L’Energie du Vent A Review

By Paul Gipe

L’énergie du vent : Les éoliennes au service des hommes et de leur planète Is a beautiful coffee-table book with page after page of photos sandwiched between essays on how wind turbines work and how they can fit into the landscape. If there is one over-riding theme, it is that wind energy is compatible with the landscape and in fact can be a beautiful addition to the landscape when done well.

One particularly powerful photograph (I wish I’d taken it myself) is a field of wheat in the foreground with wind turbines in the background as a speeding TGV crosses the scene. What says “modernity” and environmental consciousness more than the TGV, France’s famous high-speed trains?

There are also a series of photographs of the exact same subject that harkens back to post-impressionist French artist Cezanne and his portrayal of Mont Sainte Victoire near Aix-en-Provence. The photos vary only by time of day to show how the subject, the wind turbines in the landscape, change with changes in light as the day progresses.

In a typically French manner, there are a number of literary and classical allusions throughout the book.

I particularly enjoyed an essay by my colleague Bernard Chabot, formerly with ADEME. In his essay, Chabot calls upon the spiritual-the heavens-for guidance, not unlike popular German writer Franz Alt, a theologian, in his book Der ökologische Jesus. Quoting St. Augustine, Dieu fournit le vent, l’homme doit hisser les voiles (God makes the wind, but man must raise the sail), Chabot makes the case that the wind is a gift from god, is there, and always will be, but we-society–have to choose to use it.

Chabot closes with another quote from an ecclesiastic source with a nod toward contemporary opponents of wind energy. He cites the bishop of the Cistercian abbey in the south of France near Sisteron, Lois-Jérôme de Suffren. The bishop was embroiled in a controversy of his day, the digging of an irrigation canal near Saint-Tropez. Of course, in hindsight, we can immediately see the value of an irrigation canal in the arid region of Provence, but not so at the time. The residents argued that the canal would destroy the value of their properties not unlike the opponents of wind energy today. The bishop replied, “Les peres me maudissent, les fils me beniront (The fathers will curse me, the sons will bless me). It’s a lesson that is continually taught in every generation and ours, unfortunately, is no different.

In another, more prosaic, essay Chabot argues that in the old days we thought wind was limited to providing only 15-20% of supply. Today, however, we know that wind can contribute much more simply because it is doing so in Denmark and various parts of Germany. Moreover, wind is naturally complimentary with other renewable technologies, such as, biomass, geothermal, solar, and of course hydro.

The justification of wind shouldn’t be necessary. It should be fairly obvious why we need wind. But there are those who-despite all the evidence around us-still don’t know why wind is important. Fortunately, Jean-Louis Bal takes on this question in another essay.

We need more books like L’énergie du vent that celebrate not only how far we’ve come, but also how wind energy can be a part of that “shining city on the hill”.

L’énergie du vent : Les éoliennes au service des hommes et de leur planète, edited by Philippe Richer, Le Cherche Midi, 2008, cloth, 160 pages, 26 cm x 29 cm, 1,200 g, ISBN: 978-2-7491-1104-9, €35.