Sails to the wind
Back in the dawn of mankind, the eastern part of the Mediterranean was already a hotspot for wind power, as ancient Egyptians used it to maneuver vessels along the river Nile.
The first windmills
Iran and Afghanistan is where the first vertical-axis windmills appeared on the world stage. These contraptions had blades moving around a drive shaft perpendicularly mounted on the ground.
The Netherlands was the first European country to pioneer the use of horizontal-axis windmills, which is the set-up we got to know to this day. More efficient and advanced compared to their vertical counterparts, these models were used to grind cereal, mill olives and water fields.
American engineer Daniel Halladay built the first windmill to autonomously adjust its bearing based on the changing wind direction. Halladay’s windmill was also able to calibrate the inclination of blades to keep a constant rotational speed.
Scottish engineer James Blyth invented the first wind turbine for energy production purposes. Blyth managed to set up the contraption in his own backyard and even offered to offload any excess electricity to light up the main road of the hamlet of Marykirk. Alas, the locals refused such an offer because they thought electricity was “the devil’s work”.
The wind turbine
The current definition of “wind turbine” is the brainchild of American inventor Charles Brush.
Danish scientist Poul la Cour engineered a wind turbine to power rural areas of the United States. Most of all, la Cour was able to demonstrate how turbines with a lower number of blades achieve higher rotation speeds and are thus more efficient than turbines with a greater number of blades which have a lower rotation speed.
The wind factory
Joe and Marcellus Jacobs opened the “Jacobs Wind” factory in the American city of Minneapolis, manufacturing wind turbines for all farms that lacked a direct access to the power grid.
Mill or eggbeater?
French engineer Georges Jean Marie Darrieus patented his namesake vertical-axis wind turbine, the Darrieus. Its name comes from the characteristic shape reminiscent of a eggbeater, hence, the “eggbeater windmill”.
The world’s biggest turbine
Palmer Cosslet Putnam built the world’s largest turbine with a total capacity of 1.250 kW, placed on top of Grandpa’s Knob mountain in the American town of Castleton, Vermont. Once connected to the grid, it could supply electricity to the town’s 700 inhabitants.
A little help from space
The US Department for Energy provided funding for a large-scale manufacturing project of wind turbines. NASA was involved from the onset, manufacturing 13 experimental wind turbines that paved the way for today’s commercial wind turbine technology.
The world’s first wind farm
In 1980, the world’s first wind farm went online in the American state of New Hampshire. Boasting 20 turbines, this trailblazing project didn’t meet expected results, although only one year passed before the 7.5mW Mod-2 wind farm was able to demonstrate once and for all the feasibility of large-scale wind turbine arrays.
A global resource
Wind turbines for energy generation are now a common sight throughout the world, having reached a global installed capacity of 17.4 GW by the year 2000. In the last 10 years, the cost of wind technology has lowered dramatically, making it cost-competitive compared to traditional energy sources. These factors spurred an exponential growth, propelling wind energy over 500 GW to this day.
One resource, many prospects
The energy generation cost by megawatt/hour of wind energy as plummeted over the last years: wind is a limitless resource and widely available throughout the planet.
The wind energy sector employs about 1.2 million workers. The demand for skilled workers is on the rise: by 2030 over 18 million new jobs will be created worldwide by the green economy.
A second life
The average lifespan of windfarms stands between 20 and 25 years: once the infrastructure is decommissioned, many parts may be successfully recycled to guarantee a new life for its components.