Harnessing the natural power of the wind is by no means a new concept. Asides from sailing, wind power has been utilised for many thousands of years, principally for agricultural purposes. Basic windmills are thought to have been used in Persia (now Iran) as early as the 7th century AD. Their ability to make use of otherwise untapped energy sources without the needs and costs of other alternatives, ensured that they remained the machines of preference in several industries throughout both agricultural and industrial revolutions.
Whilst their basic concepts have remained true to the basic origins, technological advances have enabled engineers to adapt the mechanics of the mill to enable a more functional and useable source of power. In the 18th C, engineers developed spring sails (a device incorporating shutters onto the sails) to enable the mill to be run at constant speed during variable wind speeds automatically. The development of the fantail in 1745 also ensured the mills ran in the face of the wind and along with airbrakes meant that the mill could run at its most efficient at all times without the risk of doing itself damage in strong winds. Uses developed into water pumping, wood sawing, papermaking, pressing oil seeds and a variety of grinding uses.
The use of wind turbines for generating electricity was pioneered in Denmark late in the 1890s. The concept was made a reality by Poul la Cour (1846-1908) who had originally trained as a meteorologist. He built the world's first electricity generating wind turbine in 1891 and although his project was a success, decided the greatest problem lay in storage of the electricity. As a result he used the electricity from his turbines for electrolysis in order to produce hydrogen for the gas lighting in his school.
¡§One basic drawback of this scheme was the fact that he had to replace the windows of several school buildings numerous times, as the hydrogen exploded due to small amounts of oxygen in the gas (!)¡¨ DWTMA.
As technological barriers were worked through, wind turbines became increasingly complicated. One of the greatest developments was the use of aerofoils instead of angled blades. Aerofoils have the benefit of using lift to turn the blades in the same manner as an aircraft¡¦s wing rises on an air current. This type of blade replaced the older type, which relied upon drag, t...
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