Back to Basics: A Brief History of Modern Wind Energy - Pager Power
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Back to Basics: A Brief History of Modern Wind Energy

Back to Basics: A Brief History of Modern Wind Energy
June 17, 2024 Tori Harvey

Last month’s Back to Basics article considered the chronological development of modern solar power, and now, we dip into the history of another major renewable energy source – electricity generated by wind.

Wind energy is considered a sustainable, renewable energy source but is variable, so must be accompanied by energy storage to be considered reliable. Much like the sun, our interaction with wind as a source of energy dates back hundreds of years. From sailing the seas and milling grain, to sawing timber, pressing oil, and pumping water. Though it was during the late 19th century, some decades after the discovery of electricity, engineers across the globe simultaneously turned their attention to obtaining a new yield from wind…


The Halladay electricity-producing windmill is patented. This had the appearance of a traditional windmill but was connected to a set of accumulators (batteries) [1].

1887 – 1895

Across the globe, four engineers – James Blyth, Charles de Goyon, Charles Brush, and Poul la Cour – are recorded as simultaneously having a proclivity toward developing an independently functioning and efficient wind turbine [2]. 

These early attempts at electricity-generating turbines took place on private plots, had varying levels of efficiency. Blyth offered surplus energy to his neighbours, to light the main street of their village, but they rejected the offer on the notion that electric power was “the work of the devil” [3].


Approximately 2,500 windmills derived from Pour la Cour’s prototype are in use across the country of Denmark for mechanical purposes, such as grinding grains and pumping water (find source). Collectively, these had a peak power of approximately 30 MW [4].


The Society of Wind Electricians is conceived. During this time, Pour la Cour discovers that windmills with fewer blades that spin faster are more efficient than turbines with many blades spinning slowly [2].


Jacobs Wind was founded and over the course of 30 years, this company produced some 30,000 small wind turbines for use on remote farmland [4].


In Australia, the popularity of a wind-powered generator called “Freelite” grew. The generator could produce 100 watts of electrical power from windspeed as little as 16 km/h, charging a battery pack that could then power fans and lighting as required [4].


The world’s first megawatt wind turbine was connected to the local distribution network from atop the mountain known as Grandpa’s Knob in Vermont, United States [4]. 


In 1973, amidst the conflict of the fourth Arab-Israeli War, the Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) called a total oil embargo on many Western ports. Later, in 1979, ongoing conflict led to a global shortage which had catastrophic effects on the price of crude oil for Western countries [5]. The shock of both oil crises had lasting effects on global economy and forced countries such as the USA to consider alternative, more secure energy sources.

Wind power was adopted as part of the solution. NASA developed turbines under a program to create a utility-scale wind turbine industry in the United States, to determine the best and most efficient design [4].


In Denmark, a transformation took place when the first multi-megawatt turbine was constructed. This structure pioneered many technologies used in modern wind turbines [4].

history of wind energy
Figure 1: Wind farm [9]


The years that followed the oil crises are mentioned as the ‘Great Wind Revival’ [5]. Governments helps to fund and begins to incentivise the development of wind farms. The first wind farm was installed in the US, consisting of 20 turbines that each provided 30 kW of power [6].

Alongside the emergence of utility-scale wind farms, many people also sought self-sufficient lifestyle and there was a period of salvaging the Jacobs’ farm wind generators of the 1930s [4].


Vindeby Offshore Wind Farm was erected off the cost of the Danish island of Lolland. It served for 25 years before being decommissioned in 2017 [7].

Present Day

By the end of 2023, worldwide capacity for wind power surpassed 1,000 GW [8]. Wind power is currently one of the lowest-cost sources for electricity. In most locations, new onshore wind farms are cheaper than new fossil fuel plants [4], which is helping to drive the renewable energy transition.

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[1] Gipe, P. (2023). Austrian was First with Wind-Electric Turbine Not Byth or de Goyon, Wind Works, Last accessed: 13/06/2024, Available at: 

[2] Gipe, P. & Mollerstrom, E. (2022). An overview of the history of wind turbine development: Part I – The early wind turbines until the 1960s, Wind Engineering, 46(6), 1973-2004, Last accessed: 06/06/2024, Available at: 

[3] Price, T.J. (2005). James Blyth – Britain’s First Modern Wind Power Pioneer, Wind Engineering, 29(3), Accessed on: 12/06/2024, Available at: 

[4] Wikipedia, History of wind power, Last accessed: 14/06/2024, Available at:,power%20of%20about%2030%20MW

[5] Gipe, P. & Mollerstrom, E. (2022). An overview of the history of wind turbine development: Part II – The 1970s onwards, Wind Engineering, 47(1), 220-248, Last accessed: 06/06/2024, Available at: 

[6] National Grid (2024). The history of wind energy, Last accessed: 13/06/2024, Available at: 

[7] Wikipedia, Vendeby Offshore Wind Farm, Last accessed: 14/06/2024, Available at:,25%20years%20of%20useful%20life

[8] Bath, A. (2024). Global Wind Report 2024, Global Wind and Energy Council, Last accessed: 14/06/2024, Available at: 

[9] Unsplash. Image of a wind farm. Last accessed: 14/06/2024, Available at: 



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