of Wind Energy
early recorded history, people have been harnessing the
energy of the wind. Wind energy propelled boats along the
Nile River as early as 5000 B.C. By 200 B.C., simple windmills
in China were pumping water, while vertical-axis windmills
with woven reed sails were grinding grain in Persia and
the Middle East.
in the twentieth century, windmills were commonly
used across the Great Plains to pump water and to
ways of using the energy of the wind eventually spread around
the world. By the 11th century, people in the Middle East
were using windmills extensively for food production; returning
merchants and crusaders carried this idea back to Europe.
The Dutch refined the windmill and adapted it for draining
lakes and marshes in the Rhine River Delta. When settlers
took this technology to the New World in the late 19th century,
they began using windmills to pump water for farms and ranches,
and later, to generate electricity for homes and industry.
first in Europe and later in America, led to a gradual decline
in the use of windmills. The steam engine replaced European
water-pumping windmills. In the 1930s, the Rural Electrification
Administration's programs brought inexpensive electric power
to most rural areas in the United States.
industrialization also sparked the development of larger
windmills to generate electricity. Commonly called wind
turbines, these machines appeared in Denmark as early as
1890. In the 1940s the largest wind turbine of the time
began operating on a Vermont hilltop known as Grandpa's
Knob. This turbine, rated at 1.25 megawatts in winds of
about 30 mph, fed electric power to the local utility network
for several months during World War II.
popularity of using the energy in the wind has always fluctuated
with the price of fossil fuels. When fuel prices fell after
World War II, interest in wind turbines waned. But when
the price of oil skyrocketed in the 1970s, so did worldwide
interest in wind turbine generators.
wind turbine technology R&D that followed the oil embargoes
of the 1970s refined old ideas and introduced new ways of
converting wind energy into useful power. Many of these
approaches have been demonstrated in "wind farms" or wind
power plants — groups of turbines that feed electricity
into the utility grid — in the United States and Europe.
the lessons learned from more than a decade of operating
wind power plants, along with continuing R&D, have made
wind-generated electricity very close in cost to the power
from conventional utility generation in some locations.
Wind energy is the world's fastest-growing energy source
and will power industry, businesses and homes with clean,
renewable electricity for many years to come.