Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Nov 29

The Wind Energy Industry is Nothing New

Posted in Wind Farms | Wind Power | Wind Turbines

Chinese Windmill Though our scientists may claim that they are inventing something new by using wind as a source of generating energy, the truth is that wind is being used for centuries for this purpose. An example of this is an article published in 1838, which clearly shows that even in those times, wind was considered an important source of energy.

Here are a few quotes that were recorded in the past, which prove that wind was always important in generating energy.

John Houghton from Cambridge said in his paper Global Warming: The complete Briefing, ‘Given that it has been used as a form of energy for a couple of centuries, wind is a very common source of energy. The fact that there were about 10,000 windmills to tap wind energy in the Year 1800 itself, goes to show that wind was an important source of energy in parts of Europe like Britain. Therefore it is not surprising that parts of the world like some countries from Western Europe such as Great Britain and Denmark and some countries in western North America are trying to revive ways of tapping energy from wind. Slim, tall and more efficient objects have replaced windmills to tap wind energy.’

Even other researchers from Cambridge have worked on this subject. Vaclav Smil in his paper Energies wrote, ‘The windmills in 19th century, which were at par with watermills of that period with regard to generating power, were of a different design. They were used in farms and on Railway stations. Before that, post mills of 1.5 and 6 Kilowatt and tower mills of 5 to 10 kilowatts were used in Europe for this purpose.’

Studies tend to indicate that though the use of windmill to generate energy started in China, it soon spread to parts of Europe like England in the 12th century and by the end of the century there were 12000 mills in the region that needed little water to produce electricity to meet huge industrial demands.

Other researcher and historians like Cynthia Shea in her paper Renewable Energy: Today’s Contribution Tomorrow’s Promise points out that other European economies like the Danish industry at a particular time used wind-power to satisfy 1/4th of their power needs.

In United States of America, policy makers while stating it to former President George W Bush said, ‘Since around the year 1900, windmills were used to pump water in farms and ranches in the country. They even led to the production of electricity and turbines. Before that grain was ground and water was pumped with the help of wind mills as early as year 200 B C.’

Dennis Hayes in his paper The Official Earth Day Guide to Planet Repair also verifies the same as he says, ‘Before Carbon-fired power plants, 8 million Midwestern windmills made electricity by driving water and crushed grains. There was no other way to do so before villages got electricity in 1920s and 1930s.’

Christopher Flavin in his worldwide paper Electricity for a Developing World: New Directions has also urged the underdeveloped countries to follow American example of how they used Midwestern windmills to generate electricity for their rural sector.

Windmills have been used for centuries for pumping water in rural areas. They also grind grains and do other small tasks. Though traditional windmills can also generate power, latest technology and wind power together can be the foundation of mechanical power and can generate electricity in underdeveloped countries

The history of windmills has been penned down extensively by Wilson Clark in his work Energy For Survival: The Alternative to Extinction. With regard to Europe, he says, ‘Developed in Seventh century in Persia, windmill reached Europe through Dutch and England in thirteenth century enabling them to generate 1 billion kilowatt- hour of electricity. The wind energy produced by windmills was used as a source of power to the sailing ships. The Persians again became the first to use wind to develop mechanical power and used windmills to put out water for irrigation. Whereas windmills were used in Persia in seventh century, it reached France in 12th and Denmark, Germany and the Netherland in early 13th century.’

Wilson further talks of America. He says, ‘Industrial growth in Midwestern United States led to a situation where windmill industry had capital investment of $ 4.3 million by the year 1900 with homesteaders and ranchers having their own windmills. Efficient and long-lasting windmills were also developed due to stiff competition. The windmill industry in United States continued to grow with various windmills being tried out for the best possible option. Whereas some windmills developed in 18th century needed fewer sails, those made in 20th century could run electric generators, pump water and generate electricity for American farmers.’

Wilson also explains how 1250 kilowatt wind electric station generated that much power in the hills of Vermont during the days of Second World War. This was the hard work of a man known as Palmar C Putnam, who was finding it difficult to pay for high electricity rates in the region.

Many new ways have been developed to generate energy in the last two centuries, the world is again returning to the old ways of generating power because of scarcity of oil, gas and coal. This is because they know that energy created with the help of sun, water and wind will never get scarce or exhausted.

  • EPC

    And of course wind energy has been harnessed to power transport for even longer.The earliest recorded image of a sailing boat comes from Kuwait, engraved on a brass disc dated from the late 5th millennium BC! I recently came across a very neat idea for generating (and transporting) energy. A fleet of automated sailing boats traveling the world’s oceans towing a water turbine that generates energy that is stored on board as hydrogen, and delivered to wherever it is required.

  • AndrewW

    And wind energy is still a weak “supplement,” not an alternative. We still need a breakthrough to make wind energy economical.

    Today, the most sophisticated wind turbines cost $5 million installed and net less than $500,000 in electricity. Many wind farms built in the last 10 years are headed to bankruptcy because they couldn’t afford the maintenance (+30% a year).

  • styke

    Andrew hits the nail on the head. A breakthrough in wind technology would be a reduction in maintenance costs.

  • Boneheaded1

    Good point Andrew, the $500K number is WAY low. If you are talking per annum, then that’s not a horrible return, especially considering the tax breaks the companies get. But if you are talking lifetime, you are way under. Oh, and your $500K number is also wholesale prices not retail. And yes, wind won’t replace fossil. But it will be a big contributor in the replacement mix. Economies of scale are reducing both set up and maintenance costs. Thankfully, wind is here to stay and will continue to grow.

  • Laurent Masson

    I know that too well. There were thousands of sawmills and grindmills in France and Spain 500 years ago. Most fell in disrepair, but some have been restored recently.

    I am French and windmills are part of our national heritage. I hope we manage to keep them all those which still exist, and build new ones.

  • Dave Fritzler

    Wind energy has the best chance on the smaller scale.
    2 KVA to 30 KVA systems for farms and ranches on a synced grid tie with ample battery storage capacity is a good option. Supplemented with solar PV system and the additional power to the grid can help reduce the centralized system. By decentralizing, it also reduces the chances of losing power over a widespread area. If every ranch and farm had a system that can send electricity back into the grid, the need for more power plants becomes less important. This can even apply to suburban and urban areas too if the public was not so freaked out by things they do not comprehend as a necessity. They want the power but they don’t want to look at the source.

  • Clarence Larson

    I spoke with a utility man about a wind-farm that the utility had recently installed. I asked him how long it would take to pay for it. He told me, “Never.” Wind Farms are often being built to satisfy special interests and not because they, by themselves, are economically viable.

    The article describes that wind energy has been around a long time. Why did its use wain? You can tell me that it was some sort of conspiracy that lessened its use. I’d laugh.

    Someday – people will wake up and realize that new nukes are the way to go. These people will tell the nature nuts, “Just shut up and be scared. I want hot showers and my new electric car.”

  • Salman

    Wind energy may not be much right now but its definitely on the rise with countries like the US and China investing heavily in it. China invested $10 billion in this quarter in wind energy.

  • nan

    It’s the same with solar. The native people in the southwest built cliff dwellings with the sun in mind. It heated the interior in winter, but there was an overhang to keep the sun out in warmer weather. Why are we always reinventing the wheel?! And we think we’re so smart. lol

  • AndrewW

    Wind and Solar schemes are not alternatives. Not yet. They are simply “fell good” development schemes that only enrich the developers. DOE has given almost $20 billion to these failed projects in the last two years. They should have been looking for a “breakthrough.”

    We need to focus our attention and resources on “clean, affordable electricity generation.” That would be a breakthrough.

    To that end, the DOE should offer a $1 billion PRIZE for a breakthrough. Enough subsidizing marginal wind and solar deals – let’s find a solution.

    What do you think Dr. Chu? You spend $30 billion a year, how about making $1 billion a REWARD for a real SOLUTION?

  • Phil Manke

    Wind and solar energy lag simply because “burn tec and nuc tec” are far too cheap and have externalities that are unrealized in their initial costs. If the costs of ALL wars, military protection, and health concerns relating to pollution were linked properly to their causes the costs of our conventional sources would be completely UN-affordable.

    Andrew, you are obviously a pencil pushing, cost-of-money capitalist, and as such are a part of the problems. If you relate only your current cash outlay to your life, your conservative worldview is tiny and fearful indeed. Sometimes you only need to take two steps to the left, and the whole insane machine goes roaring by, and over the cliff. Your children may thank you for a slight change of mind, to join the eternal ONE, or they may forget you ASAP as you choose.

  • Phil Manke

    One more thing, Andrew; All children are your children. All the days of time is your time. Don’t forget it.

  • Craigs

    Mostly, the gap in energy is a gap in thinking that old but practical things like bikes and wind machines can ‘sustain’ the present population of the planet like they used to.
    They can’t. The population has grown far beyond that.

    We have no choice but to push forward into nuclear solutions and soon. The equivalent of a Manhattan Project, internationally funded with the knowledge gained available to all countries is what we require to solve the fusion equation. Once that is done, energy will not be an issue, oil will not be as valuable a commodity, and CO2 will not be increasing in the atmosphere.
    Wasting our resources on changing infrastructure to match a template that cannot work is foolish.

  • ARL1

    The world’s first electricity generating wind turbine was a battery
    charging machine installed in July 1887 by Scottish academic James Blyth to light his holiday home in Marykirk, Scotland.

    Scotland – we powered the World- we will power the World

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