An Ancient Power Source Gets its Due
We tend to think of wind power as a new innovation. The wind turbines that dot the American landscape are thought to be products of necessity: responses to the pollution generated by fossil fuels and other energy sources. This view is an inaccurate one. Humans have actually been using wind power for centuries.
The history of wind turbines begins in the Middle East. The first windmills originated in the desolate deserts between Afghanistan and Iran, and date back from the 7th century AD. These mills operate on the same basic principles as modern ones. These very early windmills may have actually been vertical axis windmills to eliminate the gearing system. They had simple rectangular blades and a vertical driveshaft direct to the tool at the application end of the mill. Each of these antique mills was equipped with sails that, like our contemporary wind turbines, power the driveshaft and blades beneath them.
They didn’t generate electricity of course, but the first windmills functioned using the same principles as contemporary wind turbines.
Wind turbine history really begins in the nineteenth century. In 1887, Professor James Blyth of Anderson’s College in Glasgow, Scotland built the first windmill for electricity production.
At the same time that Blyth was building his mill, Charles F. Brush was constructing the first automatically operated wind turbine. Installed in Cleveland, Ohio in 1887, Brush’s turbine wouldn’t impress many contemporary engineers. It could provide a paltry 12 kilowatts of power.
Wind Power Reaches Maturity
Blyth and Brush’s initial designs have been tinkered with and amended since the late 19th century. In the 1920s, the Frenchman George Darrieus invented the Darrieus turbine. This turbine, which has since entered the industry’s nomenclature as the “eggbeater windmill,” remains in use even today.
In 1941, American engineers experimented with wind power size, building the world’s first megawatt wind turbine in Castleton, Vermont. This mammoth turbine possessed 75-foot blades and weighed in at a formidable 240 tons.
The next phases in wind turbine history would concern the deployment of wind turbines. In both the United States and Europe, governments worked to develop utility-scale wind turbines. In the United States, for instance, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy experimented with a number of different wind turbine designs.
The Oil Crisis and the Birth of the Modern Wind Power Industry
While wind power was an established industry by the 1970s, the energy challenges of that decade gave impetus for the development of a faster growing wind turbine industry. The modern history of wind turbines is, in fact, unthinkable without the global oil crunch of that decade.
Between 1976 and 1985, more than 4,500 small grid-tied wind turbine systems were installed in the United States. Small wind turbine manufacturers anticipate tremendous future growth. A 2008 poll conducted among these companies found that they project a 30-fold boost in growth in the US small wind market.
The Future of Wind Power
Humans have been using wind-turbines to generate affordable electrical power for more than a century. There are now a number of different types of wind turbines, with larger designs intended to bolster municipal utility grids, and an abundance of smaller models, like Inerjy’s, in a variety of sizes. Inerjy is one of the leading participants in the growth of small-scale wind energy solutions. Smaller wind turbines are becoming increasingly prominent.
If the history of wind turbines thus far has been characterized by the search for ways of maximizing power, the future of wind turbines will be a story of increasing customization. To learn more about small wind power solutions, visit us here.