I recently made a trip to New Mexico and while driving through Sweetwater, Texas, I came upon a massive wind farm. What’s a wind farm you may ask? A wind farm is a group of wind turbines (like giant windmills) that are built in a location known to be especially windy. As the winds turn the blades of the turbines, the turbines convert the kinetic energy of the wind into electricity. (Kinetic energy is what a body possesses by virtue of being in motion.)
This particular wind farm has over thirteen hundred wind turbines spread out over many miles. The colossal wind turbines have three large, gracefully curved blades that slowly rotate in the wind. It’s hard to convey the actual size of these wind turbines from a photo, but they are massive. It’s even harder to convey how the majesty of the wide-open landscape of west Texas seems dwarfed by the giant monoliths with their spinning blades. The experience of driving through this forest of turbines made me feel a palpable connection with the invisible but ever-present force we call wind. Like a musical neophyte learning about meter through the use of a metronome, these wind farms take the measure and meter of the force that encircles our globe in a way that seems to synchronize one’s heartbeat with the pulse of the earth. I felt transfixed.
It reminded me of my fascination with the wind as a child, a fascination I probably shared with most kids. Who hasn’t been entertained by a pinwheel, or held their hand out of a car window like it was an airplane wing, or been captivated by the helicopter-type rotation of flying maple seeds as they spin to the ground, or folded paper into an airplane and watched it glide on a breeze? And of course, what kid isn’t excited to see an old-fashioned windmill as its many blades turn in response to the wind. As a kid, I didn’t ask a lot of questions about the windmill, so for all of my blog readers who, like me, failed to ask all the important questions about windmills as a child, I thought I’d share a few facts about windmills now…it’s never too late.
History of using wind energy:
Wind made it possible for the earliest explorers to leave home: 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. New ways of using the energy of the wind eventually spread around the world—references below.
Windmills are believed to have originated in Persia. The world’s oldest windmills are located in Afghanistan. Two Arab writers mentioned windmills in high dry land between what is known today as Iran and Afghanistan. They mentioned that the wind drove the mills to raise water from the streams—references below.
A windmill is a mill that converts the energy of wind into rotational energy by means of vanes called sails or blades. Centuries ago, windmills usually were used to mill grain (gristmills), pump water (windpumps), or both.
The earliest known wind-powered grain mills and water pumps were used by the Persians in A.D. 500-900 and by the Chinese in A.D. 1200. The first windmill manufactured in the United States was designed by Daniel Halladay, who began inventing windmills in 1854 in his Connecticut machine shop.
Wind turbines operate on a simple principle. The energy in the wind turns two or three propeller-like blades around a rotor. The rotor is connected to the main shaft, which spins a generator to create electricity.
The first electricity-generating wind turbine was invented in 1888 in Cleveland, Ohio, by Charles F. Brush. The turbine’s diameter was 17 meters (50 feet), it had 144 rotor blades made of cedar wood, and it generated about 12 kilowatts (kW) of power.
Fast forward to today: wind power that’s free and always available is finally registering with the people who make energy decisions in the USA. All 50 states now are home to a wind project and/or a wind energy-related manufacturing facility. What’s going on in your state? Find out here:
If you live outside the USA, here’s a link to other countries and their wind projects:
As I drove through mile after mile of wind farm, I was humbled to think of how little time I’ve spent in my life considering the wind, and was grateful to be reminded of its power and presence. It’s important to the life and health of our planet and its residents to be more responsible with our mutual energy needs, and more respectful of the impact of the carbon footprint we leave behind for future generations.
Whenever you’d like, access this web page to view the soothing effects of the wind patterns in the USA in real time: http://hint.fm/wind/
- Islamic Technology: An Illustrated History – March 27, 1992, by Ahmad Y. al-Hassan (Author), Donald R. Hill (Author)
- Lucas, Adam (2006). Wind, Water, Work: Ancient and Medieval Milling Technology. Brill Publishers. p. 105. ISBN 90-04-14649-0.