The Answer is Blowing in the Wind: Grassroots Technological Networks of Wind Energy

Authors – Kostas Latoufis and Aristotle Tympas

In this research, two case studies coming from the mid 1970s are considered. One on the development of medium scale wind turbines in Denmark and another on the development of small wind turbines in Scotland. These represent two distinct yet key episodes in the development of modern electricity-producing wind turbines. Both stories are triggered, directly or indirectly, by the oil crisis of 1973-74, and consider the consequent development of wind energy from emerging environmental and anti-nuclear movements, as a response and a critique to the industrial-capitalist mode of production and its need for seemingly limitless growth in a finite natural environment. The grassroots technological networks described in the case studies, display not only the creativity and ingenuity of their actors, but also their courage and vision for a radically different future, inviting us to learn and be inspired by their stories, while looking ahead at what still needs to be done.

How do you define radical hope? Locally manufactured windmills flow out of a radical co-production between precarious wind patterns, self-built tools, home-brewed experiments, recycled and up-cycled materials, basic electricity needs and the unique design styles, repair strategies and temperaments of different builders. It is within this fluidity that radical hope shifts what is static into a dynamic multitude of infinite possibilities.

How do you see radical hope emerging or playing out in your case study?As one reads these inspiring stories about the different development paths of windmills, several aspects of the narrative provide striking implications for moments in human history when our societies face radical changes. One aspect is how quickly and effectively people can act in response to a crisis. In a bit more than five years, many Danes became wind turbine designers and many others were using the wind to power their homes and feed electricity in the utility grid, while the anti-nuclear movement could showcase the largest operating electricity producing wind turbine in the world, providing electricity and heat for the Tvind schools, which was actually designed and manufactured to a large extend by the teachers and students of the schools. If they could do it, anyone could do it! Similarly in the Scottish peninsula of Scoraig, after almost a year of experimentation, Hugh Piggott and his neighbor Bev managed to light up their homes during long and windy winter nights, by reusing car parts they found in the scrap yard to put together precarious, yet functioning, small wind-electric systems. In less than five years, most of the crofts on the peninsula had a small windmill in their garden that provided small yet valuable amounts of electricity. In both cases the machines were not perfect, but they worked; and apart from producing electricity, they also proved in practice that it can be done, that there are always alternatives as long as people put their hearts and minds to it. Then the only thing left to do is wait for the wind to blow. And the wind of change always comes.


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Communities of practice

Living off the grid: Scotland’s wind-powered community