…And it’s not just due to the blustery weather that’s battering the island. Yet again, it seems that its back in fashion to dislike the blighters and I can’t help but feel a little sorry for them!
Wind power, particularly the big farm kind, have always had their doubters, but mainly due to their aesthetic displeasure. Over the last few weeks we’ve been hearing about the Scottish wind farms that have been paid (handsomely) to shut them down for producing power at the wrong time; plans for more offshore farms have been heaved overboard; and a Sunday Times article by Sylvia Plath (the former poet laureate Ted Hughes’ daughter) having a good rant about them. But is it just me or is this abuse and skepticism is now getting a bit tiresome? Some years ago when this technology was in its infancy (and I’m not thinking of the middle ages and windmills here) there was many concerns about their appearance and practicalities. We have all hoped that something better, cheaper and more consistent would have come along by now, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In some ways, I think public attitudes are beginning to homogenise – we realise that things need to be done fast, but expect a one-size-fits-all solution. So how come all our power plants aren’t all the same? Any one particular solution was deemed most suitable, for that time, that location and in those circumstances. Similarly, why don’t all 2.4 families drive that type of car, while every male yuppie drives one of those? For exactly the same reason as above, but with an extra side of personal taste thrown in for good measure! Or is it because the Ford Focus was slightly cheaper? Or that tax was less over its lifetime?
As with most renewable technologies, it is all a matter simply of good specification – the right kit for the correct location. The former article in question takes on their abysmal inefficiencies and quite rightly concludes that if this were a car then nobody would buy it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but efficiency is generally calculated by comparing the input versus the output and are different to any engine, process or whatever else it is measuring – like benchmarking. So comparing a car’s efficiency to a wind turbine’s is just a silly and pointless journalists’ trick. But more to the point, I would like to know who actually believes they can use weather forecasts to predict what efficiencies might be possible – this is the engineering equivalent of guessing the outcome of the Eurovision song contest based on musical ability!
Disregarding the massive issue of their visual impact, if these machines overcame their embodied energy and actually produce some ‘free’ energy, isn’t this enough? Should we not be happy that we are creating something from (almost) nothing? And if time is a major concern, we do already know how to put them together…
So a problem seems to be the variety of people’s expectations from renewables, but more worryingly, the amount of ill-advised schemes that have cropped up over the last few years that take advantage of some poor governmental policies eg FITs. My personal view is that their application is not quite right. After all, we never seem to get generous blowing gales that coincide with advert breaks during Coronation Street do we? Hence, we need combinations for this to work, aside from resorting to masses of batteries. Water tanks, usually associated with the Australian Outback, for instance, use wind turbines to drive a pump to keep a tank of water full in order to keep a fairly steady supply of water pressure for other uses. Or a hybrid gas-wind turbine that can go on producing power.
On the other, greener side of the argument, it is heartbreaking to see many people opting for renewables in order to reduce their environmental footprint. They may make a bit of money along the way, but I’ll bet my last rolo that the local power station won’t be turning down their output a single notch, based on Mr and Mrs Green’s wind turbine, or indeed if 100 or 10000 such houses did the same. At present, power stations base their consumption on estimating demand and even taking into account such additional, generated power put into the grid; it cannot be relied upon due to the unreliability of climates. And still, our overall ‘consumption’ is increasing every day. It’s quite a well-known fact that power companies look through radio times to predict peak times, so how about last fortnight, when a certain European crooning contest goes on air and all those people who said they would not be watching, did, in fact, watch?
As you can tell, I’m in two minds about many renewables, but particularly those that take advantage of the wind. On one hand, they provide free ongoing energy. I admire their grace and gadgetry. On the other, they are the modern embodiment of a money tree, paid for by ill-informed, ill-advised wannabe do-gooders that are spoiling it for everyone else!