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A wind turbine is a device that converts kinetic energy from the wind, also called wind energy, into mechanical energy; a process known as wind power. If the mechanical energy is used to produce electricity, the device may be called wind turbine or wind power plant. If the mechanical energy is used to drive machinery, such as for grinding grain or pumping water, the device is called a windmill or wind pump. Similarly, it may be called wind charger when it is used to charge batteries.
The result of over a millennium of windmill development and modern engineering, today's wind turbines are manufactured in a wide range of vertical and horizontal axis types. The smallest turbines are used for applications such as battery charging or auxiliary power on boats; while large grid-connected arrays of turbines are becoming an increasingly important source of wind power-produced commeWindmills were used in Persia (present-day Iran) as early as 200 B.C. The windwheel of Heron of Alexandria marks one of the first known instances of wind powering a machine in history. However, the first known practical windmills were built in Sistan, a region between Afghanistan and Iran, from the 7th century. These "Panemone" were vertical axle windmills, which had long vertical driveshafts with rectangular blades. Made of six to twelve sails covered in reed matting or cloth material, these windmills were used to grind grain or draw up water, and were used in the gristmilling and sugarcane industries.
Windmills first appeared in Europe during the middle ages. The first historical records of their use in England date to the 11th or 12th centuries and there are reports of German crusaders taking their windmill-making skills to Syria around 1190. By the 14th century, Dutch windmills were in use to drain areas of the Rhine delta.
The first electricity-generating wind turbine was a battery charging machine installed in July 1887 by Scottish academic James Blyth to light his holiday home in Marykirk, Scotland. Some months later American inventor Charles F Brush built the first automatically operated wind turbine for electricity production in Cleveland, Ohio. Although Blyth's turbine was considered uneconomical in the United Kingdom electricity generation by wind turbines was more cost effective in countries with widely scattered populations.
In Denmark by 1900, there were about 2500 windmills for mechanical loads such as pumps and mills, producing an estimated combined peak power of about 30 MW. The largest machines were on 24-metre (79 ft) towers with four-bladed 23-metre (75 ft) diameter rotors. By 1908 there were 72 wind-driven electric generators operating in the US from 5 kW to 25 kW. Around the time of World War I, American windmill makers were producing 100,000 farm windmills each year, mostly for water-pumping. By the 1930s, wind generators for electricity were common on farms, mostly in the United States where distribution systems had not yet been installed. In this period, high-tensile steel was cheap, and the generators were placed atop prefabricated open steel lattice towers.
A forerunner of modern horizontal-axis wind generators was in service at Yalta, USSR in 1931. This was a 100 kW generator on a 30-metre (98 ft) tower, connected to the local 6.3 kV distribution system. It was reported to have an annual capacity factor of 32 percent, not much different from current wind machines. In the fall of 1941, the first megawatt-class wind turbine was synchronized to a utility grid in Vermont. The Smith-Putnam wind turbine only ran for 1,100 hours before suffering a critical failure. The unit was not repaired because of shortage of materials during the war.
The first utility grid-connected wind turbine to operate in the UK was built by John Brown & Company in 1951 in the Orkney Islands.
As of 2012, Danish company Vestas is the world's biggest wind-turbine manufacturer.
August 12th, 2012
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