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Renewable energy and role of Marykirk's James Blyth

Renewable energy is a hot topic on the news agenda — but harnessing the wind to produce electricity is not a 21st or even 20th century phenomenon in Courier country.

As the first wind turbines begin to appear in the Mearns and local businesses hope to capitalise on proposals for the first wind farms off the east coast, it should be remembered that the first time wind generated electricity for domestic use was at Marykirk and commercially at Montrose Lunatic Asylum.

The Americans would have us believe that Charles F. Brush should be credited with being the first person to produce electricity using a wind-powered machine.

However, he first used his wind turbine in winter 1887 — and in July that year a Scottish academic, Professor James Blyth, had been undertaking similar experiments which culminated in a UK patent in 1891.

Blyth was born in Marykirk in 1838 and attended the parish school and Montrose Academy.

He graduated with a BA from Edinburgh University and spent his early career as a tutor before being appointed professor of natural philosophy at Anderson's College, which became the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College.

Blyth experimented with different turbine designs between 1887 and 1892 and installed a 33ft, cloth-sailed turbine in the garden of his Marykirk cottage.

energising scotland

He used it to charge accumulators, developed by Frenchman Camille Alphonse Faure, to power his lights.

It was the first house in the world to have its electricity supplied by wind power and the system operated there for 25 years.

Blyth offered the surplus electricity to the people of Marykirk for lighting the main street — but they turned it down as they thought electricity was "the work of the devil."

He later built a wind machine to supply emergency power to the Montrose Lunatic Asylum, Infirmary and Dispensary of Montrose.

It comprised hollow half-cylinders measuring 10ft by 6ft, attached to 26ft arms fixed to a central shaft.

The energy generated was stored in a bank of 12 batteries which were capable of powering 10 25-volt bulbs in a "moderate breeze" and could even be used to power a small lathe.

Blyth was awarded a prize medal by the Royal Scottish Society of Arts (Science and Technology) for his work but his invention never caught on as the technology was not considered economically viable.

Some would argue that nothing has changed.

Click for more on these topics:

People: James Blyth, Charles F. Brush | Organisations: Royal Scottish Society of Arts, Montrose Academy, Edinburgh University, Montrose Lunatic Asylum | Places: Marykirk, Glasgow, Montrose | Concepts: Wind turbine, Renewable energy, Wind, Energising Scotland, Technology, Energy, Electricity, Renewables


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