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Tilting for the windmill


Tilting for the

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.


“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."

     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. 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.


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!




      Flu pm tje womg    

Two months ago, 100 wild ducks, geese and swans were found dead in Mongolia. Authorities confirmed it to be an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus.

This was the first time that wild migratory birds were found to be infected by this strain.Every winter we welcome feathered visitors with vividly colourful plumages from far-off lands.

But this year they may bring the dreaded bird flu with them. Avian flu is an infectious disease of birds, caused by influenza type A strain of the virus. It was identified in Italy more than 100 years ago.

This year an epidemic hit the avian population of Qinghai Lake Reserve, in China. It was first detected in bar-headed geese in April and soon other birds were infected. By May, it had killed some 1,500 birds. Ornithologists are calling it the worst epidemic seen in wild birds.

    Why fret about flu?   

Should we worry about an epidemic in birds? Yes, two reasons make this epidemic a serious one. Earlier avian flu was known to attack poultry birds and pigs but no one reported an epidemic in wild birds. When domestic birds are infected it is possible to monitor them. But not so with the wild species.

Many wild bird species are travellers and when the infected ones land at their winter homes in the Asian wetlands, the infection may spread to other birds who share the grounds. When these birds return they will again carry the virus to practically every corner of the world. The range of the disease will then span the globe.

     Making the leap    

Another disturbing factor is that genetic analysis has shown that the Qinghai Lake epidemic was caused by the H5N1 sub type of the virus. In 1997, scientists got the first proof of direct transmission from birds to humans when 18 people in Hong Kong were infected by the H5N1 strain. This outbreak was easily controlled because the virus lacks ability to spread from person to person. But that is small comfort. The virus could get better at infecting people because of its ability to mutate very quickly.

As it is genetically unstable, this flu can mix its genes while reproducing inside a human cell and easily transform to a strain that could spread from person to person. As the geographic range of H5N1 increases, more people will catch the flu, giving the virus more chances to mutate. The World Health Organisation fears that the virus is on the verge of transforming into a pandemic form, resembling the Spanish Flu that killed more than 20 – 40 million. So far, India has remained insulated from bird flu. But for how long?



Bar-headed geese have already arrived at their wintering grounds near Cauvery River in Karnataka. Over the next 10 weeks, 100,000 geese, gulls, and cormorants will leave their summer home at Lake Qinghai and head for India, Bangladesh and Australia.


Pandemics (global flu epidemics) start when a virus from a nonhuman species (pig or bird) affects human beings. Humans can’t fight the disease because they have no immunity against it.

The 1918 pandemic Spanish Flu killed more people than did the guns of World War I. In 2004, scientists found evidence linking the epidemic to the H1N1 strain of avian flu.


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Tilting for the windmill