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The Wind Power Story Part I: The Pioneers

image credit: Owens, Brandon (2019) The Wind Power Story, Wiley-IEEE Press

I just finished a five year project to document the history of wind power innovation and write the book "The Wind Power Story: A Century of Innovation that Reshaped the Global Energy Landscape." The book will be published and released by Wiley-IEEE Press in the next month. It provides a comprehensive review of the rise of wind power over the last century and provides insight on the future of wind power.

In advance of the release of the book, I created a seven part presentation series that highlights the key wind turbine innovations over the last century. The presentations feature hand drawn illustrations of the most noteworthy wind turbines throughout history. The first presentation focused on the wind power pioneers, who built the first prototype wind turbines in at the end of the nineteenth century. It's surprising how innovative these initial designs were and fascinating to see elements of twenty-first century designs in the nineteen century prototypes.



Brandon Owens's picture

Thank Brandon for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 15, 2019 6:21 pm GMT

Brandon-- this history of wind power really sounds like an interesting project. You say your book will go into how the past of wind energy will play into what the future of the power source looks like, but I'm curious how translatable you feel this story is to other energy sources. What is there that emerging tech in the energy space outside of wind might learn from the rise of the turbines?

Brandon Owens's picture
Brandon Owens on Jul 15, 2019 8:17 pm GMT

Hi Matt,

Great question. The history of wind power innovation is pretty idiosyncratic and applies primarily just to wind. However, some overarching themes about energy innovation do emerge. Off the top of my head, these are: (1) important role of government R&D/policy support (Denmark funded wind power in the 1890s); (2) the LONG lead time for energy technology development (i.e., decades) and the associated growth spurs and lags (125 years); (3) the need to advance incremental improvements rather than step changes (shortcomings of govt. funded MW-scale wind turbines in the 1970s and 1980s); and (4) the role of visionaries in technology development and their ability to spot innovations decades in advance of actual practical implementation (German visionaries saw high altitude offshore gearless wind turbines coming in the 1930s).

I guess my primary innovation-related message in today's environment is that we must be patient with energy technology innovation and understand that our current "breakthroughs" have been under development for decades (e.g., batteries, solar, hydrogen) and/or will need long-term continued R&D and policy support in order to be successful.

Best regards, Brandon

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 15, 2019 9:42 pm GMT

That's an encouraging answer, Brandon-- definitely a useful 'test case' or even roadmap for other technologies that we're certainly eager to have a rocket strapped to them but recognize that the pattern is somewhat more deliberate

Peter Clive's picture
Peter Clive on Jul 17, 2019 11:46 am GMT

Hi Brandon, really looking forward to reading this book. Do you mention James Blyth's 1887 tutrbine? I don't see him in the slide set you have shared here. 

Brandon Owens's picture
Brandon Owens on Jul 17, 2019 5:59 pm GMT

Hi Peter,

Good catch on the slide deck. Brush and la Cour had the most complete and well-documented solutions at the time, so they are featured in the slide deck. However, the book opens with Blyth's horizontal-axis wind turbine in Scotland. I credit him with the first confirmed wind turbine (windmill + electric generator). His premature death in 1906 put an end to this wind power research.

Best regards, Brandon

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