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ARS Home » Plains Area » Bushland, Texas » Conservation and Production Research Laboratory » Livestock Nutrient Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #229203

Title: Comprehensive history of windmills

item Clark, Ray

Submitted to: Windpower
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/21/2008
Publication Date: 8/1/2008
Citation: Clark, R.N. 2008. Comprehensive history of windmills. In: Gillis, C. editor/author. Windpower. Atglen, PA:Schiffer Publishing Ltd. p. 4.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: The Wind Power Industry in America has had four distinct periods of development beginning with the early settlers bring the European technology to America. The settlers found that the European designs did not provide the flexibility to capture and withstand the fickle weather, especially in the Midwest. The American windmills that were self-regulating and pivoting blades in high winds were introduced in 1857. The Eclipse windmill was the first to use a solid wheel and a side vane to turn the rotor out of the wind as rotor speed increased. These water pumping windmills provided year-around water supplies that allowed much of the Great Plains and Midwest to be settled between 1870 and 1920. The third distinct period was the use of wind power to generate electricity. Small units were installed to charge batteries that would supply lights for the kitchen and bathroom with enough extra power to listen to the radio for an hour or so in the evening. The Jacobs Wind Electric Company reported selling tens of thousands of these units between 1931 and 1957. Most of these machines were removed when the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) installed electric power lines. With increased cost of fuel in the 1970s, wind enthusiasts and the U.S. Government started developing wind systems using modern aerodynamics learned from the helicopter and aerospace industries. The first major wind installations occurred in California during the 1984 to 1986 time period when almost 15,000 turbines were installed. The wind research and development program of the U.S. Department of Energy contain six program missions. The wind characteristics and wind maps were studied by Battelle Northwest Laboratories. The Solar Energy Research Institute was responsible for innovative and unproven technologies. NASA designed and built four different prototype large machines ranging from 100 kW to 2000 kW. Sandia National Laboratories designed and developed the vertical-axis technology, leading to a commercial company installing almost 1500 units in California during the 1980s. Rockwell International designed and developed small machines of 8, 15, and 40 kW. Two partnering companies developed their designs into commercial products that were part of the California installations of the 1980s. Finally, the USDA-Agricultural Research Service developed controller interfaces to allow these modern turbines to be used in rural and remote applications like water pumping, cooling mild and farm products, and ventilating animal buildings. At the same time that wind research and development was started in the United States, the Europeans were hard at work also. When the California market opened in 1983, the Europeans were ready with their machines as well. About half of all machines installed in California were European. Ever since that time, the wind industry has been an international industry with international competition. The U.S. wind industry struggled through almost two decades of on-again and off-again energy policies, resulting in the Europeans taking the lead in wind turbine technology and at one time leaving the U.S. with only one manufacturer of utility sized machines. Several U.S. small machine manufacturers managed to produce enough revenue to remain in business through the 1990s. As world energy prices began to climb as the 21st century started, wind turbine manufacturers began to see increased sales and individual states starting to establish renewable energy portfolio standards. These state renewable energy standards required electric utilities to add renewable energy to their generation mix. The wind industry was ready to meet this demand. Wind electric power production has increased at about 25% per year for the last five years making it the fastest growing power generation technology. Today, the leading manufacturers of utility wind turbines are located