Uses of Wind Energy

There are many uses of wind energy and in fact this type of energy has been utilized to perform useful work for thousands of years. While many people think of electricity generation when wind energy is mentioned this renewable energy has many additional uses.


Traditional sailing off the coast of Mozambique. Image by Steve Evans.

Traditional sailing off the coast of Mozambique. Image by Steve Evans from Bangalore, India. License: CC BY 2.0

The first historical account of wind energy being harnessed to power boats was Egyptians and Phoenicians using cloth sails and logs or other primitive boats around 4,000 BC.[1] Since then sailing has progressed from a form of personal transportation to powering large cargo ships and more recently a sport. Sailboats are still used for fishing and commercial purposes in some areas of the world as shown in the image to the left of fishermen from a village in Mozambique. The use of wind energy for power makes sailing an attractive prospect in areas where fuel is expensive or hard to come by. Modern Yacht and Dinghy sailboats are primarily made for racing and recreation.


Windmill in Wiltshire, England. Image by John.r.a.p.baker.

Windmill in Wiltshire, England. Image by John.r.a.p.baker. License: CC BY 3.0

Windmills have been used for centuries to power machines, grind grain, pump water, and other mechanical work. The earliest known use of wind energy to power machines was Heron’s wind wheel around 10-70 AD.[2] This was a small wind wheel that powered a piston causing air to be forced through small pipes creating a wind powered organ. A few centuries later in Persia large horizontal wind sails were used to turn a vertical shaft resulting in the first known instance of industrial scale windmills being used to grind grain and pump water. Windmills are now used all over the world for many different purposes. In modern times there are now hundreds of different designs that have improved upon efficiency and uses.

Wind Turbines

DeWind 2MW wind turbine in Veladero mine, Argentina. Image by Fedealvarado.

DeWind 2MW wind turbine in Veladero mine, Argentina. Image by Fedealvarado. License: GNU FDL

Wind turbines or wind generators were first used in in 1887 by James Blythe to provide lighting to his vacation home in Scotland.[3] Wind turbines are technically a form of windmill as they are still just using the kinetic energy of the wind to produce mechanical work. What makes them notable though is that this mechanical motion is used to generate electricity. These sources of renewable energy are increasingly being used for everything from industrial scale power generation to simple residential generators. Being able to produce electricity from wind energy has expanded the role of wind power from mechanical work to grind grain and pump water to power for an endless number of electronic devices.

Hang Gliders

Parasev experimental aircraft being towed. Image by NASA.

Parasev experimental aircraft being towed. Image by NASA. License: US PD

Late in the 19th century German engineer Otto Lilienthal became the first person to repeatedly perform success hang gliding flights.[4] Around 1,000 years earlier the first recorded attempt at hang gliding was made by Abbas Ibn Firnas in Spain resulting in heavy injuries. History is littered with injuries and deaths of academics who tried to advance hang gliding between these periods. Thanks to these sacrifices the science of aerodynamics has progressed significantly and modern hang gliding has become safe with proper preparation. Modern hang gliders have traveled distances of over 100 miles and reached record heights of over 17,000 feet making this use of wind energy an incredible aeronautical accomplishment.


Nylon lattice delta kite. Image by Jonathunder.

Nylon lattice delta kite. Image by Jonathunder. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Humans have been using kites for thousands of years with the first definite accounts being in China around 800 BC. A cave painting found in Indonesia could date the first kites 10,000 years earlier or possibly more.[5] These earliest attempts by man at understanding the principles of flight have been used for a variety of reasons throughout history. Almost every child today can remember the joy of flying a kite on a windy day at the beach or elsewhere. Many cultures around the world have used kites for ceremonial purposes as well during parades or other festivals. Recently sporting kites have become popular with special design to allow for trick flying and other aeronautic feats.


1. Sailboat History Timeline
2. Heron’s Inventions
3. Oxford DNB Article: Blythe, James
4. History of Hang Gliding
5. The Drachen Foundation: Kite Journal



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