Philippe Bruyerre’s Retrofutur: une autre histoire des machines à vents–a Review

By Paul Gipe

Eclectic. That’s the word that comes to mind when describing Philippe Brueyerre’s Retrofutur: une autre histoire des machines à vents.

The book covers 78 inventions from the year 1300 before the common era up to the present, including what the publisher calls “paleo” wind turbines as well as modern art. As I said, eclectic.

Clothes Pins Bruyerre 2023 11 20 122620 Cropped
French patents for clothes pins.

Of course, this is the book that revised the early history of electricity generating wind turbines on pages 104 and 105 to the dismay of the Scots and to the delight of the Germanic-speaking world. See Bruyerre’s article 1883: An electrical wind turbine in Vienna or my own article on his discovery: Austrian was First with Wind-Electric Turbine Not Byth or de Goyon. But that only scratches the surface of this intriguing book.

Bruyerre is at his best researching long lost or forgotten sources in Russian or even Chinese literature. The French have an uncanny nack for finding obscure but important documents in Russian about early aeronautical development, including Russian work with wind energy that’s often overlooked in the English-speaking world. For example, the successful—yes, successful—Soviet wind giant in the Crimea from 1931 until it was destroyed during the bloody battle for Sebastopol during WWII. Bruyerre’s short description notes that the unusual rotor control using ailerons was developed by one of Russia’s great aerodynamicist’s G. H. Sabinin.

Moulin A Drainage Bruyerre 2023 11 20 122333 Cropped
Drainage mills in the Netherlands.

And this is why those of us who study wind energy in all its facets have to expand our purview to researchers who write in languages other than English. We in the English-speaking world often wear blinders to the contributions by those who speak another tongue.

In a great help to wind energy historians, the book is copiously footnoted for those who want to pursue the sources Bruyerre has relied on for themselves.

Kudos to Bruyerre for emphasizing what the French call sobriété in his introduction. We would say using energy in “moderation,” using energy “wisely,” or conserving energy. In the words of Buckminster Fuller, “Doing more with less.” He says we certainly should consume less, but that we also produce energy in better ways, such as with renewables.

I do take issue with some sections. (Note that I am not fluent in French so I may misread some passages. Nevertheless, I don’t let that stop me from interpreting what I can.) In particular Bruyerre’s passage on modern wind turbines (1995, page 195) attributes modern wind turbines to Wolfgang Palz’s and Erich Hau’s intervention in the industry at the 1990 European Wind Energy Conference. There, they launched the European Union’s WEGA (large wind turbine) program which doled out money to manufacturers to develop new larger wind turbines. They criticized the industry’s plodding progress to date, turbines were “only” 600 kW at the time, and dangled money in front of the attendees if they would jump to megawatt size turbines.

I was there. I knew what would happen. No one turns down free money and few did. Few of the turbines developed in that program ever led to the market and the carcasses of some are still standing derelict.

Bruyerre singles out Tacke’s development and suggests that it directly led to the success of GE’s 1.5 MW series worldwide. Possibly, but he goes much too far to say that Tacke’s turbine could be considered the mother of all modern wind turbines. I disagree. I argued then and would argue today that the “plodding” approach was sound and would get us where we wanted to go. EU funding just muddied the waters for a few years.

The preface was written by Philippe Bihouix, an engineer and author of several titles, including L’Âge des low tech: Vers une civilisation techniquement soutenable (The Age of Low Tech: Towards a Technologically Sustainable Civilization). Translated loosely as “from the end of abundance to doing more with less” the preface argues that despite wind energy’s rapid growth of 15% per annum, wind still represents only  6.5% of electricity generation worldwide. Not finished with minimizing wind’s role addressing climate change, Bihouix repeats a common myth that this is a drop in the bucket (3%) of primary energy. However, wind, solar, geothermal and other electricity generating renewables don’t replace primary energy, they replace end use energy. You simply don’t need as much renewable-generated electricity as Bihouix implies. And with that fundamental error he continues to argue that we can’t get as much wind energy as we think.

Fortunately, Bihouix repeats—and it bears repeating–his main theme that conserving energy is quicker and more cost effective to the energy transition than trying to build our way out of the climate emergency. He closes his contrarian view of wind energy’s role with a cryptic quote from Seneca, translated into English as “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”

And of course Bruyerre correctly points out that the Smith-Putnam turbine installed in 1941 (page 147) was 1,000 kW not the 1,250 kW that Putnam himself wrote and all subsequent Anglo writers repeated uncritically.

These objections aside, Bruyerre’s book is chocked full of windmill lore worth exploring for the hard core wind aficionado.

The slim paperback book of 220 pages is printed in black & white or you can get it in color as an epub or pdf file. You can also order promotional items along with it, such as postcards and bookmarks.

Bruyerre, Philippe. Rétrofutur : une autre histoire des machines à vent. Paris: Atelier 21, 2022. 220 pages. ISBN: 979-10-359-8456-4.  6.69 x 0.51 x 9.61 inches. 28.00€ trade paperback. Country of Origin: France.

Bruyerre’s Retrofutur Table of Contents

De la (fin de I’abondance) à la sobriete



  • Capteurs de vent
  • Moulinet
  • Cerf-volant
  • Moulin de Héron d’Alexandrie
  • Moulin persan
  • Fours á vent du Sri Lanka
  • Moulin chinois
  • Moulin occidental
  • Tordoir à vent ou Moulin á huile
  • Ascenseur éolien de Kyeser
  • Anémomètre d’Alberti
  • Tournebroche à air chaud
  • Éolienne de Léonard de Vinci
  • Tjasker
  • Moulin de drainage

Sauver Ie climat avec I’electricite?

  • Scierie éolienne
  • Harpe éolienne
  • Papeterie éolienne
  • Moulin à sucre, Caraïbes
  • Éolienne autorégulée de Leupold
  • Klopotec
  • Éolienne pour la ventilation
  • Éolienne de pompage d’eau de mer
  • Machine d’invasion
  • Tirage de bateau
  • Train à voile
  • Inhalateur de plein air
  • Diligence à voile
  • Éolienne à air comprimé

Retrofutur de I’eolien

  • Pompe éolienne centrifuge à persiennes
  • Ailes Berton pour moulin à vent
  • Séchage eolien
  • Moulin inversé russe
  • Éolienne de pompage américaine
  • Carrousel éolien Saint-Malo
  • Éolienne à stockage gravitaire
  • Moulin poteau danois
  • Aile battante
  • Moulin à sable
  • Premiere éolienne électrique
  • Baratte éolienne
  • Éolienne contra rotative
  • Multirotor
  • Éolien hydrogène
  • Éolienne Jumbo

Resituer I’energie

  • Centrale électrique rurale au Danemark
  • Éolienne agricole universelle
  • Machine à vent
  • Moulinet pour I’aviation
  • Chargeurs éoliens
  • Éoliennes carénées
  • Agricco, la prèmiere sur Ie réseau
  • Éolienne à rotor Flettner
  • Transmission aérodynamique
  • Centrale éolienne thermoélectrique
  • Éolienne de Crimée
  • Rotor Savonius
  • Rotor Darrieus
  • Éolienne Putnam

Paléoliennes, entre oubli et mémoire

  • Éolienne àdépression Andreau
  • Machine de protection contre Ie gel
  • Hydrolienne
  • Centrale éolien-Diesel de 400 kW VES 400
  • Aérogénérateurs EDF
  • Éolien offshore et hydrogène
  • Éolienne Sahores
  • Chauffage éolien mecanique
  • Éolienne a corde
  • Éolienne Tvind
  • Électrostatique
  • Rotor Wagner
  • Monoptère

Territoires et énergie

  • Éolienne danoise
  • Éolienne à cyclone
  • Cheminée solaire
  • Alcyone
  • Éolien offshore
  • Éolienne mod erne
  • Éolienne autoconstruite «Piggott»
  • De I’eau dans Ie vent
  • Gestion de la glace arctique
  • Tour du vent
  • Navires à voiles
  • Susumu Shingu
  • Éolienne sur Mars
  • Ventus Sapientiae ou L’Art du Vent
  • Anémomètre àplaque


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