Wind Power – A view from 1910

I learned about “Windmills and wind motors” by F.E. Powell from a list of publications in an old magazine, the book was originally published in the US in 1910.  A scanned version is available in the internet archive of the American Libraries, a not-for-profit organisation to whom I would like to say thank you.  Increasingly, my reading material is coming from either the internet or car boot sales, I appreciate that my reading choices  are not constrained by the need to search for bits of paper, although that is something I enjoy doing.  A link to the book can be found at the end of this post.

Mr. Powell is an enthusiast for his subject, but unlike many enthusiasts for the technology, he understands that wind is a non-continuous form of energy which requires storage (banks of accumulators) in order to meet a continuous demand.  He is also quite restrained in his reference wind speed which is 16 miles per hour which is approximately 7 metres/second.  This amount of wind occurs frequently in many locations, this is in contrast to many modern wind turbines which are rated at 15 metres/second, a speed which occurs less frequently.  Chapter 6 is entitled “The production of electricity by wind power” and is a good discussion of the problems which need to be solved.  As the book was written well before the electronic age, control functions are implemented using mechanical or electro-mechanical devices which makes you appreciate the capability and availability of devices like mosfets, comparators and even computers.

The book appears to be intended for model or amateur engineers and as chapter 5 describes the construction of a machine with a rotor diameter of 10 feet (approx. 3 metres), fairly serious ones.  I admit to reading the descriptions of constructions fairly quickly, but I liked the method rotor hub construction in chapter 4 which consists almost entirely of wood and which could be made using only hand tools:



Many of the components do require access to a reasonably equipped workshop and an ability to use lathes and engage in pattern making.  This book was written at a time of rapid development of engineering and production processes and the artisan type skills needed would have been more widespread than they are today.  Model engineering magazines and related material turn up frequently at car boot sales.

I was originally drawn to this book in the search for technological history.  Wind power was a mainstream technology in the 19th century, although it was being challenged and displaced by steam towards the end.  wind was used for pumping water both for irrigation and drainage, grinding corn and working saw mills and sailing ships so there must have been a considerable knowledge of both the machinery and of wind as an energy source.  Wind powered electricity generation is clearly not a new idea and one which has been evolving for more than a century and that the Danish government was supporting research into the potential right at the start of the 20th century.

Link to scanned version of complete book:

Internet Archive


About SolarBucket

I trained as a mechanical engineer in the 1970's and then spent most of the following 25 years doing sums and software for Oil and Gas Exploration. Current interests are the study of wind and solar resources.
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