Why wasn't there more use of wind power in antiquity?

Why wasn't there more use of wind power in antiquity?

Wind power [was never] taken seriously in the ancient world [… ] though Hero of Alexandria described a windmill connected to an air pump designed to blow an organ, there is no evidence for the existence of any rotary windmills before the tenth century CE.

- Ancient Technology, pg 17.

Mechanical knowledge had a long way to go in antiquity, but my understanding is that the Romans and Hellenistic Greeks made limited but significant use of water power for mills, clocks, and more rarely, automatons. My question here is pretty straightforward: Are there any clear reasons why wind power was never used, especially considering that watermills require a constant and fairly heavy flow of moving water? (Not that you can set up a windmill just anywhere, but it's surprising to me they don't appear as an alternative in areas without strong rivers.)

For this question please take antiquity to mean the Mediterranean and Near Eastern world from the end of the Bronze Age in 1200 BC up to the decline of Rome around 500 AD.

I was wondering if it might be something in the difficulty of engineering wind. An answer explaining why it was difficult to engineer and what technical innovations led to wind power becoming viable in the Medieval and Islamic worlds would fit the question parameters very well.


I believe windmills have to wait until the late Middle Ages because, due to the inequities of the cube-square law, making life size operational windmills is very difficult.

The cube-square-law is a consequence of the areal surface rising as the square of the dimension while mass increases as the cube. However the strength of a material is proportional to the areal surfaace, and in a windmill so is the motive power collectible from the wind. However the loads are increasing much faster as one scales a model up to real life.

However the wind itself, due to air's low density, is a much weaker motive force than is for example water. Further, even with modern materials it is not possible to construct windmills that can operate safely in high winds - so it is necessary to rely only on moderate breezes. A further requirement on the materials is that to catch the wind the wheel must usually be elevated, far from the mill itself at ground level to be convenient for loading an unloading. This in turn requires higher performing materials, such as high grade steel.

In order to overcome friction the tolerances on the horizontal-vertical-gear must be very precise. It was only with the perfection of casting techniques developed for first bell making, and then cannon manufacture, that the necessary tolerances were achieved for high strength steel products. This occurs in and around 1200, just when the first vertical plane windmills appear in Europe.

it is true that horizontal-plane windmills are attested in the Middle East and China from several hundred years earlier, but these were inefficient due to the necessity of shielding half the turbine from the wind.


Jos explained correctly that windmills were not used in antiquity (and in the modern epoch they appeared after water mills). The main use of wind power in antiquity was for sailing. Sails were the principal propellant for long distance water travel since the time immemorial. Rowing can be used only for short distance and in battle. All sea trade was made using sailing vessels.

Edit. Since the comments express a common misunderstanding, let me explain some simple things. A long distance sea going merchant ship can be ONLY a sail ship. The reason is simple: an oar ship can take little cargo except its oarsmen and supplies for them. Hiring oarsmen or buying slaves and supplies for them would be prohibitively expensive. For this reasons, only war ships were propelled by oars. They had to stop at a shore frequently for food and rest. Archeologists find many merchant ships, like this one from the late bronze age. It was propelled by sails only.

At the time of ancient Greece and Rome, a war fleet of oar ships traveling long distance was always accompanied by a fleet of sailing merchant ships which carried supplies, warriors and horses. A trireme with 170 oarsmen could only carry 10-20 marines, and certainly no horses.

It is true that these ships were not good for sailing close to the wind. Nevertheless they were used or several millennia for long distance trade. Here is a 10-12 century AD merchant ship. As you see, little changed since the beginning of long distance sea trade. This Hanze Kogge could not sail close to the wind, and modern replicas also cannot. This was compensated by the good knowledge of seasonal wind directions which allowed overseas trade. Merchants were not in a great hurry: they waited for a right wind directions in harbors.

To be sure, sailing ships frequently had few long oars (they are called sweeps) to maneuver in harbors, like modern sail ships have an auxiliary motor. But this was not the main mean of propulsion.

Here are some more pictues of ancient merchant ships.


Hero of Alexandria also invented a working steam engine, but we had to wait for James Watt for common use of it. When something becomes technically possible, that doesn't automatically say it will be implemented. We'd be using thorium reactors otherwise.

First of all, there was a serious labor conflict. Roman and Greek societies were slave based. Nobody was waiting for unemployed slaves, to say the least.

Second, it was expensive technology. The people with the wherewithal to finance water and windmills had already invested that money. In slaves. There was no reason for them to finance in expensive and possibly tricky technology, with the added risk of unhappy slaves and more importantly a very unhappy electorate.

In those days that technology was complicated, difficult to operate, very maintenance sensitive and outright dangerous (both to operators and bystanders*). You needed skilled staff to operate and maintain it. Those guys were relatively expensive, both in training and salaries.

*= I did see some documentaries in which medieval replica wheeled cranes are used. Kind of giant hamster wheel with ropes and pulleys to lift heavy objects. Those cranes were really dangerous. They could very easily be overloaded and break, with devastating consequences.


Vertical pane windmills took off in northern Europe from the twelfth century onward. The first known one was in York, later the Netherlands became a hotspot of windmill development. It appears that from the start, the cap and impeller could be rotated with a long boom to capture the wind, the assembly would then drive a vertical shaft. While "mill" is right there in the name, one important application on windmills was driving scoop wheels for drainage in the Netherlands. Dutch proverb: God created the world in six days. The Netherlands, we made ourselves. This appears to have inspired actual windmills. All this can be learned from wikipedia.

If I would put together a theory of why windpower was developed so far, I would say an important contributing factor was the drainage works: Something you could, because of the sheer magnitude of the work, not do with human or animal labor. And how does technology development work? By building something again and again and again, working out all the kinks one after another.

Another relevant theory is that a labour shortage made wind power more relevant economically. AFAIK this labor shortage was there near the end of the medieval peroid, AFAIK not in the 12th and 13th century where a lot of wind use already happened. One could check the numbers of windmills over time, to see this effect. This article claims that 'industrial' windmills (vs. 'agricultural' ones) appeared in the Netherlands from the 16th century onward.

Why always the Netherlands? Because you can't really use watermills there, because there's so little height to work with. Elsewhere, water mills where important prime movers well into the industrial age.

So why didn't these things happen in antiquity? We don't know and I'm sure that claiming one root cause on way or other would be wrong. It appears development of wind power needs these three to be present at the same time and place:

  • An idea how to build a windmill handling any wind direction (historically a vertical pane windmill)
  • A reason and the resources to build one of them after another, for possibly decades or generations, until it works reasonably well
  • an absence of useful water power
  • (ETA) wind conditions, as pointed out in this answer

So my hypothesis is that these three simply where not present at the same time and place during antiquity. If I were to test that hypothesis, I'd look for drainage projects that can't use existing elevation differences and times of prolonged (slave-)labor shortage.


In antiquity, in Europe only the Mediterranean civilizations were capable of complicated engineering. The topography of southern Europe is different to northern Europe. There are more mountains in the south. Holland, the home of windmills, famously has no mountains or hills at all.

One result of that is that Holland is much, much windier than Italy or Greece.

In Amsterdam

The windier part of the year lasts for 5.5 months, from October 10 to March 25, with average wind speeds of more than 12.9 miles per hour. The windiest day of the year is January 2, with an average hourly wind speed of 15.5 miles per hour. The calmer time of year lasts for 6.5 months, from March 25 to October 10. The calmest day of the year is August 3, with an average hourly wind speed of 10.3 miles per hour.

In Rome

The windier part of the year lasts for 3.2 months, from January 24 to April 30, with average wind speeds of more than 7.7 miles per hour. The windiest day of the year is April 2, with an average hourly wind speed of 8.5 miles per hour. The calmer time of year lasts for 8.8 months, from April 30 to January 24. The calmest day of the year is August 11, with an average hourly wind speed of 6.8 miles per hour.

https://weatherspark.com/y/71779/Average-Weather-in-Rome-Italy-Year-Round


Wind Turbines Didn’t Cause Texas Energy Crisis

A steep decline in energy generated by fossil fuels and nuclear power plants was largely responsible for the power outages in Texas during the deep freeze that recently gripped the state, according to the operators of the state’s power grid.

Despite that fact, several high-profile conservative figures — including the state’s governor — have wrongly placed the blame for power outages on wind turbines and have tied the issue to the Green New Deal, legislation Democrats proposed in 2019 with the aim of creating jobs and significantly reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. It didn’t pass in either the House or the Senate , but its tenets are still popular among progressives. President Joe Biden has supported its framework.

Electric service trucks line up after a snow storm on Feb. 16 in Fort Worth, Texas. Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Feb. 16, “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America. … Our wind and our solar, they got shut down and they were collectively more than 10% of our power grid, and that thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power in a statewide basis.”

The host of another Fox News show went even further. Tucker Carlson started a segment on his Feb. 15 show, saying, “The Green New Deal has come, believe it or not, to the state of Texas.” Meanwhile, a graphic showing a frozen water feature in the “splash and play kids zone” of a Dallas-area hotel played over his shoulder — it looked vaguely like a windmill.

Later, Carlson said, “Green energy inevitably means blackouts. … Green energy means a less reliable power grid. Period. It means failures like the ones we’re seeing now in Texas. … It’s science.”

Other public officials echoed these claims — Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia all weighed in on Twitter — and social media posts followed suit, blaming the outage on wind turbines and decrying the Green New Deal.

But, as we said, the bulk of the deficit in the energy supply was due to frozen infrastructure for natural gas, not wind.

“There is significantly more megawatts in that thermal unit category than in the renewable category,” Dan Woodfin, senior director of system operations for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said of the outages at a Feb. 16 press briefing. ERCOT runs the grid that serves most of Texas, and the “thermal unit category” includes natural gas, coal and nuclear power.

Indeed, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration — see the adjacent EIA graph — show that in the early morning hours of Feb. 15, natural gas generation dropped 23% by 4 a.m., a total of about 10,000 megawatts on a system that was running about 65,000 megawatts in total at midnight. That morning ERCOT started rolling blackouts.

While the Texas energy supply includes a mixture of sources, the largest share comes from natural gas. More than 40% of the state’s energy came from natural gas in 2020, according to a recent ERCOT report. The second largest share is wind, at 23%, then coal, at 18%.

So, it’s true that wind plays a significant role in Texas’ power supply — the state actually generates more wind energy than any other state in the nation — but there’s no indication that wind energy was the primary cause of the power outages in Texas.

Data showing the amount of energy coming from each source over the course of a year indicate an inverse relationship between wind and natural gas — when one is up, often, the other is down. (See the adjacent EIA graph that shows electricity generation by sources over the last year.)

This happened on Feb. 8, just before the cold weather swept in — wind energy dipped and natural gas picked up. That trend generally continued, with natural gas increasing as temperatures across the state reached below freezing. Most households in Texas — 61% of them — have electric heat, compared with 40% nationally.

So, the frigid weather caused both a surge in demand for electricity and a decrease in supply of energy as infrastructure froze.

Frozen instruments at natural gas, coal and nuclear facilities, plus limited supplies of natural gas and problems with natural gas pressure, led to the outages, Woodfin reportedly explained earlier in the week.

“We’ve had some issues with pretty much every kind of generating capacity in the course of this multi-day event,” he said.

Beyond those immediate problems, three components of the Texas energy system contributed to the current situation, Julie Cohn, a research historian focused on energy infrastructures at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, told us in a phone interview.

First, Texas has an isolated network. The grid ERCOT manages, which handles about 90% of the state’s power supply, is the only statewide, standalone grid in the continental U.S. Other states are served by either the Eastern or Western interconnections. So, if Texas needs additional power, it can’t import from another system — except in some areas, such as El Paso and part of East Texas.

Second, the wholesale power market in Texas incentivizes investors to build power plants that sell electricity on the grid, but it doesn’t incentivize the development of back-up plants that can be tapped in emergency situations like this.

Third, while those who run the power system do what they can to plan for as many contingencies as they can, sometimes events arise that are outside their parameters. Cohn cited the 1965 Northeast blackout, one of the biggest power failures in U.S. history, as an example.

“I think this weather event is another example of that,” she said.

On that front, Princeton University assistant professor and energy systems engineer Jesse Jenkins explained how the weather had affected the Texas power system.

“The problems start out in the Permian Basin, where gas wells and gathering lines have frozen, and pumps that are used to lift gas from the ground lack electricity to operate this has cut gas field production in half,” Jenkins wrote in an op-ed piece for the New York Times. “At least one nuclear reactor near Houston also went offline Monday when a safety sensor froze it was restarted Tuesday night.”

Energy infrastructure can be weatherized, Jenkins wrote, pointing out that other parts of the country see the same temperatures without suffering major power outages.

In Iowa, for example, a spokesman for wind farm operator MidAmerican Energy told a local news station on Feb. 17, “We add cold weather packages to our wind turbines to make sure that they can handle what mother nature throws at us here during the wintertime.”

Wind energy accounts for 42% of Iowa’s net power generation, as of 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s the highest share for any state.

It’s also worth noting that the Iowa Utilities Board reported that the state’s largest power generators, including MidAmerican Energy, had enough electricity to supply their customers through the cold snap, which saw arctic air sweep across the country.

Cohn raised a similar point, noting that there’s a wind farm in the North Sea and a recent Bloomberg report explained that turbines in the Arctic Circle can work in temperatures as low as minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Most manufacturers now offer turbines that come with ice mitigation systems and heating for some of the equipment, the report said.

There are various approaches to making the Texas system more resilient, Cohn said — for example, investing in connections to other power grids, incentivizing the insulation of homes or winterizing the existing energy systems.

As for the suggestion that these problems are in some way related to , or would be worsened by, the Green New Deal — that’s far-fetched.

Texas committed itself to investing in renewable energy back in 1999, 20 years before the Green New Deal was introduced. The state set goals for the amount of energy it would use from renewable sources, which include solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, wave or tidal energy, and biomass or biomass-based waste products including landfill gas.

In 2005, the state doubled some of those goals.

Still, as we said, the most common source of energy on the Texas grid is natural gas.

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Wind turbines provide 8% of U.S. generating capacity, more than any other renewable source

Wind generators accounted for 8% of the operating electric generating capacity in the United States in 2016, more than any other renewable technology, including hydroelectricity. Wind turbines have contributed more than one-third of the nearly 200 gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale electricity generating capacity added since 2007. The increase in wind development in the United States over the past decade reflects a combination of improved wind turbine technology, increased access to transmission capacity, state-level renewable portfolio standards, and federal production tax credits and grants.

More than half of U.S. wind capacity is located in five states: Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, California, and Kansas. In three states&mdashIowa, Kansas, and Oklahoma&mdashwind makes up at least 25% of in-state utility-scale generating capacity. Several states with the highest wind capacity are located in the Midwest, a region with favorable wind resources. As of December 2016, nine U.S. states had no operational utility-scale wind facilities: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia.

Texas alone accounts for almost a quarter of total U.S. wind capacity, and electricity generated by these turbines made up 13% of Texas's total electricity output in 2016. At particularly windy times, wind can provide a much larger share of Texas’s electricity generation. For instance, in the early hours of March 23, 2017, wind output on the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) grid in Texas accounted for up to 50% of the electricity generation mix, the highest wind penetration level seen in the ERCOT electric system to date.

Although wind makes up about 8% of total U.S. electricity generating capacity, wind generators provided a smaller share (5%) of total U.S. electricity generation in 2016 because wind turbines have relatively low capacity factors. Capacity factors, which measure actual output over a certain period as a percent of the total mechanical ability of the turbine to generate given sufficient wind, average between about 25% and 40% for wind generators and vary based on seasonal patterns and geographic location.

The average wind generating facility in the United States consists of about 50 turbines. However, the Alta Wind Energy Center in Kern County, California, is the largest wind power site in the United States with 586 turbines and a combined 1,548 megawatts (MW) of capacity across several separate projects.

Until late 2016, all U.S. wind capacity was on land. The first U.S. offshore wind project, began commercial operation off the coast of Rhode Island in December 2016 with a generating capacity of 29.3 MW. Two other offshore wind projects off the coasts of Ohio and Virginia are not yet under construction but are seeking regulatory approvals.

This article is part of a series of Today in Energy articles examining the fleet of utility-scale power plants in the United States. Other articles have examined hydroelectric, coal, natural gas, nuclear, solar, petroleum, and other generators.


Generators & Dynamos

Dynamos and Generators convert mechanical rotation into electric power.

Dynamo - a device that makes direct current electric power using electromagnetism. It is also known as a generator, however the term generator normally refers to an "alternator" which creates alternating current power.

Generator - normally this term is used to describe an alternator which creates AC power using electromagnetism.

Generators, Dynamos, and Batteries are the three tools necessary to create/store substantial amounts of electricity for human use. Batteries may have been discovered as early as 248 BC. They simply use chemical reaction to make and store electricity. Scientists experimented with the battery to invent the early incandescent lamp, electric motors and trains, and scientific tests. However batteries were not reliable or cost effective for any regular electrical use, it was the dynamo that radically changed electricity from a curiosity into a profitable, reliable technology.

1.) How it Works:

First you need a mechanical power source like a turbine(powered by water falling), wind turbine, gas turbine or steam turbine. A shaft from one of these devices is connected to a generator to make power.

Dynamos and generators work using the wild complex phenomena of electromagnetism. Understanding the behavior of electromagnetism, its fields and its effects is a large subject of study. There is a reason why it took 60 years AFTER Volta's first battery to get a good powerful dynamo working. We will keep things simple to help introduce you to the interesting subject of power generation.

In the most basic sense a generator/dynamo is one magnet rotating while inside the influence of another magnet's magnetic field. You cannot see a magnetic field, but it is often illustrated using lines of flux. In the illustration above lines of magnetic flux would follow the lines created by the iron filings.

The generator/dynamo is made up of stationary magnets (stator) which create a powerful magnetic field, and a rotating magnet (rotor) which distorts and cuts through the magnetic lines of flux of the stator. When the rotor cuts through lines of magnetic flux it makes electricity.

But why?

Due to Faraday's Law of Induction if you take a wire and move it back and forth in a magnetic field, the field pushes on electrons in the metal. Copper has 27 electrons, the last two in the orbit are easily pushed on to the next atom. This movement of electrons is electrical flow.

See the video below showing how current is induced in a wire:

If you take a lot of wire such as in a coil and move it in the field, you create a more powerful "flow" of electrons. The strength of your generator depends on:

"l"-Length of the conductor in the magnetic field
"v"-Velocity of the conductor (speed of the rotor)
"B"-Strength of the electromagnetic field

You can do calculations using this formula: e = B x l x v

See the video to see all of this demonstrated:

Above: a simple electromagnet referred to as a solenoid. The term "solenoid" actually describes the tubular shape created by the coiled wire.

The magnets are usually not made of natural magnetite or a permanent magnet (unless it is a small generator), but they are copper or aluminum wire coiled around an iron core. Each coil must be energized with some power to make it into a magnet. This coil around iron is called a solenoid. Solenoids are used instead of natural magnetite because the solenoid is MUCH more powerful. A small solenoid can create a very strong magnetic field.

Above: The coils of wire in the generators must be insulated. Generator failure is caused by temperatures rising too high which results in a breakdown of insulation and a short between to parallel wires. Learn more about wires >

Terms:
Electromagnetism - study of forces that happen between electrically charged particles
Rotor - part of the generator of dynamo that rotates
Armature - same as a rotor
Flux - the lines of strength in a magnetic field, it is measured in density, SI unit of weber
Stator - magnets in a generator/dynamo that do not move, they establish the stationary magnetic field
Solenoid - a magnet created by a wire coil around an iron/ferris core (solenoid technically means the shape of this magnet, but engineers refer to solenoid and electromagnet interchangeably.
Commutator - Learn more detail about them here
Torque - force in a rotational motion

The Dynamo

Dynamo is an older term used to describe a generator that makes direct current power. DC power sends electrons in only one direction. The problem with a simple generator is that when the rotor rotates it eventually turns completely around, reversing the current. Early inventors didn't know what to do with this alternating current, alternating current is more complex to control and design motors and lights for. Early inventors had to figure a way to only capture the positive energy of the generator, so they invented a commutator. The commutator is a switch that allows current to only flow in one direction.

See the video below to see how the commutator works:

The Dynamo consists of 3 major components: the stator, the armature, and the commutator.

Brushes are part of the commutator, the brushes must conduct electricity as the keep contact with the rotating armature. The first brushes were actual wire "brushes" made of small wires. These wore out easily and they developed graphic blocks to do the same job.

The stator is a fixed structure that makes magnetic field, you can do this in a small dynamo using a permanent magnet. Large dynamos require an electromagnet.

The armature is made of coiled copper windings which rotate inside the magnetic field made by the stator. When the windings move, they cut through the lines of magnetic field. This creates pulses of electric power.

The commutator is needed to produce direct current. In direct current power flows in only one direction through a wire, the problem is that the rotating armature in a dynamo reverses current each half turn, so the commutator is a rotary switch that disconnects the power during the reversed current part of the cycle.

Since the magnets in an dynamo are solenoids, they must be powered to work. So in addition to brushes which tap power to go out to the main circuit, there is another set of brushes to take power from from the armature to power the stator's magnets. That's fine if the dynamo is running, but how do you start a dynamo if you have no power to start?

Sometimes the armature retains some magnetism in the iron core, and and when it begins to turn it makes a small amount of power, enough to excite the solenoids in the stator. Voltage then begins to rise until the dynamo is at full power.

If there is no magnetism left in the armature's iron, than often a battery is used to excite the solenoids in the dynamo to get it started. This is called "field flashing".

Below in the discussion of wiring the dynamo you will notice how power is routed through the solenoids differently.

There are two ways of wiring a dynamo: series wound and shunt wound. See the diagrams to learn the difference.

Below, video of a small simple dynamo similar to the diagrams above (built in the 1890s):

The Generator

The generator differs from the dynamo in that it produces AC power. Electrons flow in in both directions in AC power. It wasn't until the 1890s that engineers had figured out how to design powerful motors, transformers and other devices which could use AC power in a way that could compete with DC power.

While the alternator uses commutators, the generator uses a slip ring with brushes to tap the power off of the rotor. Attached to the slip ring are graphite or carbon "brushes" which are spring loaded to push the brush onto the ring. This keeps power consistently flowing. Brushes get worn down over time and need to be replaced.

Below, video of slip rings and brushes, many examples from old to new:

Since the time of Gramme in the 1860s it was figured out that the best way to build a dynamo/generator was to arrange magnetic coils around a wide circle, with a wide spinning armature. This looks different than the simple small dynamo examples you see used in teaching how the devices work.

In the photo below you will see clearly one coil on the armature (the rest were removed for servicing) and other coils built into the stator.

From the 1890s until today 3 phase AC power has been the standard form of power. Three phases is made through the design of the generator.

To make a three phase generator you have to place a certain number of magnets on your stator and armature, all with proper spacing. Electromagnetism is as complex as dealing with waves and water, so you need to know how to control the field through your design. Problems include having your magnet unevenly attracted to the iron core, improper calculations of the distortion of the magnetic field (the faster it spins, the more the field is distorted), spurious resistance in the armature coils, and a myriad of other potential problems.

Why 3 phase? if you want to know more about phases and why we use 3 phase, see our video with power transmission pioneer Lionel Barthold.

2.) A Brief History of Dynamos and Generators:

The generator evolved from work by Michael Faraday and Joseph Henry in the 1820s. Once these two inventors discovered and documented the phenomena of electromagnetic induction, it lead to experimentation by others in both Europe and North America.

1832 - Hippolyte Pixii (France) built the first dynamo using a commutator, his model created pulses of electricity separated by no current. He also by accident created the first alternator. He did not know what to do with the changing current, he concentrated on trying to eliminate the alternating current to get DC power, this led him to create the commutator.

1830s-1860s - The battery is still the most powerful way to supply electricity for the various experimentation going on in that period. Electricity was still not commercially viable. A battery powered electric train from Washington DC to Baltimore failed, proving a gross embarrassment to the new field of electricity. After millions of dollars wasted steam still proved to be a better power source. Electricity still needed to prove to be reliable and commercially viable.

1860 - Antonio Pacinotti- Created a dynamo that provided continuous DC power

1867 - Werner Von Siemens and Charles Wheatstone create a more powerful, more useful dynamo which used a self powered electromagnet in the stator instead of the weak permanent magnet.

1871 - Zenobe Gramme sparked the commercial revolution of electricity. He filled the magnetic field with an iron core which made a better path for magnetic flux. This increased the power of the dynamo to the point were it was usable for many commercial applications.

1870s - There was an explosion of new designs in dynamos, designs ranged a wild assortment, only a few stood out as being superior in efficiency.

1876 - Charles F. Brush (Ohio) developed the most efficient and reliable dynamo design ever to that point. His inventions was sold through the Telegraph Supply Company.

1877 - The Franklin Institute (Philadelphia) conducts test on dynamos from around the world. Publicity from this event spurs development by others like Elihu Thomson, Lord Kelvin, and Thomas Edison.

Above: Edison's Long Legged Mary, a commercially successful dynamo for his DC systems 1884

1878 - The Ganz Company begins to use AC generators in small commercial installations in Budapest .

1880 - Charles F. Brush had over 5000 arc lights in operation, representing 80 percent of all lamps world wide. The economic power of electrical age had begun.

1880-1886 - Alternating Current systems develop in Europe with Siemens, Sabastian Ferranti, Lucien Gaulard, and others. DC dynamos reign supreme in the lucrative American market, many are skeptical to invest in AC. AC generators were powerful, however the generator alone was not the biggest problem. Systems for control and distribution of AC power needed to be improved before it could compete with DC on a market.

1886 - In the North American Market inventors like William Stanley, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, and Elihu Thomson develop their own AC systems and generator designs. Most of them used Siemens and Ferranti generators as their basis of study. William Stanley was quickly able to invent a better generator after being unsatisfied with the Siemens generator he used in his first experiment.

Above: Siemens AC generators used in London in 1885, in the US Edison was reluctant to jump into the AC power field while in Europe the technology was developing rapidly.


1886-1891 - Polyphase AC generators are developed by C.S. Bradly (US), August Haselwander (Germany), Mikhail Dolivo-Dobrovsky (Germany/Russia), Galileo Ferraris (Italy), and others. AC systems which include better control and powerful electric motors allow AC to compete.


1891 - Three-Phase AC power proves to be the best system for power generation and distribution at the International Electro-Technical Exhibition in Frankfurt.

The three-phase generator designed by Mikhail Dolivo-Dobrovsky used at the exhibition is seen at left.

1892 - Charles P. Steinmetz presents his paper to the AIEE on hysteresis. Steinmetz's understanding of the mathematics of AC power is published and helps revolutionize AC power system design, including large AC Generators.

1890s - Generator design is improved rapidly thanks to commercial sales and available money for research. Westinghouse, Siemens, Oerlikon, and General Electric develop the world's most powerful generators. Some generators still operate 115 years later. (Mechanicville, NY)

Above: 1894 Elihu Thomson developed many AC generators for General Electric

A later Westinghouse 2000 kW 270 Volt generator from after 1900

3. Videos

Mechanicville Generators with history explained (1897), designed by AC mastermind Charles P. Steinmetz

Westinghouse Generator being constructed and tested (1905), designed by Oliver Shallenberger, Tesla and others at Westinghouse.

1895 Early powerful generators used at Folsom, CA (designed by Elihu Thompson, Dr. Louis Bell, and others at GE)

1891 Generator produced by Oerlikon for the International Electro-technical Exhibition (designed by Dobrovolsky in Germany)

Sources:
-The General Electric Story - by The Hall of History, Schenectady, NY 1989 Second Edition
-Wikipedia (Generators, Charles Brush)
-Wikipedia (Commutator)
-Principals of Electricity - by General Electric
-History of AC Power - Edison Tech Center
-Hawkins Electrical Guide

Photos / Video:
-Copyright 2011 The Edison Tech Center. Shot on location at the Deutsches Museum, Munich
-Some generators photographed at the Edison Tech Center, Schenectady, NY


Thousands of wind turbines

Despite the high number of turbines in the state, national data shows that in general residents who live by wind turbines don’t seem perturbed by them.

A study published this month by the federal Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California found that 57% of people who lived within 5 miles of a wind turbine were either positive or very positive about them. Only 8% were negative or very negative. The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

“The majority of people we surveyed were within half a mile of an existing turbine, so they were people who know all about them, they’ve heard them and seen them day and night,” said Ben Hoen, a research scientist with the Electricity Markets and Policy Group at the federal Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Wind produces a substantial number of jobs in the state. More than 25,000 Texans work in the industry. To maintain the turbines, teams of technicians constantly visit the structures, inspecting gears or conducting pre-planned maintenance.


Our Energy Sources

Wind energy is an indirect form of solar energy created by a combination of factors, including the uneven heating of Earth&rsquos atmosphere by solar radiation, variations in topography, and the rotation of Earth. People have been putting wind energy to use throughout history to propel sail boats, mill flour from grain, and pump water. Today the wind-induced mechanical power of huge multi-blade rotors&mdashsweeping circles in the air as much as 100 meters in diameter&mdashis routed to generators that produce electricity.

In 2014, wind power provided about 19% of all the energy consumed from renewable sources. That contribution is expected to grow and the potential is large: Energy from wind available in the United States is at least an order of magnitude larger than the nation&rsquos total annual consumption of energy, although only a small fraction of it can be captured. As of 2015, 40 states had at least some installed wind power systems, with the largest share on the West Coast and in the Midwest. Wind energy produced 4.7% of America&rsquos electricity in 2015.

Expansion of wind power depends on a variety of factors, including fossil-fuel prices, federal tax credits, state renewable energy programs, technology improvements, access to transmission grids, and public opinion. If those factors remain relatively constant, wind power generation capacity is expected to grow about one-third by 2040.

Wind energy, like sunlight, is a &ldquofree&rdquo source. The cost arises in converting it to electricity and integrating that electricity into the nation&rsquos power grid. It is not, however, universally welcomed. Many oppose its use on aesthetic and environmental grounds. Wind turbines (sometimes grouped into &ldquowind farms&rdquo containing hundreds of turbines) can prompt complaints from communities whose sight lines are altered. Current designs are also hazardous to some birds and bats.

But by far the largest impediment to greater use of intermittent energy sources is that they currently lack a practical and cost-effective way to store the electricity generated so that it can be used when needed, rather than when available. Battery arrays are an obvious option, but they are typically best suited to storing relatively small amounts locally. (Although the city of Fairbanks, Alaska, has an immense central emergency battery that can provide 26 megawatts of power for 15 minutes in the event of an outage.)

Intermittent electricity can be used to pump water to higher elevations, raising its potential energy. Similarly, electrical energy can be stored as heat in an insulated enclosure or used to compress gas underground, where the pressure could be bled off to generate power on demand. Electricity from wind and solar sources can be harnessed to spin up giant flywheels or used to produce hydrogen, which could be stored and used in fuel cells when needed. Every time energy changes form, of course, there is some loss and efficiency is an urgent concern in all conversion technologies. At present, such solutions are relatively costly and have typically been deployed to serve areas off the main power grid.


Related News

2 million Texas households without power as massive winter storm drives demand for electricity

Texas' grid operator warns rolling blackouts are possible as winter storm escalates demand for electricity

Massive winter storm prompts disaster declaration and could stress Texas' electric grid


Positive impacts of fracking

"The United States is in the midst of the 'unconventional revolution in oil and gas' that, it becomes increasingly apparent, goes beyond energy itself. Today, the industry supports 1.7m jobs - a considerable accomplishment given the relative newness of the technology. That number could rise to 3 million by 2020. In 2012, this revolution added $62 billion to federal and state government revenues, a number that we project could rise to about $113 billion by 2020.2 It is helping to stimulate a manufacturing renaissance in the United States, improving the competitive position of the United States in the global economy, and beginning to affect global geopolitics." —Daniel Yergin, vice chair of global consulting firm IHS, in February testimony before Congress

"Natural gas is not a permanent solution to ending our addiction imported oil. It is a bridge fuel to slash our oil dependence while buying us time to develop new technologies that will ultimately replace fossil transportation fuels. Natural gas is the critical puzzle piece RIGHT NOW. It will help us to keep more of the $350 to $450 billion we spend on imported oil every year at home, where it can power our economy and pay for our investments in a smart grid, wind and solar energy, and increased energy efficiency. By investing in alternative energies while utilizing natural gas for transportation and energy generation, America can decrease its dependence on OPEC oil, develop the cutting-edge know-how to make wind and solar technology viable, and keep more money at home to pay for the whole thing." —Pickens Plan, a site outlining BP Capital founder T. Boone Pickens' proposed energy strategy

"My town was dying. This is a full-scale mining operation, and I'm all for it. Now we can get back to work." —Brent Sanford, mayor of Watford City, a town at the center of the North Dakota oil boom, in "The New Oil Landscape" (NGM March 2013 issue)


Why A Powerful Winter Storm Caused Blackouts In Texas

The powerful winter storm stampeding across the continental United States this week blasted Texas with arctic temperatures that triggered widespread blackouts, plunging millions into darkness as snow and record cold paralyzed the country’s second-largest state.

Republican lawmakers and right-wing pundits opposed to the Biden administration’s clean energy policies leaped at the chance to blame the Lone Star State’s burgeoning use of wind power for the outages.

But while the output from all sources of electricity plunged in Texas, frozen instruments at coal, nuclear and natural gas power plants, coupled with a limited supply of natural gas, were the main cause of the rolling blackouts, Dan Woodfin, a senior director for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, told Bloomberg News on Tuesday. (ERCOT is the state’s main grid operator.)

Energy analysts and electricity experts said a complete failure to plan for extreme weather scenarios caused the kind of cascading disaster that risks becoming more common as climate chaos increases pressure on human systems.

Ironically, wind energy represented one bright spot for grid operators as the resource, which tends to ebb in the winter months, actually surpassed daily production forecasts over the past weekend.

ERCOT did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

“There’s so much misinformation and ridiculous political spin out there that’s focused on icy wind turbines when that’s the piece of the supply that ERCOT planned for most realistically,” said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of environmental engineering at Rice University in Houston. “For the coldest day in winter, they were only expecting to get a small share of the pie from wind and solar.”

By contrast, the grid operator planned to get about 90% of the electricity load from what it calls “firm and reliable resources” such as coal, natural gas and nuclear reactors, he said.

“It’s been a failure that our ‘firm and reliable resources’ haven’t been firm or reliable when we’ve needed them most,” Cohan said.

Of about 70,000 megawatts worth of gas, coal and nuclear plants, as much as 30,000 megawatts has been offline since Sunday night, said Jesse Jenkins, an electricity expert at Princeton University.

“Main story continues to be the failure of thermal power plants ― natural gas, coal, and nuclear plants ― which ERCOT counts on to be there when needed,” Jenkins wrote in a series of tweets on Tuesday evening. “They’ve failed.”

Complicating matters further, homes in Texas are designed to keep temperatures roughly 30 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the air outside during blistering summers, not to hold in the heat during freezing winters, said Joshua Rhodes, a research associate at the University of Texas at Austin’s Webber Energy Group. Now that heat loss is adding to the surging demand on the grid.

“Everything in Texas is focused around summer peak demand when we’re all trying to air-condition our houses and keep it 75 when it’s 105 outside,” Rhodes said. “We’ve designed our houses for this 30-degree difference. But now our houses are trying to keep a 60-degree difference, and they’re not designed to do it. It’s a losing battle.”

Under normal conditions, Texas grid operators and utilities plan for peak demand during the summer heat. During the winter, many plants sit offline and supplies are shipped elsewhere until power-hungry air conditioners and refrigerator systems send grid demand surging around August. The blackouts now show that “demand forecasts were wrong, and they were way, way too low,” said electricity analyst Nick Steckler.

“It was a huge miss,” said Steckler, who heads the U.S. power unit at the energy research firm BloombergNEF, which is a separate company from the financial newswire. “I can’t emphasize how much the available capacity undershot the total expected demand.”

On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called for an investigation into ERCOT’s preparations, declaring the matter an emergency item in this legislative session to “ensure Texans never again experience power outages on the scale they have seen over the past several days.”

“The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours,” Abbott said in his statement. “Far too many Texans are without power and heat for their homes as our state faces freezing temperatures and severe winter weather. This is unacceptable.”

It wasn’t just the grid operator and power plants at fault. Pipeline utilities whose supply lines froze and even building designers and construction practices that limited insulation for cold weather made “Texas gas and electricity demand extremely sensitive to cold weather events,” Jenkins said in his Twitter thread.

In that sense, the blackouts echo another recent climate disaster Texans faced. After years of concrete sprawl spreading further and further outward, Houston’s lack of climate planning left it vulnerable to catastrophic flooding when Hurricane Harvey made landfall in 2017. At the time, Andrew Dessler, a climatologist and professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, told HuffPost that the storm offered “a taste of the future.”

It’s impossible to know yet whether this particular cold snap is related to climate change, and there’s a lively debate over how much the warming of the Arctic is weakening forces in the stratosphere that normally keep frigid temperatures confined to the Earth’s northern latitudes. In 2018, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research scientist Marlene Kretschmer found that periods of a weakened “polar vortex” force had increased over the past four decades and that these corresponded to about 60% of cold extremes in the mid-latitudes part of Eurasia during the period. But researchers argued last year in the peer-reviewed journal Nature that not enough data exists to make definitive claims about the link.

Far less stringent ethics and adherence to facts guide what political opportunists contribute to the discussion of what’s happening in Texas.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) shared a 2014 image of a helicopter de-icing a wind turbine in Sweden, calling it “a perfect example of the need for reliable energy sources like natural gas & coal.”

The opposite ends of right-wing billionaire Rupert Murdoch’s media empire managed to project a unified message blaming icy turbines as well.

On the more prestigious newspaper side, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board ― a body whose willingness to bend facts for ideological purposes has drawn the ire of reporters in its newsroom ― lashed out at what it called “the paradox of the left’s climate agenda: The less we use fossil fuels, the more we need them,” in an opinion piece titled “A Deep Green Freeze.”

On the populist television side, Fox News star Tucker Carlson zeroed in on wind turbines in his Monday night monologue: “It was all working great until the day it got cold outside. The windmills failed like the silly fashion accessories they are, and people in Texas died. This is not to beat up on the state of Texas ― it’s a great state, actually ― but to give you some sense of what’s about to happen to you.”

Carlson delivered in his usual way, providing the kind of confusing political misinformation that audiences can now depend on following disasters.

“There always seems to be narratives that are very far from the reality that are going on,” Cohan said. “Gaslight is a good word for it.”


What are the other alternatives?

Eventually, according to Dr Finkel, Australia could be run on mostly solar and wind power, with battery and other storage solutions to help out when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing.

But these and other storage ideas, like pumped hydro and stored hydrogen, will take time to build.

In 2019, coal-fired electricity made up 58.5 per cent of Australia's electricity generation, while gas and renewables made up 20 per cent each, meaning if coal plants were turned off overnight itɽ leave Australia without reliable electricity.

And while some might not mind the lights going out at dinner time, for big electricity-using industries it would be catastrophic.

Take the Tomago aluminium smelter near Newcastle, for example — it uses 10 per cent of New South Wale's electricity and a sudden blackout would cause the molten aluminium in its equipment to solidify and cause severe damage.

But any investment in further shoring up renewable energy will have to come to the private sector, with the government not announcing any new money for renewables in the budget.


Watch the video: Η αιολική βιομηχανία στην Άνδρο