For human civilisation to continue, there is a desperate search for alternate, renewable energy sources. Reliance on fossil fuels and natural gas has become risky, and although nuclear power is a viable source of energy, there are no adequate disposal techniques. Although these problems are only just now entering the minds of the masses through media coverage, scientists have been searching for alternate sources of energy for some time.
History Of Wind Power
1000 BC -1300 AD
The first wind powered machine was a sailboat and was believed to be used as early as 1000 BC. The first windmills of record were used by the Persians about 500-900 AD. These windmills were used for pumping water as were most of the early types. These were sail type windmills made from bundles of reeds. It is believed that the Chinese used windmills as long as 2000 years ago. By 1270 AD water pumping, water wheel designed, horizontal axis windmills had reached Europe.
Windmills reached the Western world by the(1300s) and functioning windmills remained a common sight across Europe until the late (1900s). At this time the development of the steam engine resulted in diminished use of the wind mill in Europe. By 1970 however, over 5 million windmills were functioning in the United States alone. These were primarily used on farms for pumping water to cattle. In the late 19th century, larger windmills with steel blades were used for pumping large water quantities to supply the steam railroad and the first electricity generating windmill was produced.
By the early 20th century there were 25 kilowatt wind generators across Denmark, but fossil fuel plants now put these into obscurity. By 1931, wind generators producing 200,000 KWH had arrived in Russia and by 1941 The Smith-Putnam 1.25 megawatt tower was built in Vermont. As at other times, other more plentiful and cost effective sources of power were used and the development of wind power always took a back seat.
This reliance on fossil fuels, nuclear power and natural gas has persisted into the 20th century, despite growing concerns over limited supplies, military tension and global warming. Only now that the stresses of these other fuels are reaching higher levels, is wind power being reconsidered as a large scale provider.
Wind Power Today
As 21st century arrived, California alone had over 17,000 wind generators generating enough electricity to power a city of 300,000. Large generators had replaced the small units of the past, but production had slowed. Variable economics took over. During the Reagan administration, investors were offered cheap rates and foreign investment was encouraged. As American economics changed so did the investors and growth has slowed.
The necessity to produce wind power does not yet exist in the minds of the people. Reliance on fossil fuels is still strong. Wind power is still viewed by the public as a secondary source and therefore major investment is not there. Although wind power may already be a more cost effective energy source in the long run, investors want returns and the initial startup costs of wind generation are high. With already established methods of power, risks and fluctuation costs can be passed on to the consumer.
Arguments for Wind Power
Those who support wind turbine use do so because it is:
- A cost effective source of energy
- Technology already exists and is in place
- It is renewable and pollution free
- Other sources of energy are more environmentally damaging
- Other sources of energy are in dwindling supply
Arguments Against Wind Power
Those who are opposed to wind turbines feel they are:
- Can kill birds and other widlife
- Some say noise can be bothersome and unhealthy
- Installation of turbines would require high startup costs
- Not necessary
Although the startup costs would be high for the initial production and installation of wind farms in major power centres, the long term cost savings would be substantial. It is difficult to imagine the size of undertaking the task of making wind power the major urban power source, but that kind of thinking would halt progress in any area. If long term kilowatt /hr costs could be lower than current sources of power, then the initial outlay would eventually be offset. It would be an investment in future generations and could be viewed as a global legacy.