First things first


Monday, 9 February 2009

Windmills and turbines

We all know how blowy it can get out on the heath, and many of us must have wondered to ourselves while our umbrellas are being blown inside out: "Why not plonk a couple of wind turbines there?"

I've just found out that the Blackheath Bugle has been musing on this - and kindly linked to this blog
. Thanks, Bugle. I've shamelessly nicked your clever photomontage above, showing how a beturbined heath might look.

A more recent Bugle entry suggests the heath really was used for windpower before any of us were around. Our reliable witness is Turner himself.

Could commissioning a feasibility study be an early project for Transition Westcombe? Or does anyone know if one has been done in the past? Leave comments below if you've got anything to say on this.

Next: We'll have details soon of a Transition Westcombe meet-up open to anyone interested in getting involved.


Anonymous said...

That's great! You're very welcome, although the original photos weren't mine, I just lashed them together.

I can't imagine anyone in the council every approving turbines on the heath - even if there was a history of windmilling on the heath - I was just being provocative really...

However, maybe they'd go for kites? Google and others have been looking into the possibility of kite-based turbines for a while now. Google's main cost isn't bandwidth or hardware, but is actually air conditioning and electricity! So they have a very vested interest in finding way to generate cheap electricity. One of their last "information factories" was deliberately built near a massive hydroelectric dam for exactly that reason.

There's an article about kite based turbines here:

And the two companies that I've heard of doing this are:

Makani Power and Windlift.

Anonymous said...

Oops - I meant "I can't imagine anyone in the council ever approving turbines on the heath"

John said...

Isn't one major reason against turbines on the heath the fact that, in an urban area at least, they're nothing more than greenwash?

The ones down at Sainsburys are worse than useless - they will never repay the cost of manufacture and installation, and in themselves were replacements for units that were no more than six or seven years old.

Even under optimum conditions, you're not likely to see more than a tenth of the rated output as a consistent, overall figure, and air turbulence in urban areas (OK, I accept that the heath wouldn't be as bad as right in the middle of housing) causes this to drop even further.

Frankly, I doubt whether any turbine installation anywhere will repay the carbon cost of manufacture, transport, erection and eventual disposal.

Gavin said...

Very sound point, John. It's certainly true if you look at the output of those small, roof-mounted, domestic turbines. They have never managed to provide more than a fraction of the advertised energy output, and I think I read that B&Q has finally withdrawn them from sale. It's a shame these devices gave wind power a bad name to some extent, and consumers should have been given much better guidance from government and manufacturers.

But I was really thinking about a bigger size than that - Blackheath is high, windy and pretty empty. I wonder what the largest, most productive installation in a setting like that might be? Are the conditions there good enough to get a decent return on, as you point out, the carbon cost of manufacture etc? It would be interesting to get some solid figures.

Whether even wind power installations are sustainable when there is much less oil - that's another valid debate that should be had.

Gavin said...

I want to add that this kind of question - working out what might be a realistic, feasible project with a worthwhile return, is the kind of thing that transition subgroups would likely do if TW gets momentum and develops. Transition initiatives generally aim to form subject groups, such as food, energy, transport, business, which examine these issues in more detail, instigate projects and ultimately hope to write chapters of an 'energy descent plan' for the area. So if you're interested in getting involved, and you have a particular area of interest or expertise, do make it known and perhaps others with the same interests can start looking at forming one of these subgroups.

It's early days yet, but it's something to ponder.

John said...

Oh, obviously any turbines on the heath would be a bit bigger than the ones B&Q were selling.

A friend was asked to investigate the sort of size that's outside Sainsburys with a view to sticking a couple on top of a new football ground. I can get back of the envelope figures from him, but let's just say the turbines aren't going in.

As for the heath, the windspeed database at (I think grid ref TQ3976 is right) suggests the windspeed on the heath is just over 6m/s, 45m above ground.

I *think* you need at least 7.5m/s to even consider wind power.

Gavin said...

Interesting stuff, thanks John - on this and on double-glazing/solar heating in the other post.

I think it's really important for people to make sure the sums add up when making these investments. One thing to add to your calculations on domestic installations is that it's clear that government subsidies (or perhaps community bulk-buying) probably have to be a very big player if these technologies are going to be used on a useful scale and in a useful timescale.