Powered by the wind
© Alan Copson/ Getty
December 2018

Powered by the wind

By Volker Paulun
In the middle of the 17th century, the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands had the biggest merchant fleet and navy in the world. The rise of the small nation to the level of a world power was accelerated by ingenuity, innovative technology and the efficient utilization of a renewable source of energy: wind.

Calculations on windmill transmissions by Simon Stevin (1548–1620) – who due to his versatile talents is frequently referred to as the Netherlands’ Leonardo da Vinci – enhanced the efficiency of the winged machines by a massive 30 percent. Cornelis Corneliszoon (1550–1600) provided the windmills tuned by Stevin with the crankshaft he had patented in 1597 that transformed the rotary motion of the windmill shaft into an oscillating motion of saw blades. This technology cut boards thirty times faster and more precisely as well than the human hand.

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

Bob Dylan

Northwest of Amsterdam in those years, in Zaandam, Europe’s first industrial area emerged with hundreds of shipyards and wind-powered sawmills. According to contemporary sources, the Dutch fleet had 16,000 ships, or 4/5 of the total European fleet. The place where the first industrial area used to be is now home to the Zaanse Schans museum complex with the reconstructed Het Jonge Schaap sawmill.

The biggest ones of their kind - by sail/blade diameter
Powered by the wind


Type wind pump
Completed in 1908
Sail diameter 35 meters (115 feet)
Output 151,000 l/h (40,000 gallons/h) of water

Powered by the wind


Type prototype of an offshore wind turbine Completed in 2017
Blade diameter 180 meters (591 feet) Output 8 MW of electricity