May 30th Danish wind pioneers are gathering at the Tvind school in northwest Jutland to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the start of construction for the world’s oldest operating wind turbine–Tvindkraft.
It’s a remarkable story not well known today in the English-speaking world of how a group of students, engineers, and wind power advocates came together to build a giant that shook the world.
Those around in the late 1970s may remember seeing magazine photographs of Danish students and volunteers carrying a massive wind turbine blade out of a tent. That photo captured the world’s imagination. It was one of those rare historical moments that became a beacon to citizens everywhere who wanted to develop renewable energy by themselves, for themselves, and for their community’s benefit.
Yes, they were not ordinary students. They were on a mission and they knew at the time they were undertaking an historic task. They had set out to prove to the Danish government that Denmark didn’t need nuclear power, that Denmark with its long history of working with the wind could once again do so. They made another message clear too. If the Danish government wouldn’t act, the people would take the matter into their own hands, as they were doing that historic day, and build their own wind turbines.
In the retelling of the modern wind industry’s early history, the construction of the wind turbine by Tvind and its role in pioneering modern wind turbine blades is often overlooked. It’s an uncomfortable story for many in positions of power still, because the implications are so profound.
The work at Tvind was taking place at the same time as NASA was developing its Mod-0A series and GE’s subsequent Mod-1. The difference in outcomes couldn’t have been starker.
How could a group of students, their teachers, and volunteers accomplish what some of the world’s most sophisticated aerospace firms with millions in research money could not? How could they build what was then the world’s largest wind turbine—a machine that has operated for more than three decades and remains in service to this day—when Boeing, Westinghouse, General Electric, Hamilton Standard, Kaman, Messerschmidt- Bölkow-Blohm, MAN and others had all failed, their turbines dismantled and sold for scrap?
The message delivered by the Tvind school so long ago was that wind energy was too important to be left to aerospace giants, electric utilities, and even to national governments. They demonstrated that unlike nuclear power, which requires massive centralized institutions, wind turbines could be built and owned by common citizens. This is a message that still resonates today.
The anniversary celebration includes presentations by some of the pioneers of Danish wind energy, including Preben Maegaard of the Folkecenter for Renewable Energy.
The event will no doubt feature tours of the still operating 1 MW wind turbine with its distinctive paint scheme.