Talk about Newsnight

Ethical Man - Justin Rowlatt

Will the Tory leader get it up (his turbine that is)?

  • Newsnight
  • 1 Dec 06, 05:51 PM

David Cameron - does he know his onions when it comes to wind turbines?There’s been an impressive response to my blog on the physics of wind turbines. The overwhelming consensus seems to be that small wind turbines are simply not appropriate for most homes.

If that is correct then domestic turbines, which not so long ago looked like proud environmental virility symbols, might very well end up looking like limp gestures. So are some of the high profile people who signed up to micro-wind power now reconsidering?

The most notable wind enthusiast is, of course, the Tory leader David Cameron. His plans to erect a turbine on his home generated acres of newspaper comment along with the ire of some his neighbours. He was awarded planning permission months ago by his local authority but there is still no sign of a turbine on his West London home.

My discreet enquires suggest that Mr Cameron has put the mini-windmill on hold. I understand he is now talking about delaying installation until turbine technology improves. Certainly the architect behind the eco-makeover of his home seems to have doubts. “It’s early days for wind turbines and their efficiency can only get better” Alex Michaelis was quoted as saying by the Evening Standard last week.

Apparently the Tory leader’s attention has also been drawn to another consideration (and an elegant justification for not proceeding) which is that putting a windmill on his house is a security risk because it will make it so easy to identify.

So what of Malcolm Wicks MP? As Energy Minister he emphasised on Newsnight and elsewhere his desire to beat Mr Cameron to erect a turbine. Last month he was appointed Minister for Science and Innovation: has his enthusiasm for the wind technology waned since taking on the science brief?

Mr Wicks says his views haven’t changed one jot. He’s still committed to micro-generation and, as soon as he gets planning permission, hopes to put up a Windsave turbine. He says he is confident the wind above his Croydon home will prove strong enough to generate significant electricity. I wish Mr Wicks the best of luck but remain sceptical that even the strong winds of suburban South London will be enough.

So if turbines aren’t the answer, what is the best way to reduce the carbon footprint of your home?

Until this week I would have argued people like Mr Cameron and Mr Wicks who want to minimise their carbon emissions should sign up to a green electricity supplier or a green electricity tariff. Unfortunately I may have to revise my opinion.

On Wednesday I outed the climate change Minister, Ian Pearson, for not having done so. Then someone wrote in to argue that I may be claiming too much for my green tariff and - worryingly for my family’s carbon footprint - he seems to have a point.

At the moment we’re estimating that signing to a green supplier has cut my family’s emissions by a full ten per cent – one ton of carbon. If my correspondent is correct it is actually much less than that.

The vigorous shoots of my family’s green revolution are wilting before my eyes. So help me: is he right, are green electricity suppliers not as green as they are cracked up to be?

Comments  Post your comment

I have been using a 'green' electricity tariff for some years now, but am aware of one significant problem associated with the idea. Without going into a complicated explanation of how the mechanism for assessing the renewables contribution made by regional electricity suppliers (a system of 'certificates'), the fundamental flaw has been that a loophole has existed (and I believe still exists) which allows them to get away with selling and re-selling the same renewable units of energy. In other words they have not been turning the consumers investment in the so-called green tariff into renewable energy schemes. This is a serious problem that is recognized by government, and is one of the reasons that counting the purchase of electricity on a green tariff is not deemed sufficient to satisfy the renewables obligation on developers in London. However, if you want to make a dent in your residential CO2 emissions I suggest that the two most likely technology candidates are solar hot water heating and ground-source heat pumps, both of which are well proven.

  • 2.
  • At 07:06 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • James wrote:

Yes but you have ignored the many people who have pointed out that your calculation contained a flaw by not taking into account deviation around the average wind speed which indicates that a well-designed turbine would not be quite as useless as you suggest. Especially for those of us in more exposed places than Camden.

In the case of micro-generation and politicians, though, it is the symbolic nature of the gesture that is more important in these early stages of the technology. With incentives and public demand, more novel ways of harvesting power on a micro to midi-scale may be found. Not necessarily wind turbines, I hasten to add.

  • 3.
  • At 07:11 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Robert Borruso wrote:

The problem with quick simple easy fixes is that they rarely stand close scrutiny. The simple fact is that you signing up to a green tariff DOES NOT make the wind blow harder or the old hydro dams refill quicker (which is where the vast majority of 'green' electricity comes from). The reality is that while your personal emissions do go down everybody else's goes up by the same amount giving no overall net benefit. This is because electricity is pooled so by you taking extra green electricity from the limited (by the weather!) green pool more conventional fuel has to be consumed to make up the shortfall for everybody else. An argument is that by spending extra on green tariffs you're helping fund more renewable capacity. This also is questionable because all electricity companies have to abide by the Renewables Obligation which obliges them to increase RE capacity anyway. So arguably you're just subsidising investment that would have happened anyway. This is very contentious issue at the moment and the issues are far more complex than I can explain here. But the truth is that signing up to a green tariff does less than you'd hope when it comes to reducing CO2 emissions – sorry.
I am an INDEPENDENT renewable energy consultant who is keen on cutting through greenwash.

  • 4.
  • At 07:14 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Chris Baskerville wrote:

Wind turbines.
I have to use a wind turbine - not having mains electricity, for a coastal holiday chalet in Cornwall. To keep this running is very expensive, due to the short life of the turbines, the severe corrosion occurring between aluminium castings and the stainless steel mounting poles, and the tendancy of turbine 'burn out' to occur in very high wind speeds. Also a very high mast is required to reach non-turbulent air conditions. My advice is do not install a wind turbine - unless there is no alternative, it is a waste of resources and gives continual hassle in order to be kept in operation.

  • 5.
  • At 07:20 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Ross Keepax wrote:

Why not start with the basics, i.e turn the light of when you leave a room, walk to the train station? Swap the Chelsea tractor for a bicycle.

  • 6.
  • At 07:20 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • dario wrote:

Was the sad little innuendo really necessary as a title. Who's dumbing down? You or the politicians?

  • 7.
  • At 07:24 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Robert Borruso wrote:

As a supplementary note there is only one way to make your electricity CO2 neutral and that is to personally buy Renewable Obligation Certificates ROC's and retire them, taking them out of circulation means that they can't be resold – its the ROC's that make the electricity green not where the electrons came from – bizarrely. I heard that there's a company on the web offering to do this now. They should cost just over 3p per kWh so anyone offering them below this is not playing straight.

  • 8.
  • At 07:31 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Gerry Lynch wrote:

The real problem is that there is no convenient reliable information on the relative advantages/ disadvantages of the various green technologies. The one thing that is reasonably clear is that insulating one's home will reduce carbon emissions. But even then there are arguments about the relative merits of foil-based reflective technology against straightforward insulation.

The challenge to government is to produce scientifically-based statistics on the clear lifetime advantages of the various technologies.

Why is this information not available? I am not a natural cynic but could it be that all political parties are still playing the 'green game'. Do they not realise the serious position our children will face in the next 50 years if we take no action now.

  • 9.
  • At 07:40 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Kuno van der Post wrote:

If we wait for the perfect technology there won't ever be progress. Technology evolves by incremental improvements from fairly poor products into brilliant ones. We could not have had the mondeo without the model T, and computers descended from valves and punch-cards.

At the same time, if we are prepared to put enormous resources into nuclear fusion we must be prepared to give fair chance of fruition to renewables. Society seems willing to forgive the problems facing the Airbus 380 but is amazingly unforgiving of any tiny drawback to windpower, before it has a chance to really turn into something.

It seems that prejudice and distrust of renewables is the biggest problem with their use, not any lack of potential to evolve into thriving solutions.

  • 10.
  • At 07:48 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Ashley Ballard wrote:

Companies are expected to sell on ROCs so that non-renewable suppliers are forced to subsidise renewables, that's the whole point of them. It does not allow polluters to get out of investing in renewables because:
a) the money they pay for the ROCs is being invested in renewables, and
b) they have to pay the climate change levy anyway.

I also don't see how this affects your carbon footprint. The energy you are using is not from carbon, full stop. It's got nothing to do with how many ROCs they voluntarily choose not to sell on, that's just extra ethical behaviour for free. And switching does make a difference, because the more people who switch to a renewable supplier, the more confidence the government will have in increasing the climate change levy and the penalties for not meeting the renewable obligation.

You're making a big fuss about nothing.

  • 11.
  • At 07:54 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Steve Watkins wrote:

Ive always assumed this stuff is mostly eco-marketing, I never understood how it was supposed to actually make a difference to the percentage of energy the country gets from non-carbon sources.

As a layman Ive been looking at alternative energy fow a few years, and Im afraid nearly everything I learnt left me less optimistic. Most of these micro-generation devices will play only a small part, small enough to have to look at how much energy was used in their manufacture very carefully. Others may not scale up to the levels of production necessary, unless the elusive 'promising new manufacturing methods' for things like solar panels actually arrive.

Solar hot water seems to make sense. Banning the incandescent lightbulb will have a measurable impact. Large-scale renewable energy projects, and more localised energy from things such as energy from waste incineration will replace a small but important percentage of national electricity thats currently fossil-fuel or nuclear.

But even at my most optimistic, I see this as solving less than half of the problem. The unglamourous 'conserve energy' approach is where the real action will happen. It doesnt seem to be a popular choice, it doesnt involve buying stuff to try to get us away from the problem. It involves lifestyle choices that marketeers wont have fun trying to sell to the masses.

So I didnt buy solar panels or wint turbines, I got a device to measure how much power all the equipment around the home was actually using. On the basis of what Ive learnt so far, David Cameron should have a press conference where he unplugs his fridge & freezer and buys only fresh local food on a regular basis. His TV should not be too large, and his family should try to stick together in one room when possible, keeping all devices & lighting switched off in unoccupied rooms. Food for everyone should be cooked at the same time, although.

Im only at an early stage with this, for example I havent compared energy use of microwave ovens to traditional ovens yet. But I believe the energy picture is sufficiently dire to warrant looking at these things from a completely differnt starting point. Pretend you have no electricity from the national grid at all, and work out how much you need to get from alternative sources, for just the bare essentials. Unfortunately its the 'essentials' that seem to use the bulk of the power, and many of the practical replacements for them use other carbon-based fuels. This has lead me to studying how much electricity the human body can generate, eg through pedal power, with the amusing realisation that I could self-power a laptop but couldnt generate a nice hot cup of tea!

Psychologically I found it helped to try to get a real feel for the nations current useage. On the national grid website you can watch the electricty supply in near-realtime, and the 8-day graphs can lead to plenty of pondering about what masses of our electricity is being used for.

  • 12.
  • At 07:58 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • pollyanna wrote:

There's no point in him getting it up now because the massive development potential of his site, overshadowed by discussions about the potential greenness of his roof, is still being realised, ie the massive below ground overdevelopment of his house, which may cause a riot to the underground ecology of the area, and to the stability of his neighbours, is still under construction.

  • 13.
  • At 08:03 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Paul wrote:

Buy your green electricity from Ecotricity, all profits are put back in to building new wind turbines. They promiss to match your local suppliers price as well. No I don't work for the company and I have no connection with them whatsoever.

  • 14.
  • At 08:14 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Frank Dobbs wrote:

The best ways of reducing your carbon footprint without changing your lifestyle are to start using biodiesel (re-cycled from renewable vegetable oil) for driving, and wood (e.g. wood pellet automatic central heating - cheaper than oil or gas) for home heating.

If everybody did this we would need a lot more land growing oil crops like rape or soya, and forest such as coppiced willow. That might not be such a bad thing as willow coppice increases diversity of insects and birds, and oil cake remaining after extracting oil is a high protein feed for cattle.

  • 15.
  • At 08:23 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Malcolm Findlay wrote:

It seems strange that given the opportunity to do something we do nothing and then complain that there is a problem! My point really is that there has been huge opposition against large scale wind farms and over new hydro power and even more essentially the putting up of new pylons alongside the A9. Yet then we ask why there is not enough green power available. It seems almost as if we want to be green but we dont want to have any infrastructure incase it doesnt look nice.

It also comes to my attention from this and other debates I have seen that the whole issue is discussed as if it is to make the user feel better. Like 'I have a windmill, thats me done my duty of saving the planet.' However I would tend to see it as more of a progressive process where we try and seek to be more economical and green in the majority of our lifestyle choices.

  • 16.
  • At 08:29 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Simon Morrison wrote:

While the technology for your personal wind turbine is new and, so far, dodgy the technology for the mini exploiting of water power is ancient, relatively simple and efficient. For example when the barbarians were beseiging Rome in 550 AD or thereabouts they cut the aqueducts so the Romans installed undershot water wheels on barges in the Tiber as an emergency measure to grind the city's corn.
We have an emergency now. I live in Truro. How simple would it be to install undershot waterwheels on barges in the Fal estuary(linked to turbines) to take advantage of the huge tidal movement and supply most of Truro's electricity? It could be done all around the country and in the rivers too. In fact Truro was famous for its undershot waterwheels on its three rivers in the Middle Ages - they were a tourist attraction - they could be again.
Windsor Castle, of course, already has a water turbine operating in the Thames.
But I expect it's too easy a solution and the big electricity companies/bureaucracy wouldn't like it at all...
Simon Morrison

  • 17.
  • At 08:30 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Robert Borruso wrote:

For clarity the RO works like this - A coal power station owner has to deliver 5% of his 1000 MWh/yr production renewablely so he buys 50 MWh worth of ROC's from a 50MWh/yr wind farm and the obligation is met. His costs are 2.5p per kWh plus a 3.5p extra for 50MWh/yr 'renewable' portion. However, the cost of wind generated electricity is around 6p per unit so the RO is working subsidising renewables (2.5p electricity sales 3.5p ROC sales for the turbine owner). The problem is that if the actual electrons from the wind farm are delivered without the ROC's to call it green is double counting! Offering renewable electricity at conventional prices means the ROC's are being sold. Yes the RO is getting more turbines built but green tariffs DO NOT reduce the total amount of CO2 from electricity production.

  • 18.
  • At 08:31 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Robert Harvey wrote:

Politicians, and others, may be prepared to make very limited personal gestures of approval towards energy from renewable sources, such as wind turbines (and no, they are not windmills!) But if they were faced with the prospect of a couple of dozen of them (perhaps about 100 metres high) in their neighbourhood they may not be quite so enthusiastic. The simple fact is that wind turbines do not belong near peoples homes, whether on rooves or on distant horizons. Wind turbines represent the industrialisation of the countryside on a gigantic scale, not the solution to global warming, and must be
resisted at every opportunity.

  • 19.
  • At 08:35 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Phil Simpson wrote:

It is true that some green tarifs are less than they appear to be, as a power company that has more demand for green energy than it produces, can sell this demand to a company in the opposite position.
There are however, some companies that only supply green energy and where their investment in future technology is greater than their current demand.
Of course solar water heating is a pretty good bet, but the payback period it still quite lengthy.

  • 20.
  • At 08:35 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Daz wrote:

I was interested to see a Windsave turbine proudly on display inside my local B&Q despite the average windspeeds (in our area) being 4m/s which is the absolute minimum for the windsave to generate <100watts.

Instead of spending £1500 on this I spent £120 on 12 cold cathode bulbs for my kitchen downlights and in the process saved some 450watts every time the lights are on.

Money spent on using less is much more effective than on generating more.

  • 21.
  • At 08:35 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Paul wrote:

Who is the mystery person who has put doubts in Ethical Mans thoughts about green tariff?

What did they say?

Or is this a blogging cliff hanger?

  • 22.
  • At 08:36 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • David Whittaker wrote:

Solar panels, wind turbines, thermal voltaic panels; all appear to have very green credentials but are a very expensive way to save a fraction of an average households electricity. Industry creates far more carbon than residential areas. The ugly truth is that we should simply buy less things, and repair rather than replace when things go wrong. An old car with a smoky exhaust but kept on the road is more environmentally friendly than a brand new motor with cataltic converter due to the enormous amount of energy going into the manufacture of that car. What a marketing nightmare. No wonder they want us to buy some environmental gimmick instead. Turn off lights. Conserve water. Buy less things. End of story.

  • 23.
  • At 08:45 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Robert Borruso wrote:

A quick note about bio-diesel and willow. To supply our current needs this way we'd need more than 50 times more land than we have in the UK. Or we could cut down rainforest to to grow oil palm which is what is happening now to meet the EU 5% bio-diesel directive!!

  • 24.
  • At 08:54 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Bob wrote:

If the figures look promising put a turbine on your roof; if nothing else you will help acclimatise people to seeing blades whirling round. Hopefully the effect will be that when a farmer wants a proper size wind turbine there will be fewer dissenters saying 'it will spoil the view'. When I was a lad, we used to think that windmills were pretty - may be one day people will grow to love wind turbines in the same way (for the sake of the planet, I hope they do).

There is little significant we can do at an individual level, but we should all be trying. May be this is the time for (apparently) futile gestures; hand wringing will not solve the problem. There is no magic bullet. It requires incremental investment and there are lots of different directions. Perhaps what is important about putting a wind turbine on a house is that it is part of a significant culture shift.

  • 25.
  • At 08:56 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Steve Watkins wrote:

Insulation is another really unsexy but important front. Maybe the annoying swarms of double-glazing salesmen in decades gone by did more to help, maybe if that boom started this centruty it would have been marketed in an eco-friendly way?

Also what happens if you put 2 or 3 times the recommended amount of insulation in your loft? Does it continue to help?

I only have single-cavity walls. Is there some sort of insulating material that could be sprayed on the outside of the house that could help? Perhaps some sort of foam made by capturing rhetoric from politicians and adding an egg of ecomarketing?

  • 26.
  • At 08:56 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Will wrote:

Wind turbines of rooftop or industrial scale will do nothing to mitigate rising carbon emissions. It is now 15 years since the first commercial wind farm was commissioned in the UK. Since that time over 1700 wind turbines with combined capacity of 2000MW have been constructed, blighting many of our remaining unspoiled landscapes. Unfortunately, this massive investment in wind energy has failed to prevent an increase in the consumption of fossil and nuclear fuel in our power stations. In 1990, fuel consumption was approximately 75 MTOE (million tonnes of oil equivalent), by 2005, this was 85 MTOE. The massive subsidies that support wind power should be used to develop novel means of reducing carbon emissions. Many other countries (Denmark, Netherlands, Spain) have slashed financial support for wind power - the UK should follow their example.

  • 27.
  • At 08:57 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Sean wrote:

I agree with post #15. Green electricy should be seen as having come from the greenest supplier, rather than one which is 100% green. The low-carbon and sustainability movements are progressive in nature and, given the complexity of our society, a steady shift seems favourable. Put simply, to always choose the best green option (where money allows) encourages the producers of all consumer products to compete for the green pound. For the record, I use Scottish Hydro, and I encourage my customers installing Solar PV systems to use Ecotricity or Good Energy.

  • 28.
  • At 08:58 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • David wrote:

What a crass and frankly pathetic set of over-cooked and unnecessary innuendos. Most people grow out of finding 'hilarious' sexual double-entendre at every turn by the age of 14. I'm surprised the BBC allowed such painful and self-conscious 'humour' to be put up on this site at all (haha, I said up; I can see your 'sense of humour' working its little way into overdrive right now - to put/get something up MUST be a phalic double-entendre just waiting to be uncovered and clearly be worthy of inclusion in the world's premier news resource, right? WRONG. It's pathetic).

The ridiculousness and painfulness of this crudeness is, in fact, up (up! haha) there with 'Dave' Cameron's apparent lack of embarrassment about his 'green' 'modern' 'liberal' image.

  • 29.
  • At 09:06 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Philip wrote:

Justin, leave the double entendres to Graham Norton, Wossie and their ilk..

  • 30.
  • At 09:19 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • paul wrote:

have to agree with comments 6&29. the pathetic innuendo was not needed, we're not in the playground.

  • 31.
  • At 09:25 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Stewart wrote:

I was rather thinking that the "crass inuendo" that seems to have upset so many people adds emphasis to the article by highlighting the impotence of our somewhat flacid politicians who seem to me to be, on the whole, all talk and no trousers.

Do excuse the crude double entendres.

  • 32.
  • At 09:33 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • p andrews wrote:

That's quite enough...if the BBC thinks that it's a good idea to resort to tabloidism, I'm afraid I disagree. I'll use this article as an example of why I don't own a TV when the licence detectors are 'interviewing' me.

  • 33.
  • At 09:42 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • James wrote:

You're right to watch out for secon-rate schemes - if you want an ethical reliable Green energy supplier use Ecotricity.

Domestic wind turbines are a token gesture. Wind turbines need more wind than you find in urban areas, houses tend not to be built in high wind areas. You are far better off using one of the two 100% green elecricity providers (Ecotricity and Good Energy) and using less by turning lights off etc.

  • 35.
  • At 10:12 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Steve Watkins wrote:

So if companies like Ecotricity are good, because they really do lead to more investment & construction of turbines, Id like to know just how much of a difference they are making int he bigger picture. Their own figures talk in terms of investment per customer, but how many customers do they have?

Where can I learn about the wider picture? What is the investment picture for wind energy in this country like? What are the big barriers to wider uptake? How many prime sites are not developed yet? Would it be better to invest our time in lobbying for changes in planning permission systems if these are a big problem? Who has invested most in wind-farms so far?

Isnt local best? So if turbines on our homes are too small, the next step is the local area, the local community, is is possible to group together by street or by council, town, etc, and make a difference that way? Could 'community interest company' be a good legal structure for community generation companies to be formed under?

  • 36.
  • At 10:33 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Christie wrote:

I agree with a few others who have posted; Ecotricity is a good company and one I feel does the best with the money I'm paying for my electricity. They invest the profits in building new wind turbines and wind parks, and they're building up a forest of trees - a tree for every customer who signs up.

  • 37.
  • At 10:35 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Stephen wrote:

Start off by thinking about what you need your energy for. Do you actually need to have a boiler running throughout the day to ensure that you have a tank full of hot water, on the off-chance that an entire football team might suddenly need hot showers? I run solar panels for the water and even today these heat the water to between 25 and 30C. When the sun goes down, and if you need a bath, an immersion heater (with electricty from, in my case, Ecotricity) tops it up. I no longer use my boiler to heat water. If you have a fire place, put in a multi-fuel stove: I keep one running more-or-less continuously. After a few days you really notice the effect because the fabric of your house will start to act as a heat reservoir. Consequently, no need to turn on central heating except as a "top up". You can also boil a kettle on the stove (saving 3kW that an electric kettle uses)! The only disappointing products I've tried recently have been LED light bulbs - nice white light but not enough of it, but they do use a fraction of the power that even "low-energy" bulbs do. Posting 25 asks about insulation that could be applied externally. I asked a surveyor about this, because I wanted to lay aluminium foil / bubble-wrap type insulation over the walls, and then hold it in place with wood "clapboard"-type panels. Need I say that I was told there would be problems from the local planning department...! Look, none of these ideas needs a wind turbine, or photo-voltaics, but then they probably aren't as photogenic...

  • 38.
  • At 10:39 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Leonard Rosten wrote:

Apart from burning hydrogen, there is one and only one way of producing viable quantities of energy without producing carbon dioxide.

That is by using nuclear energy.

The eco warriors will just have to come to terms with this unpalatable fact, hopefully before we all succumb to frostbite.

  • 39.
  • At 10:41 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • Tony Richardson wrote:

There is a misunderstanding of what a small wind turbine can do for you. We use an average of 0.5 units per hour. But our base rate, with just the things on that run continuously is about 0.25. But when we put on a kettle, we go from 0.25 to 2.25 for a few minutes - hence the average of 0.5. So a small wind turbine that will cover the base load is very useful. My figures above are approx, but if they were accurate my Windsave turbine would halve my electricity bill if it runs at only 25% capacity all the time.

  • 40.
  • At 10:46 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • M Wijay wrote:

One reason why there is conjestion in our roads, thereby increasing co2 emissions is that train travel is out of reach of many.A journey to a city in the north can cost more than flying across to New York. This reflects the pricing of rail travel to other towns from London. A few years ago a return train ticket from Rome to Naples was about £12.00. Could similar pricing ever happen here?. Of course one can argue that Italy is not UK.

  • 41.
  • At 11:10 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • John Wilson wrote:

Let me state that my home is new and has been constructed at great expense to insulate and provide the most sophisticated underfloor heating system
to accomodate a ground source heat pump
with a view to reducing emmissions and ultimately cost - lets get this clear
it does not work. The most heat that can be extracted is 35 degree differential and it simply cannot provide the amount of heat required for an average dwelling in the UK. It would work in Iceland with the volcanic activity they have. Neither is photo voltaic cell viable since we don't have enough Sun and the technology is to expensive.

  • 42.
  • At 11:38 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • David Smith wrote:

We need some joined up thinking from goverment with this Train fares to rise Bus fares to rise in the new year expantion of heathrow to allow more traffic in the air more bus lanes more speed humps slowing traffic down and creating more co2 if the goverment wants us to cut carbon emissions then make public transport affordable

  • 43.
  • At 11:51 PM on 01 Dec 2006,
  • mark noble wrote:

I have read tonight's comments, and frankly am none the wiser. We operate a large coastal family entertainment centre, we have difficulty in maintaining twenty two flags secured on columns around the centre. We have a near six figure electric bill, wind turbines producing electric whilst designed to enhance the building would seem a logical solution, both in reducing our carbon footprint and our utility bills. Can we make a difference to global carbon emissions, very little according to what I am reading, I recently read that if all the cars were removed from British roads, global emission would be reduced by 0.2%, with China building a new coal fired power station every 20 days, are we not fighting a losing battle. Technology in renewable energy combined with switching off lights when not required will all help but let us get this into perspective, globally we will make no noticeable difference. Building control could help enormously we are required to burn emergency outdoor lighting during the daylight hours, why? Bureaucracy. This happens in every commercial building in the UK. Somebody please act to stop this nonsense.

As an installer of renewable technologies, including the StealthGen turbine it is frustrating to see so much mis-information and misguided commentry on the subject, although understanderble at this early stage. The most important thing about wind turbines is for them to be correctly posistioned, even a small turbine like the StealthGen will generate a useful amount of electricity. Microgeneration works! The argument that because the impact is small, it is not worth doing, is wrong. One hundred pennies makes a pound, and many microgenerators make a difference.

  • 45.
  • At 12:04 AM on 02 Dec 2006,
  • Gordon wrote:

Well done Justin Rowlatt for exposing the bent deal on micro wind generation which also appears to have caught the mackerel in the blog by Paul Mursell that commercial wind farms aren't much use when it comes to sustainable energy either. I believe that one offshore wind-farm only produces 28% of the projected energy, is it not time we stopped subsidising such white elephants. As for water heating solar panels, BBC Rouge Traders exposed them for the scam that they have become just a couple of months ago.

  • 46.
  • At 12:06 AM on 02 Dec 2006,
  • Martyn wrote:

Who cares about Mr Cameron; after all like all politicians he's interested in PR. Some tips:

1. If you buy your electricity from a green supplier then by default you are effectively cutting your CO2 emissions. Of course it's not 100% perfect, but the fact is it's better then buying it from a supplier who has no green credentials at all, and like for like that's most of the huge energy suppliers.

2. Putting up a micro wind turbine will be pretty useless for a good proportion of the country because wind speeds are generally low, but at the end of the day it WILL generate some green energy and that WILL be offset against your energy use. That will save you money over the life of the machine.

3. As people have said this is all utterly futile unless you actually cut your energy consumption in the first place. In my kitchen I had 6 x 50W Halogen down lighters. Now I have 6 x 1W LED down lighters which will last 50,000 hours. Thats a 50 fold saving in power consumption. All my bulbs are now 9W energy efficient units or LED based. Massive savings and it means my micro turbine supplies and even bigger proportion of my energy. I save money.

4. Unless we get a bit positive about renewables and start investing in them NOTHING will ever change. Efficiency will NOT improve. We are talking about £1500 at the end of the day for a Windsave unit. Thats quite a bit of cash for me but for Mr Cameron – peanuts. As for this article I suggest instead of dreaming up funny but utterly absurd titles for news articles writers should actually start thing about benefits. Put simply it is a good thing to have people saving energy, using green energy suppliers and installing micro renewables. To do nothing is a huge leap backwards.

As far as I'm concerned you should save energy first – there you make the biggest savings. Then switch to a truly green energy supplier sand finally install a micro renewable energy source (solar, wind, geothermal etc). All are steps in the right direction and while you may not save millions you WILL SAVE and are setting a superb example to others! Positive thinking folks; after all, why hand over your cash to filthy rich corporations when you can make and save your own energy!!!

  • 47.
  • At 09:20 AM on 02 Dec 2006,
  • Alan Calder wrote:

In response to the depressing comments by John Wilson in comment 41 - ground source energy does work! I converted my house in an almost total rebuild - it was a wreck - to underfloor heating, massive insulayion and ground source heating. Works beautifully. Heats the house no problem even in the coldest part of last winter. Does the hot water supply also. Energy bills are very reasonable. I would hazard my total energy costs at about ?400 a year at the moment. It is an expensive system but if it was more widely used the price would come down. What we need is a government drive to actually spend money on converting our appallingly poorly insulated housing stock to the most modern levels of heat retention. This would be mean spending less in more traditional areas, foriegn wars perhaps? The puplic also need to get involved - spend on the house to get it efficient and forget about the other very attractive fripperies we are constantly encouraged to buy.

  • 48.
  • At 09:59 AM on 02 Dec 2006,
  • Rob Basto wrote:

Bigger is better! Forget a wimpish windmill on your roof - go for a macho yet elegant 2 megawatt turbine.

These provide plenty of clean electricity and give a healthy return on investment (an good indication that they provide genuine benefits). It seems to be quite easy for communities in towns and villages to get together to build a wind farm, see for more details.

  • 49.
  • At 11:02 AM on 02 Dec 2006,
  • keithhaworth wrote:

The problem we are facing with regard energy and polution from its production, at root is the result of Cartesian/Newtonian/mechanistic thinking which it is fundamentally fragmentary and is used as a means of maintaining power and wealth in the hands of the elite few. So long as control of the production and delivery of energy is secured in such a manner the whole systemic picture will not be envisioned, nor will the necessary transformative solutions be implemented.

The National Grid - which though it could be said to be one of the few connected up parts of ths whole mess we call modern civilisation - epitimises the problem as it is inherantly wasteful, dissipating in the process energy conversion and delivey to the consumer in the region of 70% of the original stored chemical energy of the source carbon based fuel.

Talk of ground source heating as an alternative to direct burning of oil or gas in order to reduce CO2 emmissions is a red herring unless the source of the electricity used by the pump is produced and delivered in a green manner, as even with 3:1 COP they will only return 90% fuel energy imput/heat output efficiency, the same as current SEBUK 'A' rated boilers.

As part of the solution to the energy shortage/climate change problem, energy supply and consumpion need to be brought closer together, enabling both heat and power to be produced by one set of machinery (using the well- established, tried and tested technology of Combined Heat and Power generation) of 'appropriate' scale for LOCAL community 'need'.

Regarding technology, we may know the HOW, but do we know the WHY?

We may within the present system need to drive a car to get to work. We do not need a car capable of towing a traler over a mountain goat track, nor of circuiting Brands Hatch at 155mph. We do need to get realistic and honest about what we are doing, and to qestion the motivations underlying our actions.

It is of vital importance in this debate that we examine the notion of need; to consider that though the Earth's energy and other resources are significant they are nevertheless finite; and to state once again, in the here and now, that:


  • 50.
  • At 04:16 PM on 02 Dec 2006,
  • Chris Linthwaite wrote:

Wind turbines are useful if you have a large enough number to power a small town thus reducing the carbon footprint of a large number of people.

Mr Cameron has been able to fill agreat many column inches with his little wind turbine. It would be interesting of course to see how many years it would take for this turbine to payback the carbon emmissions used in the modernisation of his home.

I have found the savings by ensuring that my home is properly insulated have been much more beneficial. (If you are over 65 it is free contact Age Concern for a reputable company) Although the use of low energy lightbulbs is more problematic. They may save me money over their lifespan, but in the longer term, it appears that I may be doing more harm to the planet.


there is more than enough for no more than enough.

"Don't speak to me of shortage. My world is vast
And has more than enough -- for no more than enough.
There is a shortage of nothing, save will and wisdom;
But there is a longage of people."

Vaya con Gaia

for the gentleman who flogs Stealthgens, I believe the gentleman mentioned below had one!
from the Times:,,2087-2450133_2,00.html
from which
"Donnachadh McCarthy, who finally installed one on the roof of his south London terraced home in October 2005. His experience has not, however, been what he hoped for. “In the two months since I had my wind turbine refitted, it’s produced 1.3 kilowatt hours. That’s about enough to power a low-energy light bulb.”

He also finds his house vibrates slightly when the turbine is in operation. It is a common problem."

-by my maths, that gives a whole 7.8kw/h over a year - worth at most 78p!!!!!!!!! So if you're talking 1500 quid for one mounted with a grid-tie, that'll take over 1500 YEARS to pay back.
It is not that they are relatively inefficient, they just don't give any realistic power if roof-mounted!

  • 53.
  • At 02:50 AM on 04 Dec 2006,
  • John Wilkins wrote:

This is starting to look like a sham of a show. We pay the BBC and they won't even let us see a house with a wind-turbine ? which may be the flagship of 95% British homes' source of power in 5 years ? Instead we are to be given the impression they are useless from a few jobsworths ? We have already seen an expert say the house couldnt be cavity insulated.

Why doesn't he at least ask a few people who already have one installed ? Heres someone who have got 7KW from 2 weeks.

How closely has he read the government sites about eco-energy ? People can apply for their own ROCs with a wind turbine. The excess that goes back to the grid is paid for (depends on suplier agreeing), and it means clean energy going into the system, so there is no need for a battery. He really should talk to government people. Try the energy savings trust.

My main concern about turbines is noise. Stealthgen is supposed to be silent (?)

My understanding is that homes produce 30% CO2, whereas flights are only 5.5% (or less). Microenergy will be in such demand that that problem will solve itself.

Getting rid of the car and no-flying was puritanically pointless. People won't do that. I wouldn't expect them to. Im assuming Justin won't either, once the year is up. Microenergy on the other hand, will be a very important long-term part, while manufacturers get on with cleaning up car fuel and airplane fuel.

I think also local-energy may play a big part, such as big turbines for local communities.

How people can decide mini turbines are useless at this stage, and how so much misinformation is confidently bandied about, is beyond me.

heres an (out of date ?) quote from the windsave site about ROCs

Renewable Obligations Certificate (ROC's):
Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) are Government sponsored credits that involve no taxation. These are available for generation of electricity from renewable sources and will shortly become available for Windsave customers. The Windsave system will qualify for these credits on the same basis as the large wind farms. Currently an annual ROC credit is worth approx £60 per mega watt. The Windsave system on average will produce sufficient electricity to claim one ROC. Further information will follow shortly.

And windsave aren't the only turbine makers. there are about 2 dozen approved.

  • 54.
  • At 04:07 AM on 04 Dec 2006,
  • John Wilkins wrote:

Having said all that (above post), my 'hunch' is that vertical-axis wind-turbines make more sense for urban houses, which makes me wonder why B&Q opted for windsave.

My first (naive ?) port of call would be photovoltaic solar panels though.

In response to comment 52 and for this topic in general: A well positioned StealthGen will produce a lot more than 7.8 kWh per year, in fact it could produce this easily on a windy weekend! Not only is the StealthGen being tested at Nottingham University and other testbed sites but those with them actually installed can vouch for their productivity. But I emphasise again the need to position them correctly. Personally having installed them and then watched the inverter showing between 20-70w of constant power being produced on a moderately windy day you can do the maths and work out that even at an average of 35w output that is 0.84 kWh per day. The manufacturers state that the StealthGen can produce about 1.8 kWh per day and this is a perfectly realistic claim. The StealthGen is also very quiet and low-vibration, where as the Windsave to the best of my knowledge is not. Also Nottingham City Council have advised us that planning permission for the Windsave will not be allowed as it exceeds their noise limits. I am not sure what other Local Authorities are stipulating but I would be interested to know.

7 kilowatts in a fortnight - 70p!
Over a year, about 18 quid - wow, that'll be a really swift payback then!
I too have experimented with micro turbines - a well built one, on a proper mast, well away from obstructions will work extremely well - there is just not enough wind over town roofs to have the power extracted by them!
I note also that the Windsave has a meter that tells you what it's produced, but there isn't one showing the constant current drain by the inverter unit!

  • 57.
  • At 05:08 PM on 04 Dec 2006,
  • John Wilkins wrote:

The important thing to remember is that this is a start and the turbine isn't meant to completely replace the current energy source for the house. For me, I would be extremely happy with about 800w per hour per year on average. That might mean weeks where it doesnt spin. As long as the year works out 800w per hour on average. Even 500w would be nice. Under 100w would not be nice. Aside from heating and the fridge, most of the average load in a house would likely be covered by under 1kw easily. A computer doesnt take much energy. Neither does a lcd tv. People don't need to choose between low-energy bulbs and a turbine. Most will choose both. A hairdryer takes up a lot of energy.

The whole idea is to help with renewable energy. Its not really about money. He has just given away his car for 20 euros. Most people are easily paying 30% more with their current supplier than they need to. Why so much thought goes into payback on turbines in comparison to buying a car or a computer or a sony playstation, I dont know ? most families will have £1000 worth of toys for their kids this christmas, most of it never being played with.

Since B&Q have just started selling these things, I think a demo of one on a house over months could be seen as a public service. If it turns out useless and can be seen to be so over months (not a few weeks of moaning), he is saving a lot of enthusiastic well-intentioned people £1500. If his hoiuse is proven to be not suitable, then fair enough. But get a second and third opinion.

Whenever the thing is turning, its either being used or putting energy back into the grid.

  • 58.
  • At 05:39 PM on 04 Dec 2006,
  • John Wilkins wrote:

to me it looks like the 'Swift' turbine may be a better option (if they worked).

gain in monetary terms : grant + ROC + excess back to the grid


  • 60.
  • At 01:15 PM on 06 Dec 2006,
  • keith haworth wrote:

What sort of games are we playing here? Bandaid piecemeal individual actions are not going to solve our energy/climate change problems. What we have is a collectively made problem founded on false generalized application of the Cartesian/Newtonian paradigm. What we have here is a whole system issue, which requires examination from a holistic systemic perspective, and corresponding changes of values and behaviour.

Britain is playing nothing but lip- service to these issues, the government's programmes, such as its so called Major Photo-Voltaics Programme have been woefully under-funded, and unsuccessful when compared with the actions of other EU countries including Spain, and especially Germany.

In Brown's last budget, he stated that he was making available £50m for renewable energy projects, but, if I remember correctly, at the same time dedicating £640 million to the London Olympics. It's plain where his interests lie, and what of the costs of the Iraq fiasco?

Now, Blair states that he supports not only a new generation of nuclear power stations, and, interestingly, a replacement for the Trident Nuclear Deterrent. Where are his interests and Values? What sort of POWER generation, or maintenance, are we looking at here?

We do not need new generation capacity, we need to save energy and reduce demand, and again in this area Germany is light years ahead of Britain. It's new chancellor upon being elected immediately initiated a programme to bring the energy efficiency of all houses built prior to 1975 up to the country's latest, extremely high, energy efficiency standards over a 20 year period; Britain is not even talking about such real and immediately effective actions.

As to transport emissions, these do actually account for 30+% of UK emissions, and though motorists are now told they will be taxed for using the roads; we have the most inefficient and expensive mass transport system in the EU, if not the world - a legacy of government policies and actions going back to the 60s - and except in a few forward looking cities - such as Sheffield, there is no realistic alternative to the car use. A perfect situation for a government hell bent on extracting money from the masses, in order to fund the 'enrichment' of the powerful controlling few.

As an isolated island nation we still appear to be engrossed and immersed in a culture of so called individualism and 'free' choice, and seem too blinded by pride or arrogance - a residue from our colonial paternalistic/ robber baron past - to even look to what is happening in other countries, let alone learn from their actions.

Instead, we buy the story of fear and greed, and enthusiastically join the latest chapter of colonizing capitalism - through 'investing' in overseas markets and foreign property - and accept a government still obsessed with growth and aggressive competitive behavior at home and abroad.

It's a sorry picture, and one in dire need of major cultural transformation.

Depressed Keith

According to the 2006 Green Guardian Awards, Review of the Year - Croydon [page 42]:

"Croydon North MP and Energy minister Malcolm Wicks followed in the footsteps of Tory leader David Cameron and received planning permission to have a micro wind turbine installed at his south Croydon home."

From which it appears that Malcolm Wicks does now have planning permission. Presumably then he is installing his Windsave turbine at this very moment.

When we've all saved our tiny little contribution by using the hoplessly inefficient wind power and slightly better solar we would do well to reflect on its overall effect on global warming. Unless USA, China and India start on serious attempts to reduce emmisions little or nothing caqn be acheived whatever we do. Stop ALL UK emissions tomorrow (impossible, of course) and China's current rate of opening new coal powered generarting plants will have replaced everything we would have saved within 10 months. Our effect is therefore likely to do little but give us a warm eco-glow - and that will increase global warming !!

  • 63.
  • At 11:23 AM on 09 Jan 2007,
  • Richard Crowley wrote:

keith haworth in post 60 has, more or less, hit the environmental 'nail on the head'
The truth is that very few people care care about the environment in any way. I live near a local urban school and most pupils are brought to school by car when they are ALL within a short walking distance. This is just one of the many dozens of examples I can cite as to why we are wasting our time talking about "renewable" energy. The "Tweeny Greenies" think they have the answers, but few of them are engineers or scientists, or even real thinkers!
Best wishes keith, you know more about it than most.

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