Societies have taken advantage of wind power for thousands of years. The first known use was in 5000 BC when people used sails to navigate the Nile River. Persians had already been using windmills for 400 years by 900 AD in order to pump water and grind grain. Windmills may have even been developed in China before 1 AD, but the earliest written documentation comes from 1219. Cretans were using “literally hundreds of sail-rotor windmills [to] pump water for crops and livestock.”
Today, people are realizing that wind power “is one of the most promising new energy sources” that can serve as an alternative to fossil fuel-generated electricity. The cost of wind has dropped by 15% with each doubling of installed capacity worldwide, and capacity has doubled three times during the 1990s and 2000’s.As of 1999, global wind energy capacity topped 10,000 megawatts, which is approximately 16 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. That’s enough to serve over 5 cities the size of Miami, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Five Miamis may not seem significant, but if we make the predicted strides in the near future, wind power could be one of our main sources of electricity.
Though wind energy is now more affordable, more available, and pollution-free, it does have some drawbacks. Wind power suffers from the same lack of energy density as direct solar radiation. The fact that it is a “very diffuse source” means that “large numbers of wind generators (and thus large land areas) are required to produce useful amounts of heat or electricity.” But wind turbines cannot be erected everywhere simply because many places are not windy enough for suitable power generation. When an appropriate place is found, building and maintaining a wind farm can be costly. It “is a highly capital-intensive technology.” If the interest rates charged for manufacturing equipment and constructing a plant are high, then a consumer will have to pay more for that energy. “One study found that if wind plants were financed on the same terms as gas plants, their cost would drop by nearly 40%.” Fortunately, the more facilities built, the cheaper wind energy is.
But there is increasing energy being put in finding many other alternative sources of power and making them viable, such as geothermal and wave energy and biomass!