Wind Power History and Arguments For and Against

About the history and development of wind power as an alternative energy source as well as arguments for and against its use.



Humans first made large-scale use of wind power almost 3,000 years before the birth of Christ, when the Egyptians built the first sailing ships. Persians built the first windmills sometime in the 6th or 7th century A.D., for the purpose of powering irrigation pumps. Evolving over the years, by the 18th century 5-10 hp windmills were commonly used in Europe and America for grain-grinding and irrigation, and, along with waterpower, provided the basic energy source for the Industrial Revolution. Two centuries ago, nearly every industrial process in existence ran on wind power.

Wind power was king until dethroned by the economics of cheap fossil fuels in the early 20th century. In America, wind-power research and growth was dealt a serious blow in the 1930s when the Roosevelt administration established the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), which would bring cheap electricity to even the most remote corners of America. In 1941, however, the U.S. completed the biggest wind machine in history on a hill called Grandpa's Knob, near Rutland, Vt. With two blades that measured 175 ft. from tip to tip and weighed eight tons each, the machine generated 1.25 megawatts in a normal 30-mph wind. That's enough juice to power 200 homes in a modern town. The machine was abandoned in 1945 when one of the huge blades tore loose and could not be replaced because of wartime shortages. Today there are about 150,000 wind machines operating in the U.S., used mainly to pump water. It has been estimated that another 50,000 could be put back in action after a few repairs. Renewed interest in wind power began in the petroleum crisis of the early 1970s. Now some of the nation's most prestigious universities teach windmill engineering, and many smaller schools offer courses in the repairing of old mills.


Once the basic equipment is set up, the energy source--the wind-is free and unlimited. Windmills produce no thermal, air, radioactive, or noise pollution. Wind machines have in the past operated for more than 40 years with minimal maintenance; modern technology can produce models even more reliable and trouble free.


The wind does not blow at all times in every area. Very significant is the fact that wind power increases as the cube of wind velocity, so a 10-mph wind will produce eight times as much power as a 5-mph wind. Areas such as the southwestern and southeastern U.S. have very little wind-power potential. Another major disadvantage at this time is that wind-generated power cannot be economically stored. Wind-generated electricity must also be converted from DC to AC current in order to be usable, and state-of-the-art converters are at best 80% efficient.


NASA is now experimenting with a two-bladed aerogenerator in Sandusky, O., that is as big as a Boeing 707. In an effort to make the flow of power constant, the angle of the blades can alter to suit wind conditions within one tenth of a second. A joint National Science Foundation and NASA committee in 1973 suggested that by the year 2000, if development began now, the U.S. could be harvesting 1.5 trillion kilowatt-hours of wind-blown electricity annually. That figure equals the total amount of electricity used in the U.S. in 1970.

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