A wind turbine is designed to produce a maximum of power at wide spectrum of wind speeds. All wind turbines are designed for a maximum wind speed, called the survival speed, above which they do not survive. The survival speed of commercial wind turbines is in the range of 40 m/s (144 km/h) to 72 m/s (259 km/h). The most common survival speed is 60 m/s (216 km/h). The wind turbines have three modes of operation:

  • Below rated wind speed operation
  • Around rated wind speed operation (usually at nameplate capacity)
  • Above rated wind speed operation

If the rated wind speed is exceeded the power has to be limited. There are various ways to achieve this.


Stalling works by increasing the angle at which the relative wind strikes the blades (angle of attack), and it reduces the induced drag (drag associated with lift). Stalling is simple because it can be made to happen passively (it increases automatically when the winds speed up), but it increases the cross-section of the blade face-on to the wind, and thus the ordinary drag. A fully stalled turbine blade, when stopped, has the flat side of the blade facing directly into the wind.

A fixed-speed HAWT inherently increases its angle of attack at higher wind speed as the blades speed up. A natural strategy, then, is to allow the blade to stall when the wind speed increases. This technique was successfully used on many early HAWTs. However, on some of these blade sets, it was observed that the degree of blade pitch tended to increase audible noise levels.

Vortex generators may be used to control the lift characteristics of the blade. The VGs are placed on the airfoil to enhance the lift if they are placed on the lower (flatter) surface or limit the maximum lift if placed on the upper (higher camber) surface.

Pitch control

Furling works by decreasing the angle of attack, which reduces the induced drag from the lift of the rotor, as well as the cross-section. One major problem in designing wind turbines is getting the blades to stall or furl quickly enough should a gust of wind cause sudden acceleration. A fully furled turbine blade, when stopped, has the edge of the blade facing into the wind.

Standard modern turbines all pitch the blades in high winds. Since pitching requires acting against the torque on the blade, it requires some form of pitch angle control, which is achieved with a slewing drive. This drive precisely angles the blade while withstanding high torque loads. In addition, many turbines use hydraulic systems. These systems are usually spring loaded, so that if hydraulic power fails, the blades automatically furl. Other turbines use an electric servomotor for every rotor blade. They have a small battery-reserve in case of an electric-grid breakdown. Small wind turbines (under 50 kW) with variable-pitching generally use systems operated by centrifugal force, either by flyweights or geometric design, and employ no electric or hydraulic controls.

Other controls


Modern large wind turbines are typically actively controlled to face the wind direction measured by a wind vane situated on the back of the nacelle. By minimizing the yaw angle (the misalignment between wind and turbine pointing direction), the power output is maximized and non-symmetrical loads minimized. However, since the wind direction varies quickly the turbine will not strictly follow the direction and will have a small yaw angle on average. The power output losses can simply be approximated to fall with cos3(yaw angle).

Electrical braking

Braking of a small wind turbine can also be done by dumping energy from the generator into a resistor bank, converting the kinetic energy of the turbine rotation into heat. This method is useful if the kinetic load on the generator is suddenly reduced or is too small to keep the turbine speed within its allowed limit.

Cyclically braking causes the blades to slow down, which increases the stalling effect, reducing the efficiency of the blades. This way, the turbine's rotation can be kept at a safe speed in faster winds while maintaining (nominal) power output. This method is usually not applied on large grid-connected wind turbines.

Mechanical braking

A mechanical drum brake or disk brake is used to hold the turbine at rest for maintenance. Such brakes are usually applied only after blade furling and electromagnetic braking have reduced the turbine speed, as the mechanical brakes would wear quickly if used to stop the turbine from full speed. There can also be a stick brake.