Harnessing the wind to the benefit of mankind has been the concern of the more technically minded for centuries. From the sailboat, to the windmill, humans have been making use of this abundant source of energy, and inventing unique ways of capturing its benefits for power generation.
But how did we get to the point where engineers are today in terms of the very recognizable wind turbines you see today?
Gedser Wind Turbine
A Danish engineer named Johannes Juul, worked at a utility company named SEAS, in the 1950s. During World War II, fuel shortages in Denmark highlighted the fact that a more renewable source of energy was necessary, oil and gas was hard to come by.
He knew that to generate clean energy from wind, to mitigate the oil shortage, they had to take a new look at windmills. He drew up the aerodynamic plans for the Gedser turbine, which paved the way for the turbines we see today. They were a “three-bladed, stall-regulated rotor, connected to an AC synchronous generator running with almost constant speed,” and thus, seemingly attractive for the purpose of creating kinetic energy that could be turned into electricity.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
(Hover over the above image to view video)
In Mersey, near Liverpool, in the United Kingdom, 32 of the largest and most powerful wind turbines have just been commissioned.
Mere photographs of these windmills don’t do justice to these marvellous feats of engineering. However, the new wind turbines are quite incredible. They stand at 195 meters tall, the tallest in the world. Each revolving blade is 80 meters long. A Danish energy firm named DONG Energy was behind the build, they calculate that just one revolution of the blades on each turbine can power a home for 29 hours.
With the addition of the Burbo Bank extension, the United Kingdom claims to be the country that has the most offshore wind power capacity in the world. They plan to double their capacity by ordering more turbines within the next seven years.
Turbines have grown in size and are continuing to expand as the technology develops. With this evolution, however, their viability and their effect on populated areas have been questioned. Concerns about efficiency, and whether or not turbines could form part of the base load energy needed to power entire towns has been debated.
Just keep swinging
Martin O.L. Hansen in his book Aerodynamics of Wind Turbines addresses how engineers have worked around the concerns of the populous. As the construction of turbines become more prominent people’s concerns grow:
“Wind turbines create a certain amount of noise when they produce electricity. In modern wind turbines, manufacturers have managed to reduce almost all mechanical noise and are now working hard on reducing aerodynamic noise from the rotating blades. Noise is an important competition factor, especially in densely populated areas.”
To address prospective noise complaints, wind turbines, within areas that can accommodate them, are usually built offshore, and winds out at sea assist with producing more energy. Engineers are constantly innovating in the wind turbine industry, making wind energy an attractive and lucrative investment for some countries who are interested in cutting down on their carbon footprint.
Ambrose, Jillian. "World's Largest Wind Turbines May Double in Size before 2024." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 17 May 2017. Web. 26 May 2017.
Hansen, Martin O. L. Aerodynamics of Wind Turbines. New York, NY: Routledge, 2015. Print.