Wind Energy History

Somewhere in the mists of pre-history, the tie between mankind, wind and development of culture was made. It's difficult to argue against the notion that harnessing wind energy was necessary for human industrialization, and the fortunes of wind energy have always been tied closely to the ebb and tide of industrialization.

Wind energy has always been used to propel boats, of course, to name one example. Some of the earliest windmills were used in China, in 200 B.C., to pump water and grind grain. In the eleventh century, windmills were used extensively in the Middle East in the production of food. The idea was imported to other parts of the world, notably Europe.

The Dutch essentially made the windmill their own. They refined its design and adapted it for use in an aspect for which it is still widely applied-drainage of water. The Dutch drained marshes, lakes and even the seabed, and the idea was exported to the New World.

In North America, windmills were also adapted for the generation of electricity.

As with the history of solar electricity and of solar thermal, the popularity, price and feasibility of wind energy runs directly contrary to that of fossil fuels. In the 1970s during the "Arab Oil Crisis," much attention was given to wind energy and other forms of renewable energy. The US government did step up its involvement with wind energy, developing large multi-megawatt wind turbines for the development of grid electricity.

It's important to note that not all of these projects have been successful. For example, a gigantic 2 megawatt tower built by General Electric had to be dismantled due to problems with low frequency interference. Early disappointments like this helped put the kybosh on government money for renewables, in spite of the fact that engineering problems were being fixed and important lessons were being learned.

During the 1980s and into the 1990s, wind power in the US hit a big recession-the Reagan administration killed funding and incentives for renewables in many forms, and oil prices stabilized. In addition, there were continuing problems with some wind turbine designs.

Toward the end of the Clinton administration, there was a renewed interest in renewables and "green power." A number of wind energy projects were approved and development was resumed, with many previous problems patched up and a growing awareness of the finitude of fossil fuels.

In these times, there is a growing sense that wind energy can be an important part of the US energy mix. There is a 10 megawatt wind plant in Northern Colorado, wind power plants dot the coast of California, and over 2000 megawatts of new capacity were added in 2001 in the U.S. alone.

Read more about wind energy today.

Advertiser Links for alternative energy [ what's this?]