This week in 1950: The Orkney windmill

Given the hysterical nature of some of the coverage that greets the UK’s burgeoning wind power sector, one could be forgiven for thinking that the idea of using the wind to generate electricity is a new one. But as this article from The Engineer — from over half a century ago — demonstrates, the concept has been around for quite some time.

The article reports on an initiative in Orkney (a place so windy that the locals park their cars facing into the wind to stop the doors from blowing off) and describes an order placed by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board for a 100kw windmill.

‘The machine will be erected on Costa Hill,’ says the magazine. It goes on: ‘From the wind measurements made by the Electrical Research Association it is estimated that it should produce at east 400,000 units a year. It will be subject to the severest gales and will give the greatest possible economic return.’

In terms that are just as relevant today, the article adds that while the turbine will enable islanders to significantly reduce their diesel consumption, the wider potential of wind power is considerable.

‘There are good grounds for believing that in this country many large mills may be accommodated and that a substantial contribution to its electricity requirements may be obtained from them…similar arguments can be applied to England.’

Today, Orkney remains at the forefront of the UK’s renewable energy research. While the extreme winds have meant that more robust offshore turbines are today a preferred option, the island is also home to the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) the world’s first full-scale grid-connected wave and tidal test centre.