The power of the wind has been realized since prehistoric times with the use of sails for ships in many civilizations becoming ever more sophisticated, until it drove the huge merchant fleets and the navies of empires to rule the world.
The windmill, for grinding corn and pumping water was ubiquitous until it was superseded by more powerful and constantly available power of steam engines.
The wind has never ceased to be used to power water pumps on land and provide electrical power in remote places and at sea, but as an alternative to fossil fuelled engines and turbines it is only with the imperative need to reduce carbon emissions that it has become considered as a major electrical energy producer.
As with other ambient energy resources, the wind is not constant, and it is therefore only viable as a sole source of power if that power can be stored in an immediately accessible way. With adequate storage capacity there is no reason why wind power plus solar power could not provide a permanent solution to sustainable energy.
There are, however, several problems associated with wind turbines – especially large arrays of them in ‘wind farms’ – whether on land or at sea – which thwart their installation as a matter of energy policy.
There are aesthetic objections - that they ‘spoil the landscape’ – sound pollution problems near to inhabited buildings – ecological problems as a potential hazard to birds – and economic problems since they are quite expensive to produce, install and maintain – and power distribution problems where they require new distribution systems, especially from remote places and out at sea.
This has not stopped the building of several wind farms by nations who have advantageous windy locations and even one country, Denmark, opting for major reliance on wind power to achieve energy security.