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History of Wind Energy

Photo of a windmill that pumps water on the Great Plains.Since early recorded history, people have utilized wind energy. It propelled boats along the Nile River as early as 5,000 B.C., and helped Persians pump water and grind grain between 500 and 900 B.C. As cultures harnessed the power that wind offered, the use of windmills spread from Persia to the surrounding areas in the Middle East, where windmills were used extensively in food production.

Eventually, around 1,000 A.D., wind power technology  spread north to European countries such as The Netherlands, which adapted windmills to help drain lakes and marches in the Rhine River Delta.

Through history, the use of wind power has waxed and waned, and nowhere in history is that more evident than in the last century and a half. Read on to discover many of the remarkable advances that wind power has made over this period of time. 

  • 1850s–Daniel Halladay and John Burnham start the U.S. Wind Engine Company and build the Halladay Windmill, which is designed for the landscape of the American West.
  • Late 1800s–Wind power in North America helps farmers and ranchers pump water for irrigation and windmills generate electricity for homes and businesses.
  • Late 1890s–The invention of steel blades for windmills makes them more efficient and as homesteaders move west, more than six million windmills are erected throughout the countryside.
  • 1890–Larger windmills, called wind turbines, begin appearing on hills in Denmark.
  • 1893 – The Chicago World’s Fair showcases 15 windmill companies and their wind turbine designs.
  • 1940s–The largest wind turbine begins operating on a Vermont hilltop known as “Grandpa’s Knob.” It is rated at 1.25 megawatts (MW) in winds of about 30 mph and feeds electric power to the local utility network for several months during World War II.
  • 1950s–Most wind turbines in the United States are shut down because of disuse.
  • 1970s–The price of oil skyrockets and so does interest and research in wind turbines and the power they generate.
  • 1978–Congress passes the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978, which requires companies to buy a certain amount of electricity from renewable energy sources, including wind.
  • 1981–National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists Larry Viterna and Bob Corrigan develop “The Viterna Method,” which goes on to become the most common method used for predicting wind turbine performance, thus increasing the efficiency of turbine output to this day.
  • 1990–More than 2,200 MW of wind energy capacity is installed around California, creating more than half of the world’s capacity for wind power.
  • 1992–The Energy Policy Act authorizes a production tax credit of 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) of wind-power-generated electricity and re-establishes a focus on renewable energy use.
  • 2000–The cost of wind-power-generated electricity is between 4 to 6 cents per kWh.
  • 2004–The cost of electricity from wind-generated sources drops to 3 to 4 cents per kWh.
  • 2007–Wind produces enough energy to power roughly 2.5 million homes and makes up 5% of the renewable energy used in the United States.
  • 2008–The U.S. Department of Energy publishes their 20% Wind Energy by 2030 initiative.
  • 2012–The amount of wind energy produced in the United States reaches the point of being able to power 15 million homes and becomes the number-one source of renewable electricity.
  • 2013–Jose Zayas, Wind Program Director, announces Wind Vision, a new initiative to revist the findings of the 2008 report. 

Progress in wind energy technology is increasing steadily year over year and with the initiative to provide an increasing percentage of wind energy available year over year, advances in wind power are expected to continue.

Learn more about current advances in wind energy.