History of Wind Power

Wind power is currently one of the fastest growing renewable sources of electricity in the world, but where did it originate from, and how was it discovered?


Humankind has been utilising wind energy for at least 8000 years. The use of sails to power a vessel has been around since at least 5000 BC when it was harnessed to propel boats down the Nile and South Pacific isles. The first recorded case of wind energy being used to power a machine was when Hero of Alexandria described using a wind driven wheel to power his organ. First records of windmills date back to as early as 200 BC where they were used in China to pump water and although these were simple, they still functioned.

Panemone windmills (vertical axis windmills) were developed around the 8th century and were used to grind corn and flour and pump water in what are now Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. From the Middle East, these ideas reached Europe in the 11th century where Europeans began to build and develop mills for grain and water. Windmills are strongly associated with the Netherlands, and for good reason, by the 14th century they were being utilised for large projects such as draining areas of the Rhine.

It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the idea of utilising wind power as a source of electricity was being considered by scientists.


The First Wind Turbines


The first known wind turbine used for the production of electricity was built in July 1887 by Professor James Blyth in Scotland. It stood at 10m high and was installed in the garden of his holiday home in Kincardineshire. Energy from the turbine was used to charge accumulators which powered the lighting and electricity in his cottage, the first ever home powered by renewable wind energy! Blyth did offer to share this electricity with his neighbours however they declined as they believed it was ‘the work of the devil’. He later built a turbine to provide emergency power to the local asylum, but his invention didn’t catch on.


James Blyth's wind turbine


In 1888 in Cleveland, Ohio, inventor Charles Brush designed and constructed his own wind turbine which was used to power his mansion until 1900. Although the turbine was 17m in diameter, it turned relatively slowly since it had 144 blades therefore only produced around 12kW of power.

Danish scientist Poul la Cour discovered that fewer rotor blades on a windmill could attain a greater rotation speed therefore were much more efficient. He also constructed a wind turbine that generated electricity which was used to produce hydrogen by electrolysis which was stored for later use. Additionally, he invented a regulator, the Kratostate, which meant that there could now be a steady supply of power and in 1895 converted his windmill into a prototype electrical power plant.


20th Century


By the 1900s, Denmark is leading the way in renewable wind energy, and by 1908 they have 72 electricity generating wind power systems. In the US, brothers Joe and Marcellus Jacobs opened a factory in Minneapolis to produce wind turbine generators however wind power was still not seen as a viable method of providing energy for towns and cities.

The real push for development came around the 1970s when concerns about use of fossil fuels became more spoken about and many people desired a more self-sufficient lifestyle. NASA led research into large commercial turbines and experimental turbines were designed and developed; this technology led to the efficient wind farms we have today. Governments started getting involved with cleaner energy sources and promoting their development and use.

In 1978 Tvind school teachers and students produced the first multi-megawatt wind turbine, which is still in use today. The world’s first windfarm was built in New Hampshire in 1980 and the first offshore windfarm came 10 years later in Vindeby in Denmark. That same year, the UK’s first windfarm was built in Cornwall which consisted of 10 wind turbines and produced enough power for 2700 homes.


21st Century


The development of wind energy has been rapid in the past 20 years due to the concern over the development of clean energies. Currently, there are over 11,000 wind turbines in the UK, with wind power being the largest source of renewable electricity. Ongoing technological advances mean that wind power is more reliable and efficient than ever and as this continues, wind energy is one of the most important renewable sources of energy. The global wind capacity now is over 93 gigawatts and offshore windfarms have seen a much greater growth rate in recent years, with huge future potential.



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