A brief tale of wind and steam

Guest Post by Ed Zuiderwijk,

About a year ago I read in a Dutch national newspaper an article which elaborately and somewhat aggressively argued that if you had the choice between, say, a 1000MW gas-fired power plant and a few thousands windmill generators the latter was the way to go. It was full of the phoney arguments and broken reasoning well-known to readers of this blog, and was, of course, palpable nonsense. I had a good laugh about it; you can’t argue with purveyors of foolishness and, furthermore, when you know something is utterly wrong it is usually completely uninteresting to precisely analyse why. I had almost forgotten about it when some conversation with friends brought it back to my attention and made me question (myself) why it was that I knew with such total clarity that the argument put forward in that article was piffle given that I know not much more in depth about the subject than your average informed layman. After some reflection I realised that it was because of something I was taught many years ago at school. That’s what this posting is about.

Lake vegetation with traditional wind mills. Holland

I attended primary school in the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands, a medium size town going back over 750 years and having quite a bit more pedigree than its namesake in the US. Located some 20 km west of Amsterdam, Haarlem had (and has) its fair share of museums (footnote 1), several of which were on the list of school outings. One of these is the Museum Cruquius, located a few miles to the south of the town centre. The place had a lasting effect on the young lad. The exhibition is about the draining (and conversion into a polder) of the Haarlemmermeer, ‘Lake Haarlem’, at the time (about 1850) a substantial inland body of water inside the triangle formed by the cities of Amsterdam, Haarlem and Leiden. The museum building itself is one of the original three pumping stations that emptied the lake and has the original massive steam-driven pump, still in working order. Nowadays the exhibition does a slick multi-media presentation, but then, the late 1950s, you had the thing as it was, basic but very imposing.

What was this lake and why was it drained?  That there were lots of shallow lakes in a place called Holland (‘low land’, footnote 2) is no surprise but Lake Haarlem had over the centuries shown a habit of growing, to encroach on the land and gobble up adjacent waters. In particular after a south-westerly gale the damage to its surroundings could be considerable (and irreversible). By the early 1800s it had become a threat to the city of Amsterdam itself and on occasion to Leiden as well. The idea to ‘reclaim’ Lake Haarlem had been proposed several times since the 17th century but it had never been attempted in earnest. One consideration had been that it was at least 5 times the size of anything tried earlier, which would have required an extraordinary number of wind-mill powered pumping stations.

In the 1830s controlling the lake had become a matter of urgency. The government, on instigation by king William I, convened a royal commission to investigate and make recommendations. Mind you, that same king was also a driving force behind the rapid early development of the country’s railway system and with it the Industrial Revolution in the Netherlands; royalty nowadays just don’t do that sort of thing anymore. Not surprisingly the recommendation was to drain the lake, but with steam-driven pumps instead of windmills.

So, how do you do that, drain such a lake? It had been done in Holland since the late 1500s and in particular the early 1600s when several smallish lakes and peat bogs to the north of Amsterdam had been turned into farmland. With the expertise acquired in those and subsequent projects it was well established knowledge how to go about it. The first part of such a project is the easiest and mostly straightforward. You can’t just put a pump on the water and start pumping. Not only is there no outlet for the large quantities of pumped water, even if you succeed in lowering the water levels the lake will refill in no time from the groundwaters of its surroundings, thus drying out the adjacent lands. Bad idea. So what you do is to construct a dyke going around the lake a bit inside its boundary. The waters outside of this ‘ring dyke’ then become, after some further dredging, a relatively narrow canal where the water will be kept at the original lake level. This way you solve three problems at once: the canal still has the original outlets that the lake had so you can dump the pumped water in it, the groundwater level in the surrounding lands is unaffected and you have a controlled waterway for bulk transport. With that dyke in place (3) you can start pumping. And that was where the real problem was with Lake Haarlem.

The pumps used until then were primarily of the paddle wheel type or Archimedes screws driven by windmills if there was enough wind. The engineers had figured out that they would need a really large number of such units, somewhere between 150 and 200, spread out along the odd 60km of dyke and that it would take at least 5 years but more likely a decade to complete the job. The costs of such an operation would be colossal, not mentioning the logistics of it. It would make the project technically unfeasible and economically unaffordable. However, in the 1820s an aristocrat (again!) and member of the senate, Frans Godert baron van Lynden, had written a treatise proposing the radical idea of using steam-driven beam pumps. He knew how the water was kept out of Cornish tin mines in faraway England by using an advanced design of such pumps. A delegation went to Cornwall to have a look and, being competent engineers, they realised in no time that three of such pumps were indeed a much, much better proposition than the odd 200 windmills.

The specially designed pumps were acquired from a company in Plymouth. The engine’s (steam) cylinders were more than 3.6 meter diameter, that’s bigger than my kitchen. They were placed in purpose-built pumping houses, named after pioneering hydro engineers of the past, van der Kruik (aka. Krukius) and Leeghwater and (of course) Lynden. It took three and a quarter years to drain the lake. Afterwards only one was kept in its original state. And this is why the worlds largest vertical steam engine still in existence is found hidden in a small museum in an unremarkable corner of Holland.

When I read that newspaper article about a power plant versus thousands of windmills I knew at once it was nonsense because what its author essentially claimed was that those engineers of the 1840s had had it all wrong, that they should have used windmills instead of steam. The notion is just preposterous. Methinks the 150000 people dwelling on what once was the bottom of Lake Haarlem ought to be told and asked for an opinion, whether they would rather keep their feet dry with windmills or with pumps powered by gas and oil(4).

Are there any take-away messages in this story? Perhaps. One could be about the ‘nonsense detector’ in each of us. How does it work? I consider myself to be a skeptic, but how do I know when to be skeptical and when to acknowledge expertise? If the mechanic tells me that my car doesn’t go because the fuel pump has died I accept that without hesitation. When I discuss the increasing failings of my physique with my doctor I will carefully consider his or her diagnosis. But if some pundit tells me that I need to get my electricity from renewable un-reliables because of whatever, then the alarm of my nonsense detector sounds big time. Why? It appears to me that we as individuals know more than we know we know. That mostly forgotten knowledge and experiences we picked up in life somehow linger and at times emerge to inform and trigger that alarm. In this case I recognised the nonsense not because of some in-depth analysis but because of a completely different look at the matter based on a specific experience.

Nevertheless, an essential aspect of being a skeptic is to not only scrutinise the subject but, most importantly, yourself as well, why you reason the way you do. In this case, why am I certain that those 19th century engineers had it spot on?

It is a matter of geometry, really. The surface area of a lake, and therefore the quantity of water to be shifted, increases with the square of its cross-section, but the space available for the pumps (at the dyke) grows only linearly. This means that the bigger the lake, the more windmills you need. Not just more but more per kilometer of dyke at an increased density. Since you can’t put windmills arbitrarily close together because they catch each other’s wind there is, consequently, a limit to the number of them that can be accommodated. That means that there is a limit to the size of the lake that you can manage using windmills. Lake Haarlem, requiring the odd 200 pumping stations was close to that limit, if not over it: it was too big for the technology of the past. That was the fundamental reason for it not having been tried before. A straightforward way of putting it: by the 1800s the windmill based technique had become obsolete and the engineers knew it. That was some 2 centuries ago. That technological concept, therefore, most certainly is obsolete today.

The idea of going back to wind power for our base-load energy provision is a massive retrograde step, a devolution, an indirection. Don’t be mislead by the shiny modern look of the turning beasts, courtesy of being made of metal and composites. That’s what Americans call: lipstick on a pig. Underneath it is essentially a medieval technology and we are in danger of learning the hard way that it can’t replace power generation from a primary source – coal, gas, nuclear and hydro – with a much higher energy density than wind can ever deliver.


1) If you ever find yourself near the place pay a visit to Teylers museum. It’s a small natural history cum science museum old style with only natural light for illumination and a marvellous collection of science related paraphernalia.

2) The Netherlands has 12 provinces. The name Holland specifically denotes the two provinces adjacent to the North Sea and to the north of the delta formed by the rivers Rhine, Meuse and Schelt.

3) My paternal ancestor Emmanuel Zuiderwijk (six generations between us) of Lisse, a village on the west side of Lake Haarlem, was one of those labouring on the construction of the ring dyke, using only a shovel and a wheelbarrow.

4) The Dutch national airport Schiphol. It is located in the north-east corner of the Haarlemmermeer polder. The name was in use for that part of the lake since well before. It translates as ‘ship’s hell’ because it was the corner where vessels were stranded and often wrecked in serious stormy weather. I always found it somewhat ghoulish having an airport named after a graveyard and sometimes wonder how passengers would feel about it if they knew.

Some urls with more info:







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August 6, 2020 2:25 am

they could have done it with windmills if they hired one don quixote for each one of them.

Reply to  eo
August 6, 2020 5:07 am

Unfortunately, Don Quixote was non compos mentis, AKA “barmy in the crumpet.” Last I checked, the final score was Windmills 1, Don Quixote zip. Choose your battles carefully.

August 6, 2020 2:27 am

Nice article Ed, interesting, well written and makes perfect sense. I have passed through Schipol many times since 1971 on my way to join oil tankers as an engineer for Shell, they used KLM charter flights , so was fascinated to learn the origin and meaning of the name.

Reply to  Mike Connor
August 7, 2020 11:39 am

The meaning of Schipol strikes a chord. Some years ago I departed Schipol in a twin-engine Boeing 777, the first twin ever certified for trans-oceanic service. About twenty seconds after takeoff there was a bang and I saw black stuff leave the starboard engine I sat behind. I also noticed we stopped climbing and accelerating, not usual. I whispered to the woman seated next to me that we would not be going home that day, and she looked puzzled. A minute later the captain announced we were returning to Schipol on one engine! Heads popped up at that news and a few women cried out. Later we learned the engine had ingested a cormorant. The captain said we would slowy turn around over the North Sea to dump fuel, and not to be alarmed by the fire trucks along the runway, which he assured us were only precautionary. The feeling of being in a wide-body filled with some 300-odd people and having only one engine was like being dangled by a thread. I figuratively kissed the Dutch ground when we egressed.

Reginald Vernon Reynolds
August 6, 2020 2:27 am

Great article. I am Canadian but met Dutch friends in Portugal and visited them in Haarlem 25 years ago. Lovely place but now I wish I had known about the pump and the museum. I did visit the Van Hals Museum and admired his paintings and much of the art work.

August 6, 2020 2:28 am

Thank you, I have learned something new today.

Phil Rae
August 6, 2020 2:30 am

Great little article, Ed…….thanks!

I’ll certainly remember that little bit of history, too, next time I transit Schiphol

August 6, 2020 2:33 am

Great story.

August 6, 2020 2:37 am

Great article, Diolch.

August 6, 2020 2:42 am

Great story, and well written. Seems to me that the belief in science, and ‘experts’ has become almost like a religion. With ‘experts’ being the new clergymen, and “the science” the new holy bible. Most people are perfectly capable to understand issues without being ‘expert’. So often I hear from people around me the phrase “Oh but I don’t know, I am no expert”, or “How would you know? are you a climatologist/virologist/****ist?”. Common sense is underrated.

Tim Spence
August 6, 2020 2:43 am

Great article, I’m really interested in the 1615 construction of the Old Bedford canal, and the New Bedford which helped drain East Anglia and I believe a Dutch engineer was in charge of the project. Amazing what we could achieve 400 years ago. Look forward to your next article.

Ed Zuiderwijk
Reply to  Tim Spence
August 6, 2020 3:14 am

You’re referring to Vermuyden’s Drain. What little I know about his exploits is that he apparently learnt his trade working on the polders to the north of Amsterdam that I mentioned. I’m not sure why he decided to go to England but one reason, not sure if it’s true, could have been that he had had something going with the wife, or perhaps the daughter of the chief engineer and had to flee. In any case, the motto of the county of South Cambridgeshire: ‘niet zonder arbyt’ is unadulterated 16th century Dutch and translates as ‘nothing (comes) without work’. You can’t get more calvinistic than that.

John Dawson
Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
August 6, 2020 12:57 pm

When I was at college in Cambridge (at Trinity and a long time ago) we had a really old lifetime fellow called Mr Binnie, who had a stock after dinner lecture called “The Draining of the Fens”, complete with slides of original pictures and photographs from I guess the nineteenth century.

The evidence is everywhere here (lots of dykes and drainage canals) and I believe we owe a lot to those Dutch engineers! The low lying land that was released is incredibly fertile and we grow a great deal of the UK’s food in this region.

Reply to  John Dawson
August 7, 2020 12:39 am

you also owe a lot to the Scots Jacobite prisoners of war used as forced labour…

Reply to  griff
August 7, 2020 12:01 pm

They chose poorly.

Willem Post
Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
August 6, 2020 3:35 pm

RENEWABLE UNRELIABLES is a priceless comment.
I will start using it in my articles.

As you know the bureaucrats love them so much, they bestow endless subsidies on them.

In New England, US, the cost at which a wind owner sells to a utility is about 9.5 c/ kWh

That owner would have to sell at about 18c/kWh, if all subsidies were removed.

However, owners of other generators, usually gas turbines, have to vary their outputs to counteract the unreliable/random variations of wind, which means more Btu/kWh and more CO2/kWh, plus the the rest of the grid has to be expanded and upgraded to connect all these wind turbines and to deal with their variable outputs.

None of these costs are charged to owners of wind turbines, as otherwise the fantasy of low-cost wind would become extinct. They are charged to ratepayers, taxpayers and added to government debts.

The other unreliable renewable is solar, which is useful mostly during midday.
It dozes off and goes to sleep in late afternoon.
It wakes up around mid-morning the next day.
Again, almost 50% of its costs are reduced by subsidies.
Plus it has DUCK-curves, which put extreme burdens on the grid to be dealt with by owners of other generators.

John sills
Reply to  Tim Spence
August 6, 2020 3:17 am

There is a book by vermuyden entitled the draining of the fens?

Another Ian
Reply to  Tim Spence
August 6, 2020 3:30 am

Some of my ancestors were Dutch brought over for projects like that

Andrew Lale
August 6, 2020 2:45 am

Excellent article. I have believed for a long time that there ought to be a class taught in schools called ‘Reasoning’. It would teach children how to parse information, how to logically dissect it and place it into the context of known knowledge. A bit like the training detectives and lawyers get, but simple and practical. Also, there would lots of discussion of logical fallacies and how to spot them in the wild.

Reply to  Andrew Lale
August 6, 2020 4:25 am

While I totally agree with your point, finding instructors/teachers to teach it will be really hard to find. They certainly won’t be found in our current schools.

Reply to  Andrew Lale
August 6, 2020 5:07 am

“a class taught in schools called ‘Reasoning’.” There used to be. It was also called “Logic”. I went to a UK Grammar School. A “State” institution, ultimately run by the local County Council, not a “Public School” which meant private, fee paying. Some of the staff were easy-going, others were absolute tyrants, but all of them demanded that their students learned to think. Being willing to think, and make an effort to determine sense from nonsense, was paramount. Now we have the opposite.

Reply to  Andrew Lale
August 6, 2020 5:56 am

Agree the principle, not sure about the method.

Critical thinking — which essentially is what this is — is not for everybody because some people just aren’t “built that way”. But I would certainly agree that high schools should encourage mental exercise (brain training?) an awful lot more than they do.

Reply to  Andrew Lale
August 6, 2020 4:46 pm

Given that the Education sector is captured by the Left, the last thing they would want to do is teach the children how to think!

Im starting to believe that the main mission of my closing years will be ensuring my grandchildren are able to think for themselves.

Also occurs to me – how many of those Dutch emigres were due to religious intolerance? Wasn’t Netherlands under the sway of the Catholic Spanish at the time? Genuinely interested if that was the case, if anyone has knowledge. One side of my wife’s family were of Huguenot stock, fled France to England around that time.

Ken L
Reply to  Andrew Lale
August 6, 2020 5:00 pm

Ken the A/C “expert”

I was married to a wonderful teacher who over her career taught in both elementary and high school. One of the classes she taught she called “thinking outside the box”. It was really a class in logical thinking. She used puzzles and games to stimulate critical though. She taught in private church schools so logical thinking was encouraged. I fear today you would be hard pressed to find a teacher that could teach such a class and even harder to find a school where it would be approved.

August 6, 2020 2:58 am

Thank you I will reference this article when I argue against the wind fallacy.

Interested Observer
August 6, 2020 3:05 am

Thanks for a very interesting read. It’s a nice combination of my 2 favourite subjects: history and science. It’s a real pity that the people pushing wind & solar don’t care or understand either of these subjects and will just ignore any facts contrary to their viewpoint.

Nick Graves
August 6, 2020 3:06 am

I never knew how the Dutch drained their land – thanks, Ed.

Now if the entire population of the United Counties of Holland (archaic!) would leave, there’s a few swamps all over the World for them to drain for a generous fee.

Those beam engines must’ve been terribly expensive back then. I wonder how the cost would’ve compared to ~200 windmills? I’d imagine that’s a calculation the Dutch used to be able to make, but an ability the rest of us apparently have lost.

Ed Zuiderwijk
Reply to  Nick Graves
August 6, 2020 3:20 am

The Netherlands started off as the Republic of the 7 Provinces.

Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
August 6, 2020 9:55 am

Sometimes called ‘The United States’.

Alasdair Fairbairn
August 6, 2020 3:06 am

Thanks Ed. Indeed a delightful story of much wisdom.
You certainly do not need a bevy of letters after your name to reach sensible conclusions. All you need is curiosity and good look at the history of how humanity coped in the past.
As a keen sailor throughout my life much of that curiosity involved both wind and water, how they interacted and how to take advantage of the energy they provided.

Stepping back, all one needs to do to assess articles on current wind power is to look at how the maritime industry dealt with the problem, some 150 years ago.
The answer stares you in the face and applies equally today when considering the “Ship of State”.

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  Alasdair Fairbairn
August 6, 2020 4:09 am

But it’s the “Ship of Fools” one has to be wary of.

August 6, 2020 3:08 am

Yes, it’s just the internal ‘BS detector’. There are usually many clues that set the needle twitching.

Any known entrenched opinions and the character of the author/publisher. The motive. Why has someone chosen to write a justification treatise?A preemptive defence (like the preemptive denial of a crime because of a guilty conscience), a rebuttal to another article, to discredit an opponent, to make a short or long term career/financial gain. For peer group approval, to promote their own ego/image?

Such articles are usually full of emotive appeals, smokescreens, straw-men , diversions, superficially convincing facts and statistics that are easily pulled apart by the curious, but meat and potatoes for the expected credulous audience.

In essence it is just obvious when the author is just trying to hard – exhibiting confirmation bias, arguing from a point of extreme prejudice. You only have to bail hard when you are on a sinking boat, not sat on solid ground.

But then some people are sheep, others are too busy with their lives to care (the boiled frogs), but others are instinctively curious and inquisitive – it is innate when told something to ask “is that really so, how can I double and triple check” .

And people do have/develop a sixth sense, maybe instinctive, but also subconsciously a result of your life’s experience and knowledge.

Reply to  MrGrimNasty
August 6, 2020 4:31 am

Wow, your comment just described your comment.

Reply to  rbabcock
August 6, 2020 9:59 am

I bet that sounded so witty in your head…….

Reply to  MrGrimNasty
August 8, 2020 1:01 am

Oscar Wilde and the painter Whistler were at a dinner party when Whistler said something witty that had everyone falling about with laughter.
Oscar Wilde then said “Oh, I wish I had said that”, to which Whistler replied “You will Oscar, you will”.

James Schrumpf
Reply to  StephenP
August 9, 2020 6:40 am

“Your Majesty is like a stream of bat’s piss.”

Reply to  MrGrimNasty
August 6, 2020 5:26 am

Carl Jung once said: “In each of us there is an ʘther whom we do not know. He speaks to us in dreams and tells us how differently he sees us from the way we see ourselves. When, therefore, we find ourselves in a difficult situation to which there is no solution, he can sometimes kindle a light that radically alters our attitude…”

Reply to  JGuentherAuthor
August 6, 2020 10:09 am

Freud once said something too, I expect, and a bunch of other people too.

Ron Long
August 6, 2020 3:10 am

Thanks, great story/history lesson to start off the day. When a steam piston reaches the end of its stroke the steam is released, producing a loud pop. The size of the steam pistons in this story means that there was a lot of noise generated by this process, but well worth it.

Another Ian
Reply to  Ron Long
August 6, 2020 3:43 am


I’d guess those engines would likely have had efficiency improvements like exhaust condensers etc to reduce the fuel bill


Dave Ward
Reply to  Another Ian
August 6, 2020 5:31 am

As I understand it, MOST of the power produced by this type of engine comes from the vacuum created by condensing the exhaust steam. The primitive boilers of the day weren’t capable of operating at much more than a few pounds per square inch, so this alone wasn’t enough for useful power.

Reply to  Dave Ward
August 6, 2020 10:14 am

But still more efficient than the inefficient windmills of the day, as proven by the actual work the old ancient inefficient steam engines actually did. Just imagine what we could get done nowadays if the world had the work ethic and brains of the good Dutch peoples, and unencumbered by tribalism and politics. The Dutch feed more people per capita and land base than any other nation on the good Earth.

Chris Hogg
Reply to  Dave Ward
August 7, 2020 12:58 am

While that was true of the Newcomen engine and the Watt engine that came after it, the subsequent improvements by, for example, Trevithick, relied more and more on high-pressure steam. High-pressure steam would be admitted into the cylinder for about a quarter or a third of the stroke, and would then be cut off, with the steam expanding for the rest of the stroke against a vacuum on the underside of the piston. At the end of the stroke, a valve would open linking the spaces above and below the piston. The weight of the pump rod in the mineshaft (or a counterweight if the pump was not used on a mine) would pull the piston back up to its starting position, and the now low-pressure steam above the piston moved to the underside. Then another valve opened to a separate condenser, condensing the steam under the piston and creating a vacuum, ready for the cycle to start again. Such a design was known as the Cornish engine, and was used to pump out mines all over the world. It was also used in many civil engineering projects, such as the water-works at Kew Bridge in London which held six Cornish engines, the largest having a piston diameter of 100 inches.

The engines used to drain the Haarlemmermeer were of slightly different design, in that it had two cylinders concentrically arranged. The inner cylinder, 84 inches in diameter, received the high-pressure steam to the underside for about half the stroke, after which the steam was cut off and the rest of the stroke was expansive. At the end of the stroke, the connecting valve linked the two sides of the high-pressure piston, and also to the top side of the concentric low-pressure cylinder, 144 inches in diameter, and the steam continued to expand. The concentric space below the outer cylinder remained under vacuum all the time.

The three Haarlemmermeer engines were built by Harvey’s of Hayle, a small Cornish town only five miles from my home. Very little now remains of the foundry. This image shows the first cylinder cast http://cruquiusmuseum.nl/EN/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/cylinder.jpg It was actually mis-cast, because at the time their combined furnaces weren’t able to feed enough molten iron fast enough to fill the mould. The faceplate of the lathe used to turn the cylinders and pistons of the engine was nearly 20ft in diameter.

Dave Ward
Reply to  Chris Hogg
August 7, 2020 4:02 am

@ Chris Hogg – thanks for the detail about Trevithick’s design – it sounds like an early form of compounding, which became the virtual default for large stationary and marine engines, and even in smaller applications, such as traction engines.

Reply to  Chris Hogg
August 8, 2020 1:21 am

Chris Hogg. Thanks for this. It is interesting and knowledgeable comments like yours that make WUWT a must read each day.

A further factor in the drainage of fenland is whether the fen is peat or sand based.
Peat based fen such as there is in East Anglia is subject to shrinkage and oxidation once it is drained. When Holme Fen was drained in 1848 a cast iron pillar was driven into the clay subsoil with the top level at the level of the peat. Initial shrinkage was about 22 cm per year, and now the pillar has about 4 metres showing above the ground. There is about 2 metres of peat soil left above the clay subsoil.

Clarky of Oz
August 6, 2020 3:11 am

Thank you Sir for your logic and commons sense. Rare commodities indeed.

August 6, 2020 3:12 am

Our minds fill up with ‘stuff’ and that stuff provides context against which ideas can be evaluated. That evaluation happens mostly in the right hemisphere of the brain. The left hemisphere is the one that mostly handles language and logic.

If someone’s right hemisphere is disabled, that person will believe anything as long as it is not self-contradictory. link

The big problem in western civilization right now is that our schools train us how to use logic and language and almost entirely ignore evaluation against context. That’s how cultural Marxism has taken over the universities. Evaluated against what people would call common sense, cultural Marxism is complete crap. As long as academics can stay in their ivory towers and ignore the real world, their enhanced logic and language skills can allow them to believe the ridiculous.

So, getting kids out of the classroom and into museums is very important. Of course, the left wants to abolish history so people won’t have any knowledge that might contradict its precious theories.

Patrick MJD
August 6, 2020 3:35 am

As I have said before, using wind power to do “work”, in this case to make electricity, is 4th – 6th century technology. Then coal was discovered!

Reply to  Patrick MJD
August 6, 2020 7:07 am

Various renewables enthusiasts keep claiming that wind and batteries are new technologies and that therefore we can expect huge increases in efficiency in coming years.

It doesn't add up...
Reply to  MarkW
August 7, 2020 5:06 am

Modern wind turbine designs operate at a peak of around 75% of the Betz limit (the peak theoretical efficiency of 16/27ths) over a relatively narrow band of wind speeds. That’s around 45% of the energy in the wind overall, or 12/27ths. Below that band perhaps matters less in that the energy that can be extracted is proportional to the cube of the wind speed, but matters more in the sense that if you rely on wind for a large fraction of your energy it doesn’t help that the efficiency if extraction drops, even to zero at the cut in speed. Above the design capacity of the generator, efficiency drops off rapidly, as none of the extra energy is captured (blades are increasingly feathered), despite rising with the cube of wind speed – and beyond cutout speed, when the generator is disconnected for safety reasons, once again output drops to zero.

August 6, 2020 3:40 am

Reminds me of the story of England’s (and possibly the world’s) first and only wind powered cotton mill
Located on a hill near the old Town Hall it was built at a time when other mills in Stcokport were water powered. However a few years later it converted to steam power , even though steam powered mills were a very recent innovation. There must have been a reason , after all coal , although from nearby Poynton , has to be paid for, whilst the wind of course is free ( as we keep being told).

Ed Zuiderwijk
Reply to  mikewaite
August 6, 2020 4:57 am

The price of coal in the Manchester area dropped dramatically when the canal system came on-line. Before, it had to be transported by horse and cart. After, bulk transport on barges slashed the transport cost. The Aston canal opened in 1799, the Peak Forest canal, not far away, in 1800, but earlier the Bridgewater Canal had already had a massive effect on the affordability of coal.

Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
August 6, 2020 9:58 am

If anyone is visiting the Manchester area in the post-Covid time (if that ever happens) Worsley Delph is worth looking at. The start of the Bridgewater Canal , which cleverly used underground canals inside the Worsley coal mines to link to the Bridgewater, all at the same level, this has been recently restored as a vistor attraction.
As Ed says , it more than halved the price of coal to domestic users and the factories in Manchester.

Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
August 9, 2020 11:45 am

This goes for anygood of worth. Slash transport costs and prices drop and demand surges.
So next to zero transport cost is worth pursuing then.. anyone heard of the Internet?

M Seward
Reply to  mikewaite
August 6, 2020 10:07 am

Both coal and wind are ‘free’ but that is not the issue. The real issue is the cost of converting their energy into a useful form. At that point considerations like ‘economy of scale’ and ‘energy density’ kick in as governing parameters to the economic rubric and lo and behold, larger scale processes using hight energy density inputs are more efficient and more reliable. Fuzzying up that simple, straightforward logic and replacing it with pea and thimble rhetoric and emotive voodoo is hardly truly ‘critical’ thinking.

So the big question is, in my opinion, how the heck did we drift so far off the track of the Enlightenment?

Personally I blame the audio visual media, from TV to the on line ‘influencer’ cess pits now so common, drifting to some sort of new melodramatic/burlesque style where it is all about the presenter and their facial expressions and hand movements that ‘sex up’ utter drivel on any range of topics, ‘climate change’ just being one of the go to bandwagon issues.

So called ‘science communication’ has also drifted into this new genre and thereby degraded science itself in much the same way PR consultants and elected official’s media managers have degraded the broader public discourse.

It doesn't add up...
Reply to  M Seward
August 7, 2020 5:11 am

The really odd thing is that TV could be a great medium for scientific education. Indeed, it was in the days of OU lectures broadcast freely, and some of the programmes presented by James Burke. A tradition now lost.

Dodgy Geezer
August 6, 2020 3:45 am

In the UK they have their Beam Engine museum in London near Kew Gardens. With over a dozen machines – many working, including a 90 inch and a 100 inch pump, it’s a great day out for the kids…


Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
August 10, 2020 12:02 am

Fred Dibnah’s age of steam video series.

Very interesting and entertaining

Carl Friis-Hansen
August 6, 2020 3:52 am

Great article in so many ways.
When I lived in the Netherlands (1998 to 2005) I often passed Pumping Station Cruquius, but never knew it was turned into a museum.
During 3of the years I lived there, I crisscrossed the Sparne river and the ring canal around Hasrlemmer Meer in my small motor boat. Such a great experience.

Carl Friis-Hansen
August 6, 2020 3:59 am

Regarding Schiphol .
The runways are 4 meter or 12 feet below sea level.

Ed Zuiderwijk
Reply to  Carl Friis-Hansen
August 6, 2020 5:01 am

Therefore: fasten your seat belt and hold on to your hat!

Ken Irwin
August 6, 2020 3:59 am

Great article – I must look up that steam engine if ever I am in that vicinity.

As regards the “project” try that today and you would be committing “suicide by red tape”.

Unless of course you promised to do it with windpower to placate the eco-nuts.

Either way it would never be accomplished.

Bruce Cobb
August 6, 2020 4:03 am

But, but, but, if you cost-shift and punish Big Carbon enough, and with enough in subsidies, wallah, wind becomes cheaper. It’s like magic! Right Griff?

Bob Ernest
August 6, 2020 4:06 am


Thank you

David Dibbell
August 6, 2020 4:06 am

Great article, especially the insightful points about the “nonsense detector.” My internal detector says, “That can’t be right!” when I hear claims that heat will be “trapped” at the surface to harmful effect on the planet. How was my detector calibrated? By watching the weather, especially thunderstorms, and coming to appreciate the energy transformation and mass transfer performance of the atmospheric heat engine.

Reply to  David Dibbell
August 6, 2020 7:09 am

My observation is that the air cools much faster at night when it is dry, compared to when it is humid.

David Dibbell
Reply to  MarkW
August 6, 2020 7:25 am

Excellent point. I often look at this plot of precipitable water for the U.S. When it gets really dry, it can get really cold in winter. comment image

Komerade Cube
August 6, 2020 4:26 am

>>If the mechanic tells me that my car doesn’t go because the fuel pump has died I accept that without hesitation.<<

Most likely you are not accepting without hesitation but rather you have unconsciously reached the same diagnosis after reviewing the symptoms. Unfortunately for the world the liberal masses don’t have the skill to do this and therefore immediately appeal to and accept the word of anyone who appears to be in a position of authority. If your mechanic told you that you needed new sway bar drop links in a car that handled fine would you still accept it? Happened to me… so i crawled under the car… nope!

Skepticism comes from knowing things. Blind faith in authority comes from not knowing, and not wanting to know, how the world works.

Climate believer
August 6, 2020 4:27 am

Nice reading, thanks Mr Zuiderwijk.

I’ve visited the Netherlands many times and have always found that the Calvinistic streak in the people I worked with a real strength, also I’ve never met more honest people than the Dutch.

John Furst
August 6, 2020 4:33 am

Ed Zuiderwijk—Thank you for the interesting, common sense, experiential story. An inspiring story of hope….a hope that common sense, and some knowledge with calculations, will prevail.

Sadly, in the USA, our formerly trusted sources of science and engineering have been overwhelmed, corrupted even, by a continuous barrage of mis/mal-information, and great amounts of factual omissions.

The belief that wind / solar can physically replace reliable, proven, economy-building, weather/disaster resistant gas, oil, coal, and nuclear generation is fraud.
And that the belief that wind/solar is cheaper is a cruel and unusual punishment to taxpayers and utility customers, and a massive political diversion that restricts productive economic growth.

The widespread beliefs in “green energy” sources and CO2 single causality have been institutionalised in all of USA (EU) society over the last 40 years…and escalated in the last 15 with massive political payouts.

So, the “common sense” that we count on to overwhelm fantasy and corruption is no longer available.

We are, should be , smarter than this.

Thanks again. For the hope at least.

August 6, 2020 4:38 am

“… need to get my electricity from renewable un-reliables because of whatever.”

Good article, and I do appreciate the history of how the swampy marshlands of Holland were drained, but I grew up in the prairies far to the south of me, and the windmills down there were used to pump water into watering troughs for beef cattle and sheep to use. None of them were the monstrosities being constructed and planted everywhere now, nor did they pollute the landscape with detritus when they failed. They were steel frames with wooden vanes and a steel rudder to keep the windmill in line with which way the wind blew. They were nothing but pumps. A single one could pump quite a bit of water for farming use. Some were built close to houses to provide water to the household. They’re mostly gone now, but it isn’t difficult to set them up again. They made sense. And not all of them have been demolished. What was a farm without a windmill, for Pete’s sake?

These land grabs to plant indestructible trash that corporate greed generates, are not the same thing. They are, in addition to being indestructible, industrial junk once they’ve reached their life span. That thought never occurred to the producers of that junk, nor do they care how much pollution they cause.

Reply to  Sara
August 6, 2020 5:38 am

Lease contracts for wind farms include restoring the original grade and removal of the stanchions and turbines.

Reply to  jorgekafkazar
August 6, 2020 6:01 am

Assuming the operator doesn’t file for insolvency the minute the first crack appears!

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Newminster
August 6, 2020 2:44 pm

Which is what performance bonds are for.

John Piccirilli
Reply to  Sara
August 6, 2020 5:44 am

How it s made’ did a bit on water pumps, still being made today

August 6, 2020 4:52 am

I always knew about the nether (low) land, but the “land of the hollows” is new.
Thank you.

Michael in Dublin
August 6, 2020 5:01 am

Ed Zuiderwijk, thanks for a delightful story.

Growing up in the fifties, in a semi-desert area at the other side of the world , I remember stories we were told of Holland and the dykes. Perhaps the proximity to the 1953 flood was the influence. Throwing money to try and engineer climate is utter folly but human ingenuity like that displayed in Holland shows how we can adapt at a small fraction of the cost of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Engineers understand ingenuity but unfortunately the politicians and activists are clueless and therefore not to be trusted. That is why I have great respect for the sober and sensible insights of people like Professor Guus Berkhout.

Davide Marney
August 6, 2020 5:08 am

My favorite quote from the article is this one: “when you know something is utterly wrong, it is usually completely uninteresting to precisely analyse why.” Americans would just say, “Nope, it didn’t pass the smell test.” Meaning: if it’s so bad that you can smell it without even drawing near, there’s no reason to investigate into the details. You know it’s bad.

Dave Ward
August 6, 2020 5:26 am

“The notion is just preposterous”

It’s worse than that – at least when you’re pumping something like water which can easily be stored, the intermittent nature of wind is rarely a problem.

Leo Smith
August 6, 2020 5:37 am

Exactly the same transformations happened on the English Fens for exactly the same reasons.
coal could be cheaply barged around the coast and up the canals to large pumping stations.
Steam was replaced by diesel in the early 20th century, and by electric pumps post war.


is a lovely video of one of the old steam pumps in operation

Coach Springer
August 6, 2020 6:42 am

In the name of Greta, tear down this museum.

August 6, 2020 6:55 am

You can see beam engines in working condition in Leicester, UK.

They had the vital but unglamorous duty of pumping the city’s sewage.

Reply to  GregK
August 6, 2020 3:05 pm

Also Crossness, on the Thames.
A sewage pumping station.4


Joel O’Bryan
August 6, 2020 8:03 am

The green Marxists have their solution to the problem Ed Zuiderwijk describes.

Solution: dumb down the Primary school education system so the following generations don’t innately recognize they are being taken to the slaughterhouse like sheep. They will do what they are told and march right in to the gassing chambers.

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
August 6, 2020 9:14 am

Like babies who are scalped (“Planned Parenthood”) today, and cross-contaminated (“Planned Parent”), with a xenophilic, high tuition flourish, tomorrow.

Konstantinos Pappas
August 6, 2020 8:13 am

My question to Ed is:
Why has Germany and Denmark, a German satellite, invested in windpower, whereas the Netherlands, another German satellite, hasn’t?
The answer is that you have Natural Gas deposits.

Reply to  Konstantinos Pappas
August 7, 2020 12:42 am

But the Netherlands has invested in wind and if you look for my post elsewhere you’ll see its ambitious offshore wind plans…

Ivor Ward
August 6, 2020 8:34 am

I believe the engines were made by Harvey and Co of Hayle in Cornwall and the pumps by Fox and Co in Falmouth. Don’t like to belittle the Plymouthians…..yes I do….I’m Cornish

August 6, 2020 9:04 am

Moving on to the modern day, here is Dutch govt information on its plans for offshore wind farms


Reply to  griff
August 6, 2020 10:05 am

Griff, Thank you for giving me the opportunity or excuse to refer to the current unsatisfactory situation re: wind farms as seen by an observer in Australia and posted at Jonova
(people are going to suspect we are a tag team) .
(BTW the link , by not allowing capitals, has minified the outages from MW to mW)

Reply to  mikewaite
August 6, 2020 11:26 am

I had a mW reduction in power generation the other day.
Then I replaced the hamster with a well rested one.

Reply to  mikewaite
August 7, 2020 12:38 am


Looks like you have incompetents running the power grid in Oz (I think we all knew that anyway) as this doesn’t have to happen and hasn’t happened in (foe example) Germany, as far as I know, since the early 2000s.

It is perfectly simple to manage the wind farms so they don’t trip out.

Reply to  griff
August 7, 2020 8:30 am

griff — incompetents? Pot-kettle much? Clue for the clueless — Australia does not have the large amounts of backup power (FF & nuclear power) on their grid available to make up shortages due to unreliables (wind-solar) like European countries.

You’re talking out your posterior again. You don’t know jack-schist about grids.

Reply to  griff
August 6, 2020 11:24 am

Governments, because they spend other people’s money, never care how costly or inefficient something is. Case in point, all this investment in so called renewable energy, that only makes countries poorer. But since it makes those who invest in government richer, it will always be preferred.

Reply to  griff
August 6, 2020 11:29 am

I follow the UK power grid on a daily basis. They have many off shore windturbines. Their output varies tremendously from day to day and month to month. Only gas turbines allows such erratic producers of power to be used. Otherwise, the grid would collapse.
And, BTW, despite these windturbines, atmospheric CO2 is rising steadily. What am I missing?

Patrick MJD
Reply to  griff
August 6, 2020 3:24 pm

I repeat for the terminally dim, wind, as a technology to do “work” is 4th – 6th century technology. It has a place on small scales such as water pumps on farms and low-lying lands (Pay bas), but for reliable, grid scale, power generation it certainly isn’t

Ian Wilson
August 6, 2020 9:20 am

A bit irrelevant but perhaps of interest to engineers, when a replica of the transatlantic Vickers Vimy was built in the 1960s, two original WW1 vintage Rolls-Royce Eagles were found pumping water from a Dutch dyke which they had happily been doing for several decades. When put on the test-bed they were within 2 hp of the original specification. Sadly the replica was lost in a ground fire.

Kevin kilty
August 6, 2020 9:40 am

Ed, a great article to start my day reading. Thanks. I learned a bit!

August 6, 2020 9:43 am

Loved it – especially the part about making a ring-dike just inside the lake tocarry the water away. What great technology.

Hendrik Paalman
August 6, 2020 9:48 am

Ed Zuiderwijk – I add my kudos to this huge list of positive comments that you’ve inspired within the WUWT community. Good Job !!

My father, Arend, emigrated to America in the early 20cent. and I joined the Paalman party 87 years ago. My uncle Johann lived in Haarlem. We visited several times and he saw to my education about polder making matters. You’ve inspired happy memories of those times. Thanks. Oranje Boven!

Rod Evans
August 6, 2020 10:17 am

Thanks Ed a great piece and always encouraging to read about real history where logic triumphs over impossible but the universal preferred conventions of the time.
It is also great to read about cross pollination of engineering ideas. Who back in the 17 century ever thought hacking tin from a deep mine in Cornwall England, would provide the answer to a flooded region of Holland a few decades later?

Tom Abbott
August 6, 2020 10:38 am

Great story, Ed.

Was anything interesting found on the lake bed after it was drained?

Joe Prins
August 6, 2020 10:47 am

Great story Ed. Grew up within one km of this Cruquius pumping station, in Heemstede. Have visited the museum various times, as well as the ones in Haarlem and environments. I did know, or knew, the story of the Haarlemermeer, ( Haarlem lake) , but never knew about the decision to use the steam driven pumps instead of the windmills. That is, from an engineering point of view. I always thought that windmills were not used because of the amount of wood required. Which could be better used in the merchant sailing ships. Even though Haarlem expanded outside its city protective walls towards the Haarlem lake, it also annexed areas to the west and south of the city.
Anyway, great tale and I enjoyed it.

To Mr. Pappas: natural gas recovery in the Netherlands will cease starting in 2022.

August 6, 2020 12:00 pm

Good story. As an engineer, I can sum it two words — energy density. Wind & solar are pathetically energy-diffuse. That means alot of land and infrastructure are required to achieve a given amount of output compared to fossil-fuels or nuclear (not even considering that wind & solar are also weather/time-dependent).

Joseph Borsa
August 6, 2020 12:50 pm

Fascinating story. What fuel did they use to generate the steam to operate the pumps? Must have been a very large pile of coal over the three plus years of pumping.

Ed Zuiderwijk
Reply to  Joseph Borsa
August 7, 2020 12:19 am

Coal, indeed.

August 6, 2020 2:30 pm

Great article Ed, thanks for posting.
I used to transit often through Schipol en-route to such places as Baku and Luanda working for the evil oil industry and never had a clue about the name.
I recall a family road trip of the low countries several years ago, my father, my son and I stood on the Afsluitdijk,looked disdainfully at the turbines ruining the view and contemplated whether further reclaiming the Zuider Zee would have been possible if dependent on the power of breezes; yesterday’s technology, tomorrow as I like to think of unreliables.
I think, as you do, that instinctively it must be obvious to anyone that demolishing coal fired thermal power plants and erecting wind turbines in-lieu is a retrograde step from a techological and engineering perspective and it amazes me (as it will surely amaze future historians) that so many people simply don’t see the folly,and the scam,of subsidy mining for what it is.
I guess the only explanation is ‘the stupid it burns’?

Pat Frank
August 6, 2020 3:26 pm

Ed, I surmise that the ring dyke must extend down below the level of the local aquifer, otherwise water will well up from below into the pumped lake-bed. Is that right?

Great story! My brother Nick was stationed at Utrecht while in the Air Force. He loved it there.

August 6, 2020 6:53 pm

Am I the only one who thinks this article is not really useful and would just be completely ignored by an Eco-Nazi? While I wholeheartedly agree that even current day windmills aren’t worth the trouble, and that a green-head has been brainwashed to ignore anything we say anyway, this article they could dismiss because it is talking about old-fashioned windmills and very old fashioned steam engines. It would be nice to finish the article with a comparison of the space taken up by a 1GW gas turbine vs 1GW of wind turbines (actual power output), the CO2 put out by each over there lifespan, over several lifespans in the case of wind turbines, just to show how really stupid the idea is. I would have added the cost involved, but we all know they have no idea or concern for cost.

Michael S. Kelly
August 6, 2020 7:05 pm

Great article! I got to wondering how powerful these three steam engines were, and it was difficult to find the answer on the Internets (any of them). On a dismally dysfunctional ASME site, I found at least the performance of the pump house at Cruquius – 55,000 gallons per minute pumped through an elevation of 15 feet. That’s 208 horsepower, or 155 kW. A single modern wind turbine of 4 MW output would thus be more than 25 times as much as needed to drain the lake. But you could never have built such a wind turbine without an industrial base that didn’t rely on wind power. And such wind turbines are not capable of self-replication (in other words, they are not “sustainable”).

Your basic premise about each of us knowing more than we know we know is spot-on. I was fortunate enough to have gone to a private high school back in the early 1970s. One of my teachers impressed on me the value of what she called the VFOGI – the Vast Fund of General Information, acquired by ceaseless reading, listening, and inquiring of others. At 66 years of age, I still constantly update my VFOGI, aided now by Algore’s amazing Internets.

Chris Hogg
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
August 8, 2020 8:58 am

In the ‘Mining Journal’, 22 December 1855, Darlington gave a table of pumping engine horsepower as a function of cylinder diameter, assuming a steam pressure of 40 psi (2.75 bar) which was fairly common at that time. The biggest cylinder on his table was 100 inch diameter, and when pumping at 6 strokes per minute, would be producing 243 HP, or 181 kW. That’s reasonably close to your figures bearing in mind the different design of the Cruquius engine and that it worked at stroke rates of a few up to seven or eight per minute, at steam pressures in the 2 to 4 bar range. (http://cruquiusmuseum.nl/status-report/)

August 6, 2020 7:30 pm

What a nice and interesting article. What beautiful places. I know those places well enough, having lived in Amsterdam Zuid for a year.

Energy density. What an important concept temporarily lost in this fanatical nonsense surrounding us. At least for now.

Bob in Castlemaine
August 6, 2020 11:25 pm

A very interesting article Ed thanks.
The question of how/why we tend to have an almost innate BS detector when it comes to some topics is an interesting one. An ancestor of mine Anthony Tissington was a lead and coal miner in Derbyshire England during the 18th century. He became frustrated at the lack of reliability of “wind engines” in mining use, which lead him to consult with engine manufacturers Boulton and Watt, eventually replacing “wind pumps” with steam engines.
Similarly the weaving mills of England forsook the power of water wheels for steam engines in their mills, giving birth to the industrial revolution. These lessons were learned the hard way some 240 years ago but sadly it seems we must relearn those same hard lessons?

August 7, 2020 12:19 am

Very nice article! I’m a Dutchman myself and knew of the effort it took to drain lake Haarlem, but not in the perspective of windmills versus steam engines.

August 7, 2020 12:21 am

Very nice article! I’m a Dutchman myself and already knew of the effort it took to drain lake Haarlem, but not in the perspective of windmills versus steam engines.

Federico Bär
August 7, 2020 8:05 pm

I am still fascinated by two amusing sayings:
One is:
—when you know something is utterly wrong it is usually completely uninteresting to precisely analyse why. –The other one is the paragraph on one’s nonsense detector.
Thank you Ed, for the explication of the draining process. I’m going to read it carefully again for a better understanding.

It doesn't add up...
August 8, 2020 4:15 am

The really odd thing is that TV could be a great medium for scientific education. Indeed, it was in the days of OU lectures broadcast freely, and some of the programmes presented by James Burke. A tradition now lost.

Marjorie Curtis
August 8, 2020 11:57 pm

Reading this very interesting article reminded me of a flight I took to the Netherlands in the late 1960s. It was February, and the weather was foul. The snow was blizzarding all over Heathrow, and we passengers were kept waiting for several hours until finally, about 8.30, we were told we were going to take off, and would we please board the plane as soon as we could. The flight was very bumpy, and it continued to snow. Just before landing at Schipol, the hostess announced that we were about to land, and she thought we would all be interested to know that the English translation of Schipol meant “the graveyard of ships”. I think all the passengers’ faces went white. We didn’t want to know the meaning of the name – not at all. It was about a year after an English football team had nearly all been killed at Vienna (I think) Airport in snow and ice conditions, just like ours. It was a memorable flight!

Ed Zuiderwijk
Reply to  Marjorie Curtis
August 10, 2020 8:25 am

Ha! And then they say Dutch stewardesses had no sense of humour … The lamentable disaster you refer to was at Munich and involved the Manchester United team.

Federico Bär
August 9, 2020 11:54 am

Certainly it was not the hostess’s intention to scare the passsengers. She might have added: “It WAS a graveyard, look at what it is now: runways that are handling more than 300 flights per day; they CAN take care of 1.300. (The expected figure for this August is 600).

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