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Wind Turbines – A Blow’ming good idea?

Tuesday, 23rd August 2011 | by: Peter Barry

For those of you that don’t know what a wind turbine is, these are the large ‘space like fans’ that seem to be ever increasingly popping up in the outskirts of many major cities. Despite your first impression their purpose isn’t a barbaric solution to controlling the bird population, but instead a sustainable energy producing system that uses wind to generate energy.

Wind turbines harness the wind’s energy via their blades, as these are blown and forced to rotate, this motion then powers a dynamo, which captures the movement and converts it into a useable form of energy.

Although one might assume wind turbines to be a relatively new technology, they are actually based on a simple and historic design with evidence indicating that they were used as early as 1,000 BC. These early wind turbines, didn’t generate electricity as it was before it’s time, instead the technology was used to pump water from wells or grind grain. The principal was the same as a windmill, the sails or blades would rotate as the wind blew, as they did this, the turbine would perform its function, in the case of most windmills grinding grain and other materials to allow the user to create a variety of products, such a bread.

Although their form has changed since then, their purpose hasn’t, wind turbines are a valuable energy creator that produces electricity daily for millions of people. In the UK & Ireland alone there are handfuls of wind farms; most of which are based off shore. This is not only due to the uninterrupted wind flow, but also the fact that many communities firmly oppose the development of wind farms.

Objections to wind farms vary but are usually based on the principals that their existence ruins the natural format and appearance of the landscape, the turbines create noise when they are in operation, and finally they do have a habit of picking birds out the sky that stray to close.

WindTurbine
In the UK, I think it would be a safe assumption to say that we are all in favour of cheaper energy, however like most development there tends to be a ‘not in my backyard’ approach to wind farms or even a single wind turbine. In my view given the current state of economic affairs, if the construction of wind turbines can reduce our annual bills then we should embrace it and adjust our views to meet the times.

The Government has the rather ambitious aim to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2050, without employing every possible strategy it seems highly unlikely that we will even scratch the surface of that target, and that target isn’t the Government putting on its ‘Green hat’ and quoting the views of an environmentalist, instead it is the Government taking steps to ensure that when fossil fuels do finally run out,  power and fuel doesn’t become the reserve of those that are wealthy enough to afford it, let’s not forget after all that fossil fuels, although slowly, are diminishing.

Wind turbines are not just successful on a large scale such as a wind farm, they can also be used within a residential setting, one of the more famous users of this technology was our Prime Minister David Cameron, before moving to Number Ten Mr Cameron had a wind turbine installed on his London home. Although many saw this as a token sustainable gesture, in many cases residential wind turbines are effective in the right setting.

Generally speaking as much of London is heavily built up, there won’t be sufficient wind strength to really enable the turbine to maximise its energy producing output, or produce the amount of energy to justify the investment. However in the suburbs your average 3 bed semi detached house will likely have sufficient uninterrupted gusts of wind to allow the turbine to maximise its energy creating output and effectively start to pay for itself in the savings it will provide.

Wind turbines are by no means a low cost sustainable option, professional and high watt producing wind turbines, for example a turbine that can actually support the needs of an average family home, will cost upwards of £25,000. However that is taking the view that the turbine would eliminate the need for conventional energy, in reality turbines, as with many other forms of sustainable energy solutions, are better viewed when looking at the potential reduction of the user’s reliance on mains power, and the gradual savings it will make.

With this in mind domestic wind turbines start at the £2,000 mark, obviously the higher the cost, the better the turbine and the more energy it is likely to produce. However you could install the best turbine on the market, but if you property doesn’t benefit from sufficient gusts of wind, it would probably only be your bank manager that you leave spinning! It is also not as straight forward as simply installing the turbine, in many cases the homeowner may have to get planning permission to erect it, and as with any planning application there are fees associated with this.

With the introduction of schemes such as the Government’s Feed in tariff which effectively pays for any energy created that is passed back into the grid, sustainable energy producing solutions such as wind turbines are becoming more affordable and attractive, however when taking a cost focused analysis of turbines when compared to other solutions, you will likely find that there are far more simple ways of reducing your yearly bills such as double glazing or insulation.

One of London’s newest developments, the Strata in Elephant and Castle, includes three 9m diameter turbines incorporated into its design, I imagine sustainable design and energy producing features such as this will become more and more prevalent in the coming years, with sustainable and energy producing elements becoming a common sight in much of our city’s sky line.

It’s likely only a matter of time before these features become more affordable, better incentivised and common amongst our homes.

If you have any questions about this article please do not hesitate to contact the Author.