Planet Gore

History’s Lessons on Wind

As the Obama administration continues to talk about the virtues of wind power, they would do well to be reminded that wind power has been around for centuries and yet it still is a small, supplemental player in the energy-supply mix. There are good reasons for this. 


Like other Planet Gore contributors, I have posted many times about the volatility and intermittency of wind power, about how wind energy cannot survive without massive government subsidy, about the absence of commercial-scale electricity storage that is needed in order to permit large-scale addition of wind power to our energy supply, and about wind power’s transmission limitations. 


But the realities of wind power’s shortcomings are nothing new. Rob Bradley, over at MasterResource, reminds us what William Stanley Jevons had to say about wind energy, back in 1865.

“The first great requisite of motive power is, that it shall be wholly at our command, to be exerted when, and where, and in what degree we desire. The wind, for instance, as a direct motive power, is wholly inapplicable to a system of machine labour, for during a calm season the whole business of the country would be thrown out of gear” (p. 122).


“No possible concentration of windmills . . . would supply the force required in large factories or iron works. An ordinary windmill has the power of about thirty-four men, or at most seven horses. Many ordinary factories would therefore require ten windmills to drive them, and the great Dowlais Ironworks, employing a total engine power of 7,308 horses, would require no less than 1,000 large windmills!” (p. 123)


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