A UK government proposal to lift planning permission restrictions on domestic ‘microgeneration’ technologies could remove market barriers for micro-wind turbine technology.
Despite a reported increase in consumer interest in domestic micro-wind turbines, many potential customers have been put off by the high costs associated with the planning-permission process. David Gordon, CEO of Glasgow-based industry leader Windsave, says current UK planning regulations are “crippling the sector.” However, things may be about to change for the better. With a UK Government proposal to lift planning permission restrictions on microgeneration technologies, the market may be opened-up to micro-wind turbines.
Small-scale domestic wind turbines, such as those produced by Windsave, provide households and businesses with the opportunity to generate their own power, a concept known as microgeneration. The UK Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) has been implementing policy reforms to promote microgeneration and remove barriers currently preventing its widespread take up; micro-turbines are seen as a realistic home-power generation option.
A change in planning regulations combined with the UK Government’s policy to promote microgeneration could enable companies such as Windsave to reach a much wider market. Since it was founded in June 2006, Windsave has installed approximately 1 000 micro-wind turbine units. The recognised success of the Scottish company – it was joint winner of the product category in the 2006 European Business Awards for the Environment – has seen demand increase dramatically. With a current order list of over 6 500, and more than 24 000 inquiries, there is certainly a market for microgeneration.
“While microgeneration legislation would help the micro-wind industry, the planning issue has to be addressed to enable the sector to progress realistically, as the current restrictions are grinding the business to a virtual standstill,” says David Gordon.
A report into the domestic application of micro-wind turbines published by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) Trust had cast doubts on the viability of such technology in certain locations. However, Windsave supports the report’s conclusion that mounted wind turbines are most viable when total installed cost is low, when they require relatively little or no maintenance; and particularly when fitted only on adequate wind resource sites.
In many ways, the report matches the company's belief that building mounted wind turbines in urban areas only make sense where there is sufficient wind, where they are maintenance free for ten years and where they cost less than £2 000 (€2 500). Payback is highly dependent on the wind speed, which varies strongly from one area to another.
The BRE study asserts that characteristics of developed urban areas, such as tall buildings and resulting low winds, would have a detrimental effect on the productivity of micro-wind turbine systems, meaning in many cases they would not provide offices and homes with an adequate amount of energy to justify an investment in such a system. They calculated the output of a turbine situated on the roof of a typical house in a city such as Manchester, as being less than 150 kWh per annum; an amount that would equate to just 2% of the energy consumption of an average house.
Windsave implements a strict site survey policy, and will not install a turbine until a robust site assessment has taken place. This ensures that turbines are not installed in locations where wind speed is less than 4.5 m/s, or that are situated in close proximity to higher buildings or other significant sources of wind turbulence. BRE’s recommendations strongly support this approach, concluding that the worst performing sites from the study were those that do not meet Windsave’s installation criteria.
The report discovered that a micro-wind turbine system installed on the roof of a house in Lerwick, Scotland, would provide around 40% of the energy used in a typical household – a significant amount in the context of the concept of microgeneration.
Developers of micro-wind turbine technology insist that potential energy yields are constantly rising and argue that in the right location, particularly on tall office buildings, significant carbon and cost savings may be delivered.
“Micro-wind turbines designed to be mounted on both new build and existing homes could be very useful weapons in the fight against climate change,” comments Dr Martin Wyatt, chief executive of the BRE Trust Group. “However, we need to improve their whole life performance significantly and provide independent assessment of that performance combined with simple advice on where to use and not use them, before we move to large scale installation. Without these improvements we are as likely to accelerate global warming as slow it.”
Despite winning a 2006 European Business Awards for the Environment for its micro-turbine which offered customers 30% savings on their electricity bills, Windsave has been hampered by a variety of financial and legal obstacles in the domestic and international markets. CEO David Gordon has called for more favourable planning legislation across Europe to encourage the adoptions of such microgeneration methods by the general public. Planning legislation varies strongly among Member States but Gordon believes there should be one standard for the whole of the EU as well as common certification. He also calls for more support to promote such eco-innovation.
Microgeneration is the term given to small scale electricity and heat generating systems that can be installed in domestic and small business buildings. It offers a viable way to help to meet the EU's challenging 2020 renewables and greenhouse gas targets, by allowing the generation of energy from secure and reliable small-scale installations. The term encompasses systems that generate power from renewable sources, as well as low carbon and zero carbon technologies. A large selection of technologies fall under the heading of microgeneration systems, such as: cogeneration technologies – combined heat and power (CHP) and fuel cells; electricity generation technologies – solar photovoltaic (PV); wind turbines, micro hydro; heat-generation technologies – solar heating; heat pumps – ground, air or water source; and biomass heating.
BERR Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS):
Wind microgeneration systems up to 1 kW will cost around £1 500 (€1 860) whereas larger systems in the region of 2.5 to 6 kW would cost between £11 000 (€13 600) and £19 000 (€23 500), according to the UK Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR). These costs include the turbine, mast, inverters, battery storage – if required – and installation. Such turbines can have a life of up to 22.5 years but require service checks every few years to ensure they work efficiently. For battery storage systems, typical battery life is around six to ten years, depending on the type, so batteries may have to be replaced at some point in the system's life.
BERR Low Carbon Buildings Programme – wind turbine: