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Story of the dawn of wind power generation

Below is an excerpt Big Solutions: 7 Practical Steps to Save the Planet By Hal Harvey and Justin Gillis.

Had I met Dew Oliver in 1926, I might have written him a check. Many have done so and come to regret it. He was a charming Texan, running around Southern California in his cream Stetson cowboy hat, sporting a walrus mustache, and talking about his money-making schemes. His most daring idea was a plan to catch the wind.

Mr. Oliver, like most others who have passed the San Gorgonio Pass, was very impressed with the wind there. Created by the famous San Andreas Fault, the pass is one of the steepest in the United States, with mountains on either side rising about 9,000 feet above it. Like many passes, it acts as a wind tunnel. As the hot desert air of inland California rises, cold air from the Pacific moves westward and through the pass. The story goes that Oliver realized just how strong the wind was when Stetson was blown off his head.

His plan was really simple. To catch the wind, he wanted to erect a 10-ton steel funnel and send it through a propeller connected to a 25,000-watt generator. His intention was to sell power to the up-and-coming nearby resort town of Palm Springs. It seems that. By 1927, Oliver’s wind farm was located yards from where Interstate 10 now passes. The giant funnel at the front end was attached to a cylinder 75 feet long and 12 feet wide, with a propeller inside, driving a second-hand generator that Mr. Oliver had located. But even Oliver underestimated the force of the wind. In early tests, the propeller spun too fast and set the first generator on fire. he found something bigger. But the few customers he was able to sign up complained that the power from his machines was erratic, and Oliver, who needed more money to improve his equipment, said he could promised to sell his shares to

Some suspect that the cost escaped him, but whatever the cause, the plan fell through. Mr. Oliver was taken to court and found guilty of illegally selling his shares. After a brief prison term, he fled California and his machine was stranded in the desert for years, eventually being dismantled and dismantled in World War II. Why would an investor be tricked into writing a check for such a crazy scheme?In fact, the concept of wind power was a hot idea in his 1920s, and many Americans thought it was I was reading about it even though I didn’t see it working. With thousands of farms still not connected to the grid, families desperately wanted access to the new media of this era: radio.

The Big Fix will be available on September 20th, 2022. Simon & Schuster

The new technology skyrocketed in popularity in the mid-1920s, with 500 new stations beginning broadcasting in the span of 1923. In the pre-radio era, farmers used kerosene lanterns at night and had no electricity, but now many feel the need to be connected to the modern world. For one thing, important farm news was broadcast on the radio, including daily prices. pitched a kit containing it to the countryside. The device was called a wind charger and eventually became obsolete in the 1940s when Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal one of his programs provided near-universal access to the power grid. . But decades later, the cultural memory of wind chargers proved important. Very conservative people living in the middle of the country, who were expected to oppose new inventions such as large-scale commercial wind turbines, remembered hearing about wind chargers from their grandparents. The idea of ​​harvesting the wind, much like harvesting crops, would seem to many to be perfectly sensible.

By the time the wind charger business collapsed in the mid-20th century, it had become clear that large amounts of electricity could be generated from wind power. With extensive support from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, large turbines were built during this era to power the power grid. A turbine installed on top of a Vermont mountain called Grandpa’s Knob operated intermittently but successfully for five years, sending power to the Champlain Valley below. The turbines broke near the end of World War II, and the local power company decided not to pay for new turbines, as electricity from wind was somewhat more expensive than electricity from conventional generators. However, the dream came true and he did not die. Vannevar Bush, the scientific adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, the most important scientist in American public life at the time, kept a close eye on the project.

“Giant wind turbines in the mountains of Vermont demonstrated that man could build a practical machine that could synchronously generate large amounts of electricity from the wind,” Dr. Bush wrote in 1946. . The so-manufactured approximates that of the more economical conventional means. Thus, it proved that in the future this new means could light homes and power factories. ‘Dew’s Oliver’s project to build wind power in the desert fell through, but he got his one thing right. Half a century after his plan fell through, the idea of ​​using wind turbines to generate electricity on a commercial scale was reborn, and San Gorgonio his pass became one of his places where it did.

Copyright © 2022 Justin Gillis and Hal Harvey. From the forthcoming THE BIG FIX: 7 Practical Steps to Save Our Planet by Hal Harvey and Justin Gillis, to be published by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed with permission.