What are windmills used for?

Windmills and what they're used for

The original renewable energy source

In rural Australia, windmills used for pumping water and for generating electricity are a common sight, and are a technology that has been around for generations, and continues to evolve and be used today in a variety of uses.

Windmills were the original source of renewable energy and process automation, with the very first windmills used to mill grain by harnessing the power of wind – as the name suggests.

These earliest windmills date back to as early as the 9th century in the middle east, and have been adapted by numerous societies for all sorts of uses over the last thousand years. It didn’t take long before they were adapted to pump water in these driest places on the planet.

Grain Milling

Many of the iconic windmills seen across Britain and Europe, much like those pictured above, were used to mill grain to more easily repurpose it as flour to make bread and other staple foods.

These early automation machines spread quickly across the globe, making life easier for farmers in civilisations around the planet. These windmills – while far less common today – were particularly suited to this purpose, as it allowed for precise control over the grinding process.

These windmills were also referred to as gristmills, and were initially powered by water in Roman society some hundred or so years BC. These machines remained popular for so long that they were even installed in American and Australian settlements as European nations made moves to colonise the world.


For Australians and Americans, typically what you think of when you think of a windmill is a windpump, which harnesses the power of wind to pump water from deep underground in aquifers or bores.

This is probably the most common use for a windmill in rural Australia. These windmills use their blades to turn a rotor, which drives a pump that draws water from underground sources or dams, which is then stored in water tanks or troughs for stock water or irrigation.

Many farmers rely on these steel windmills as an essential water source, particularly during summers or dry seasons.

These windpumps were also used for the opposite purpose in countries like the Netherlands – to pump low lying water out of areas near towns and villages, in order to prevent flooding.

As most of the Netherlands lies below sea level, flooding and water logging can become very common, as is evidenced by the many canals and rivers across the nation. England also used to rely on these drainage windmills, but soon turned to diesel or electric pumps.

Wind Turbines

Definitely the most modern addition to this list, but one that seems like a relatively obvious evolution of the humble windmill is the wind turbine. These wind turbines use a slight breeze to generate clean, renewable energy that can be used to power towns and farming communities and are seen as an important piece of our cleaner and more sustainable future.

Wind Turbines come in all shapes and sizes, both horizontal and vertical, with an internal generator working to power things as small as a car battery, or as power plants designed to ease our reliance on fossil fuel based energy production. Vertical windmills are more suited to urban areas where space is an issue, and can capture the air that blows down alleyways that create wind tunnels.

The Gansu Wind Farm in China is the largest windfarm on the planet, more than triple the size of its nearest competitor, with a current capacity of 7,965 MW, producing about 24 billion kWhs per year, or enough to power over two million homes.

A staple of the last two thousand years of human life, wind power is sure to have some influence on our futures, whether it be in the form of Wind Turbines alone, or the continued use of drainage windmills and windpumps

Other Uses

Pond and Lake Aeration

Windmills are also sometimes used to aerate ponds, lakes or other bodies of water. This is done in almost the opposite fashion to the Windmills used in Australia or Europe which pumps water out of one location, and instead pumps air into stagnant bodies of water, which increases oxygen levels and reduces algae growth. This helps to promote healthy aquatic ecosystems, and is particularly important in areas with high levels of pollution and nutrient runoff.

Decorative Use

Thanks to the iconic and sentimental nature of Windmills, many use them for decorative use, with no pumping whatsoever. This can take the form of small decorative windmills in gardens or parks, or even using full sized windwheels to create a playscape or structure, much like Southern Cross Windmills did at The Creek Learning Centre or Cooroy Hinterland Playground which you can see on our projects page.

Want to know more about windmills?

All in all, windmills have long been an important part of rural life in Australia, and look to remain an important part of the nation’s future for many generations to come in one way or another.

With correct maintenance and care, a premium quality windmill can pump water for generations, with minimal upkeep or repair.

If you’re interested in having a windmill installed on your property, get in touch with the Southern Cross team today, by clicking here to get a quote on a windmill or giving us a call at (07) 4612 7202.

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