Design: The Millennium Collection No: 13 The E-66 Wind Turbine

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The Independent Culture
So far, more than 200 millennium objects have been chosen for their excellent design. Each week we examine one of them

IT WAS in the European steam age that the practice of harnessing the wind to power machinery fell into disuse. Denmark alone remained faithful to the energy-generating windmill. During the Victorian era the Danes marched against the tide, continuing to train "wind electricians" and "wind prospectors" (men whose job it was to test, using huge spruce poles, for areas where the raw resource was at its most abundant). A century later, the world has, in some small way at least, come round to the Danish way of thinking.

There are 42 wind farms in Great Britain, running 748 operational turbines, in clusters ranging in size from a handful to a couple of dozen, generating enough electricity to meet the needs of 200,000 households. The first was built at Delabole in 1991. The E-66 wind turbine is designed along holistic lines in an attempt to make its giant sails fit better into the landscape. Each one produces enough renewable energy to fuel some 1,200 homes.

In many ways wind turbines are the most modern-looking structures in the country: the one thing that has materialised from amidst the personal hover-jets, suspended mono-rails and pill-sized diets of the Eagle comic's "The World in the Space Age" features. They are tomorrow's world: white, clean and silent.

The E-66 uses a gearless ring generator driven directly by the rotor blades and the energy from the wind is converted into regulated electric current, thus avoiding energy loss, while the noise is kept to a barely discernible minimum.

There is something unnerving about this disproportional quiet. The human mind demands that a machine so big must have a concomitant racket. Maybe that is why there are unconfirmed reports that wind turbines in fact generate low-frequency sounds which, via some harmonic quirk, can be amplified by the exterior structure of certain homes into an infiltrating and persistent hum. Psychological damage to the inhabitants may, it is alleged, result. Perhaps this is not so surprising. After all, the thought that the pale, whirring giants who stalk a nearby hill were using your house as a loudspeaker would unsettle even the most firmly hinged citizen.

There is definitely something sci-fi about the wind turbine, though maybe it owes more to the bland dysphoria envisaged by JG Ballard than to the spiffing, square-chinned heroics of Dan Dare.