The Back Story of Wind Power

Humans first used wind power to move their boats well over 5,000 years ago. In the Western world, coarse windmills entered the scene at around 200 bc; these were used to process grains and other foods. The Chinese used windmills for the same purpose over 2,000 years ago. The Dutch refined windmill technology, which was used for draining swamps and grinding food. The English also built thousands of windmills for similar purposes.

As the technologies were refined, the number of applications soared. Windmills were used for irrigation, milling and processing of manufactured goods like spices, and woodworking products.

In the United States, heavy, cumbersome wooden blades were replaced by fabric sails (very much like the sails used on tall ships). Over 6 million windmills were built in the United States over the course of the next century to pump water on small ranches, mostly in western states where access to rivers and streams is limited. Nearly every western movie shows a scene with the windmill next to the house, and in fact the push west was made possible by these windmills because there was no other source of water, in most cases.

Electricity was first generated by wind power in 1890. This was made possible by larger, metallic blades that captured more of the potential wind energy and converted it into useable power. The first such windmill had a blade diameter of around 50 feet and output only 12 kW's of power, but it was the beginning or a new era in energy production.

As the federal government pursued large hydropower programs in the 1940s (refer to Chapter 10), windmills fell out of favor. The national electrical grid was being built and people didn't need localized power sources any longer. All they had to do was plug into a wall socket and they had their power. Fossil fueled generators were also being built on large scales, and the economics was much better than that for wind power. Plus, environmental concerns were minor back in those days.

As a result of the first Arab Oil Embargo in the 1970s, wind came back into favor as a locally grown, diversified energy source. Large-scale wind farms on an experimental basis originated in California in the 1980s as a result of federal and state tax subsidies. Since then, the technologies have advanced as computer aided designs allowed for much higher conversion efficiencies (the conversion between wind potential energy and output electrical energy). Power semiconductors also increased the electrical efficiencies of wind farms to the point where the technology could compete price-wise with fossil fuels.

Today, wind offers perhaps the greatest promise of any alternative energy source. The power is clean and efficient. There are no greenhouse gas pollutants and wind is available literally everywhere, at some time or another. And the cost is low.

Renewable Energy 101

Renewable Energy 101

Renewable energy is energy that is generated from sunlight, rain, tides, geothermal heat and wind. These sources are naturally and constantly replenished, which is why they are deemed as renewable. The usage of renewable energy sources is very important when considering the sustainability of the existing energy usage of the world. While there is currently an abundance of non-renewable energy sources, such as nuclear fuels, these energy sources are depleting. In addition to being a non-renewable supply, the non-renewable energy sources release emissions into the air, which has an adverse effect on the environment.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment