Feeds

Carbon Trust: Rooftop windmills are eco own-goal

Perhaps we should stop subsidising them

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Not only would rooftop turbines in built-up areas be an enormous money-pit (barring crippling electricity price rises), they would also be bad for the environment. More greenhouse gas would be emitted during their manufacture, shipping, installation and maintenance than would be saved at power stations. The Carbon Trust people considered the case of the SWIFT turbine, a representative model.

Assuming that the entire household population of UK urban areas has this machine installed ... in the majority of cases (over 80 per cent), yields are less than 500 kWh/year ... over 50 per cent of installations have a carbon payback of more than 20 years, which is beyond the expected life of the turbine ...

So an urban rooftop windmill normally produces well under 2 per cent of the energy requirements of an average UK household*, represents an enormous financial loss, and will normally increase the world's greenhouse gas emissions rather than reducing them. So you'd have to be mad to install one.

In fact, no you wouldn't - because the government will give you money or tax breaks for a roof turbine. Even though it's usually expensive and actually bad for the environment, thanks to the various kinds of eco-subsidies (particularly those built into the low- and zero-carbon buildings regs) it may make sound financial sense to buy a windmill.

Some government grants are not conditional on site wind speed and electricity generation potential. This carries the possible risk of grants being awarded to installations which save little carbon ...

Only certain sites amongst all places where small turbines could possibly be installed are actually suitable for installation ...

A range of policies is encouraging the growth of small-scale wind energy in the UK, including the Low Carbon Buildings Programme, Permitted Development Rights (PDRs) for domestic installations and the Code for Sustainable Homes.

It is recommended that ... In any future grant schemes, a criterion is used to measure likely carbon savings ...

You'd think that grant schemes with the phrases "low carbon" and "sustainable" in their titles would have such criteria, but this seems not to be the case.

This is all quite hard for the Trust to say - being eco-quangocrats, they are the kind of people who would love to believe in a Blighty powered largely - or even partly - by renewable microgen. But, through gritted teeth, they admit that "up to 1.5 TWh could be generated [annually] ... these figures are fairly low ... [if the cost of wind turbines halved, this] could change to 3.1 TWh ..."

"Fairly low"?

The UK used 2,700 terawatt-hours of energy in 2006, actually, so we're talking about a thousandth of our energy supplies at the very outside. A better description would be "insignificant" or "microscopic".

It would be nice to think that this finally puts a merciful stake through the heart of the seemingly unkillable home-windmill idea, but it probably won't. Even the Carbon Trust didn't much like reading their own numbers, and it will be surprising if anyone else bothers to heed them. For a lot of people, off-grid living and microgeneration are religious/moral standpoints, not sets of engineering techniques; they won't be swayed by mere numbers, even ones from fairly right-on types like the Trust.

The rest of us, though - unless we happen to live on a windy hilltop out in the boonies - might reasonably file the roof-turbine plans in the bin and think of something else. ®

*According to the UK Office of National Statistics.

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
FORGET the CLIMATE: FATTIES are a MUCH BIGGER problem - study
Fat guy? Drink or smoke? You're worse than a TERRORIST
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
HUMAN DNA 'will be FOUND ON MOON' – rockin' boffin Brian Cox
Crowdfund plan to stimulate Blighty's space programme
Post-pub nosh neckfiller: The MIGHTY Scotch egg
Off to the boozer? This delicacy might help mitigate the effects
I'M SO SORRY, sobs Rosetta Brit boffin in 'sexist' sexy shirt storm
'He is just being himself' says proud mum of larger-than-life physicist
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Getting ahead of the compliance curve
Learn about new services that make it easy to discover and manage certificates across the enterprise and how to get ahead of the compliance curve.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.