward Side of Hill Crest of Hill Leeward Side of Hill
    Tree 1      
    Tree 2      
    Tree 3      

    Evidence of Turbulence Data Chart (Yes=1; No=0)
      Windward Side of Hill Crest of Hill Leeward Side of Hill
    Tree 1      
    Tree 2      
    Tree 3      

  4. For each tree, record:
    1. The tree's Griggs-Putnam Index of Deformity Rating (Number from 0 to VII)
    2. Any evidence of turbulent winds? (Yes=1; No=0)
  5. If desired, photograph the trees and any evidence of turbulence for your poster, or draw a sketch of the trees in your lab notebook.
  6. Plot your data on two graphs, in bar chart format. On the first graph, the y-axis should be the average Griggs-Putnam Index of Deformity Rating and the x-axis should be terrain or location. Be sure to include a key showing the wind speed range for each index. On the second graph, plot the average evidence of turbulence vs. terrain.
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Ask an Expert

Do you have specific questions about your science project? Our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.


  • For land without trees, you can get estimates of wind speed using the Beaufort Wind Speed Scale (retrieved March 10, 2008 from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Beaufort_scale&oldid=197072678). Record your estimates at the same time each day over several days, and figure out the average.
  • If you notice signs of turbulence on the leeward side of a building or structure, measure the distance from the structure to the point at which the signs of turbulence stop. If possible, measure the height of the structure. What is the ratio of these two numbers? Do you get a similar ratio when you evaluate other structures?


If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:

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Environmental engineers plan projects around their city or state—like municipal water systems, landfills, recycling centers, or sanitation facilities—that are essential to the health of the people who live there. Environmental engineers also work to minimize the impact of human developments, like new roads or dams, on environments and habitats, and they strive to improve the quality of our air, land, and water. Read more
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Park rangers are the law enforcement officials of our state and national parks. They protect and preserve parklands, keeping park resources safe from people who might try to damage them, deliberately or through neglect, and keeping people safe from dangers within the park. To achieve this goal, park rangers work in a wide variety of positions, including education and interpretation for park visitors, emergency dispatch, firefighting, maintenance, law enforcement, search and rescue, and… Read more
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Have you ever seen a wind farm or a collection of wind turbines? When the wind blows, the turbines rotate, turning the wind into energy for communities to use. But in order for the wind turbine to produce the greatest amount of energy efficiently, a wind turbine service technician must inspect, troubleshoot, repair, and ensure that the wind turbine is in good working order. This is a job that requires no fear of heights along with great mechanical aptitude and a good working knowledge of… Read more

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General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Energy Is Blowing in the Wind." Science Buddies, 20 Nov. 2020, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/EnvEng_p023/environmental-engineering/wind-energy. Accessed 7 June 2023.

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2020, November 20). Energy Is Blowing in the Wind. Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/EnvEng_p023/environmental-engineering/wind-energy

Last edit date: 2020-11-20
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