The history of windturbines and windfarms

Princess Amalia offshore wind farm (Netherlands)

Farming the wind – yesterday, today and tomorrow

As early as 3500 BC, the Egyptians harnessed the power of wind to sail their boats across the Nile. Thousands of years later, wind energy use has expanded as a consequence of 20th century oil shortages and environmental concerns. Today, almost twenty years into the 21st century, these concerns continue to grow. The challenges of global warming, energy security and the depletion of fossil fuels have prompted environmentalists, industries and municipalities to look at renewable energy alternatives, with wind power being one of the top three (the other two are solar and hydrogen). In fact, Europe is the leader in offshore wind energy with a total installed capacity of 12,631 MW from 3,589 grid-connected wind turbines in 10 countries. But this amazing progression in offshore wind energy expansion is a collaborative effort – with industry leaders and suppliers each contributing their knowledge, expertise and materials. And FlowCut Waterjet Cutting BV is very proud to be an active participant in the wind energy movement.

„Wind power also has the advantage that it can be deployed faster than other energy supply technologies.Building a conventional power plant can take 10 or 12 years or more, and it is not producing power until it is fully completed. Wind power deployment is measured in months, and a half completed wind farm is just a smaller power plant, starting to generate power and income as soon as the first turbine is connected to the grid. Even large offshore wind farms, which require a greater level of infrastructure and grid network connection, can be installed from start to finish in less than two years, a crucial asset given the pressing threat of climate change.“

– Global Wind Energy Council,  “Wind Energy Makes Sound Economic Sense”

Windmills made their debut in Europe during the middle ages – in England and then Germany.  Dutch windmils first began to surface in the 14th century and were used to drain areas of the Rhine delta. But it was in July 1887 when the first electricity-generating wind turbine was used as a battery-charging machine for Scottish scholar James Blyth to power up his summer home in Scotland, which it did  for the next 25 years. Professor Blyth’s innovation was followed soon after by another pivotal development: the first automated wind turbine for generating 12kW of electricty, which was developed by Professor Charles F. Brush in Cleveland, Ohio (United States).

The progression of wind energy innovation

Wind turbines began to flourish – most especially in rural areas with scattered populations (they were considered uneconmical in highly populated areas) – and by the 1900s, Denmark had approximately 2500 windmills used for mechanical loads needed for milling and pumping water. By 1908, there were 72 electricty-generating windmills in the United States and by World War I, the windmill industry really began to boom – producing approximately 100,000 farm windmills per year. These windmills were primarily used for water pumping purposes in these rural, agricultural areas.  The first vertical axis wind turbine (the Darrieus wind turbine) was invented by Frenchman Georges Darrieus in the 1920s. But it was the USSR’s wind turbine, developed in 1931 near Yalta, which paved the way to our modern-day horizontal wind generator.  It was a 100 KW turbine, placed in a 30-meter tower and connected to the local 6.3 kV distribution system. It had an annual load capacity factor of 32% – close to the modern wind turbines.

The first megawatt wind turbine was created in Vermont (1941) but the first wind turbine to be connected to a utility grid was developed in 1952 by John Brown & Company in the UK (Orkney Islands). Thethree-bladed turbine which inspired the designs that are prevalent today was built in 1956 by engineer Johannes Juul in Gedser, Denmark. Juul’s invention – emergency aerodynamic tip breaks – is still used in turbines today. This turbine operated until 1967 and, at the request of NASA, it was refurbished in the 1970s.

In the 1970s, everything changed

The oil shortages in the 1970s prompted a major shift in the way the world began to see energy and its impact on the environment.  Wind was seen as a viable alternative source of renewable energy – so much so that the United States government asked NASA to lead the research into large commercial wind turbines and in the early 1980s, thousands of wind turbines were installed in California.

Around the world, wind farms began to spread

From the 1990s onwards federal and state governments began to encourage (through incentives) the use of renewable energy sources, in response to concerns for the environment. In the United States, the share of electricity generation from wind went from 1% in 1990 to 5% in 2015.  Europe, in response to government incentives, has seen a major expansion in wind energy use. The first offshore windfarm, consisting of 11 450kW turbines, was created in Vindeby, Denmark in 1991 – followed by offshore wind farms opening in the United Kingdom (Cornwall, north Wales, and Stirling). The UK plans to build thousands of new offshore wind turbines, for the purpose of powering every home in Britain by 2020.  The year 2020 appears to be a benchmark for countries around the world. China is heavily invested in wind energy – with the largest wind farm in the world, Gansu. Its capacity is over 6,000 MW of power and the plan is to increase it to 20,000 MW by 2020.

Worldwide, thousands and thousands of wind farms are in operation – a total installed capacity of approximately 194,400 MW.  And Europe leads the offshore wind energy market with a total installed capacity of 12,621 MW in 10 counties.  More than 100 GW of offshore projects are either in the planning stages or under development. According to the European Wind Energy Association, the goal is to have 40 GW installed by 2020 and 150 GW by 2030.

Supporting the onshore and offshore industry

For over twenty-five years, FlowCut Waterjet Cutting BV has produced parts for the offshore and onshore energy industry – for wind turbines, as well as for gas and oil pipelines. As a reliable link in the process of constructing and installing modern energy production facilities on land and sea and also being an ISO 9001-certified company, FlowCut meets the highest standards of PED (the EU’s Pressure Equipment Directive). Our innovative cold cutting technique is used to manufacture various industry-specific components – from metals such as staineless steel, bronze, brass, copper and inconel.

The winds of change

Our commitment to sustainability and green energy is evident in our work contribution to the wind energy industry.  Specifically, we manufacture actuators, shape and parts for the wind turbines used in wind farms installed in Europe. Our components are delivered exactly to specification, since we specialise in employing high-tech 2D and 3D microjet cutting processes which allow us to manufacture products and components with very high tolerances and zero material deformation or change to the base material. We guarantee that we will always preserve the quality and dimensions of the base material.  It is rpecisely this guarantee which brings the offshore and onshore energy industry to us when they need a reliable partner.  And from our perspective, we are honoured and proud to be part of the ongoing global movement towards adopting alternative renewable energy sources

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