Ever since the first windmills were developed by the Persians in the sixth century AD, man has been fascinated by the power of these simple but effective instruments which can do so much to utilise and harness efficiently the powerful natural elements surrounding us …
Those comparatively primitive machines were designed to automate the essential tasks of grain-grinding and water-pumping, the forerunner of today’s high-tech turbines being the vertical axis system. The modus operandi then was simple and straightforward with the grinding stone fixed to the vertical shaft and the machinery usually encased inside a simple building, which featured a wall or shield to prevent incoming winds from slowing the side of the drag-type rotor which would advance towards the wind.
We have made many giant leaps since those first pioneering days. If only some of those early Persian engineers could take a trip in a time machine and see some of our incredible offshore wind farms now, one wonders what they might make of the impressive spectacle. Or perhaps they might just say: “Goodness! You must have an awful lot of grain to grind.”
But Europe’s wind industry is far from free-standing. An army of support staff and logistics industries are on permanent standby, offering ancillary services to the ever-growing flotilla of on and offshore wind farms scattered around the continent. Providing this support to our wind industry is a multi-million dollar concern that shows every sign of growing and developing, bucking the lamentable downward trend of the economies of Europe. In Germany alone, for instance, there are around 38,000 jobs directly linked to the industry, but when we expand that figure to include indirect jobs, it more than doubles to an impressive 84,300. And this is very much an industry for the future; in the Spanish region of Navarre, for instance, 70 per cent of the electricity comes from wind energy.
So how do these jobs impinge on the wind industry and what are the problems of servicing a multi-million dollar business that carries on its shoulders so many of the poignant hopes of an ecologically-sound future for our planet?