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Wind Energy in the Past and the Present

Updated: May 22, 2019

“The use of wind power is as old as history.”

– Erich Zimmermann, World Resources and Industries

Erich Zimmermann is right when he says that. Ancient people have harnessed wind energy for many long years. In Egypt, wind energy was used to propel boats on River Nile as early as 5000 BC while Persians used it to pump water and grind grain during 500 – 900 BC. In Netherlands, windmills were used to drain lakes and marshes in the Rhine river delta. Today, we use wind power to generate electricity. The power of wind must not be underestimated. Our own epics Ramayana and Mahabharata had characters that were celebrated as sons of the wind – Hanuman and Bhima. And do you remember how strong they were?

Yes. Wind energy is not only a clean source of renewable energy but is also a very powerful medium to harness electricity from.

History of Wind Power

It all began in 1887 in Scotland. Professor James Blyth was conducting a research program on the use of wind power for electricity. During the course of the research, he installed a cloth-sailed horizontal wind turbine in July 1887 at his holiday cottage in Marykirk. 33 feet in diameter Blyth’s first windmill generated electricity that was stored in ‘accumulators’ which was an arcane term used for ‘batteries’.

Blyth collected energy in these batteries and when he tried to give surplus energy to his neighbours, they rejected it because they believed that it was the work of the devil!

Ironically, after a few years, Blyth installed an upgraded version of a wind turbine at Montrose Lunatic Asylum, where it generated electricity for 30 years! I guess no one questioned the ‘work of the devil’ over there!

Wind Power Today

Do you know that there are 83 countries in the world that use wind energy to generate electricity?

You would be surprised to know that China leads the march in harnessing wind power. China’s long coastline and large landmass, China’s capacity for using wind energy to generate electricity is exceptional. In 2015, China generated 186.3 TWh of electricity to the grid, which was a huge undertaking as it represents 3.3% of total national electricity consumption! They are well on their way to produce 250 GW of wind capacity by 2020 and hopefully fulfil their climate change pledge to produce 15% of electricity from renewable resources. And what more scientists at Harvard and Tsinghua University have identified wind power as the most potent renewable energy that could possibly meet China’s electricity demands by 2030.

In 2015, Denmark was able to produce 42% of its electricity from wind energy. That’s not all they produced enough energy not only for domestic but also to export it to Norway, Germany and Sweden. For the first time ever, this year, they were able to turn off their large central power stations for an entire day and provide energy through wind turbines and renewable resources. It is also remarkable that they were able to become the most wind-powered country in the world history for the second time in a row.

The UK is considered to be the best location to harness wind power and that’s how 11% of the country’s electricity was powered by the wind in 2015. Harnessing wind energy is a growing phenomenon in the United Kingdom. This year the world’s largest wind turbines that are taller and wider than London eye was installed off the coast of Britain in the Irish Sea. These 32 turbines would be able to generate 8 Megawatts (MW) of electricity standing 195 meters tall above sea level. The combined effort these 32 turbines is touted to create electricity that would be enough to power 230,000 homes!

Germany is yet another country that is making huge strides in the arena of renewable energy. In 2014, nearly 26% of country’s power generation came from renewable sources. Germany today has officially overtaken the UK in installing wind turning at the sea. Around 3000 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind power was installed and connected to European grid in 2015, which was twice as much as it was in 2014. With the UK contributing 556MW and Netherlands around180MW, it was Germany that added a massive 2282 MW making it a major player in the renewable energy arena. In 2016, the country was in news again on May 8 when on an unusually windy and sunny day the solar, wind, hydro and biomass plants were able to supply 55 GW of the 63 GW that is being consumed and power prices went negative for a few hours which means, consumers were being paid to consume electricity!

Isn’t that wonderful?

Spain’s Success Story in Wind Energy

Spain is the second biggest producer of wind energy in the world. In 2014, the annual production of wind energy was around 51,439 GWh. As of Dec 2015, the installed wind capacity was 22,988 MW. Wind energy is a native source of energy for this nation as it helps to generate 16% of electricity. For Spain, the wind energy sector is also a great source of wealth and employment. This sector employs over 30,000 people in Spain. One can even say that it is an engine that drives the local communities right from job creation to giving business opportunities for local suppliers and in creating a demand for their services. That’s not all. Wind energy also makes a significant contribution to their country’s GDP adding over 3 billion Euros and exports of 2 billion Euros.

How did they do it?

Spain’s tryst with wind energy started way back in 1980 when their parliament passed ‘The Law of Energy Conservation’ which established the basic objectives for improving energy efficiency in their industries and to reduce the dependency on energy imports. In 1986 and 1989 they went ahead with a plan that proposed targets for renewable energy production for private and public investment. IN 1991 a new National Energy plan was approved by their Parliament, which also included Energy Saving and Efficiency Plan (PAEE 1991-2000). This led to the strengthening of the market in mid 90’s when many industries placed large orders on wind farms. The feed-in tariff system was implemented throughout the country when they approved of Electric Power Act of 1997. An important Act that introduced the process of liberalisation in the electricity sector by a differentiating average rate of electricity production using fossil fuels and a ‘special scheme’ where renewable resources were used. The special scheme allowed the electricity producers to sell their surplus energy to the grid at a regulated tariff. The government then had a target to meet 12% of their electricity needs through renewable resources by 2010. They introduced additional incentives and promoted the use of renewable energy among their citizens. That’s how wind energy became a success story in Spain. From a small beginning of 7 MW in 1990 to over 377 MW in November 1997 they were able to meet the target that their government had set!

The Winds of Uruguay

One can’t really talk about wind energy and not mention Uruguay. A country that had no wind energy as of the year 2007 is now producing 95% of its electricity through clean energy!

While it took Spain over 30 years of switch gradually to clean energy, Uruguay did it without breaking a sweat. (Though one might factor in the point that it is a tiny country when compared to Spain.) Uruguay’s parliament approved a 25-year energy policy in 2008 and they set out on a renewable journey towards clean energy beating their own targets for the generation of clean energy at every turn.

Several factors contributed to this smooth transition. The first was the strong partnership that was fostered between Uruguay’s public and private companies. Uruguay’s national electric company promotes renewable energy and auctions power purchase agreements to private companies. Apart from that, all national parties in the country speak with one voice when it comes to their commitment to using clean energy. More than anything I believe that it is this that synergizes their effort towards sustainable development.

Harnessing Powerful Typhoons

The saying ‘make hay while the sun shines’ can be aptly applied here. Powerful typhoons batter Japanese coastline every year. Each one more deadly than the other, causing damage and destruction to property and life. One can’t stop the forces of nature but one can harness it and milk it for what it is worth.

How?

Here is how. A Japanese inventor has fashioned a prototype turbine which is supposedly powerful enough to harness energy that can power entire Japan for 50 years! If this prototype works then destructive winds can definitely be tamed to become the leading source of renewable energy! Imagine, people would wait with bated breath for a typhoon to struck to power their homes for the next 50 years!

The way forward

I think the way forward is quite promising. I have said this in all my articles and would reiterate it again. It is way past the time when a lone man with solar panels and a wind turbine can hope to make a difference to this planet. Instead, our planet needs every single person who is feeding off it to think about its future sustainability. Governments need to come into play and enforce laws and acts that would force people to implement renewable energy in their daily life. I think that’s the only way forward.

What do you think?

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