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O P E N  F O R U M

W I N D W A R D  HO!


 

Tilting for the
Windmills

"Look there, friend Sancho Panza, where
30 or more monstrous giants rise up, all of whom I mean to engage in battle and slay…"
 
"Look, your worship,'' said Sancho. "What we see there are not giants but windmills, and what seem to be their arms are the vanes that turned by the wind make the millstone go."

Exactly 400 years ago, in 1605, Spanish author Cervantes, introduced Don Quixote to the world — the eccentric, self-proclaimed nobleman, roaming the countryside astride his horse and imaging windmills to be monstrous giants who must be slain in battle. But windmills were and still are friendly giants.

Egyptians harnessed wind power 5000 years ago to sail their boats and the first windmills originated around 500-900 A.D in Persia. By the 10th century, windmills with wind-catching surfaces as long as 16 feet were used to grind grain in Iran and Afghanistan.

The Crusaders first introduced windmills in Europe in the 12th century.

Winds of change
In 1891, Danish inventor Poul La Cour discovered that the traditional windmill could also produce electricity. In fact, he found that faster-rotating wind turbines with fewer rotor blades generated more electricity than slow-moving turbines with many rotor blades. With this knowledge, he developed the first electricity generating wind turbines. During the world wars these 25-kilowatt machines were used in rural areas hit by fuel blockades and by the end of World War I, they were a common sight throughout Denmark. After the war, when the prices of coal and oil fell, large fossil-fuel powered steam plants speedily put wind turbines out of business. And they stayed out of business until the oil crisis of 1973.

The West Asian oil crisis highlighted the uncertainty in fossil fuel supply and suddenly the good old wind turbines were in the limelight again.Wind power was perceived to be a logical alternative to conventional forms of energy. Today with improved technology the old windmills of Don Quixote's time have given way to tall, sleek, fiberglass structures.

Super wind power
India is a 'wind superpower’ with a gross wind power of 45,000 megawatts. Our wind power industry is the fifth largest in the world in terms of capacity.

Windmills in the air
Windmills interfere with television signals and are noisy. But there may be a solution. Australian engineer Bryan Roberts is developing a Flying Electric Generator or FEG. He plans to float squadrons of airborne FEGs in the jet stream like giant kites. Winds up to 200 miles an hour will spin rotors on the FEGs, generating electricity that will be transmitted along super strong tethers to ground stations. FEGs could generate enough power for two Chicago-size cities!

In the 1990s wind energy in India was on a roll with the government giving huge incentives for wind farms to be set up. But suprisingly it paid no attention to transmission of power and gave no incentives to sell power. Consequently, the wind farms that were set up did not give the expected returns. In Tamil Nadu, for example, the wind turbines are located in remote places where the power demand is limited. So, the electricity that is generated has to be transmitted long distances to load centres. In many cases wind farms have been forced to stop production for hours because of poor transmission infrastructure.

Out of wind
India is blessed with an extensive coastal tract. We have several windy regions along the coasts as well as within the mainland. But even with an abundance of wind, we have not been able to utilise its potential. The share of wind energy in India's total power generation capacity is only slightly over two per cent. We have come a long way with windmills but a lot more needs to be done to harness this huge potential that can provide clean energy in future.

 

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