Indeed, Hugh Piggott, credited by the Guardian as one of the pioneers of small wind turbine tech, does not go in for equivocations. “Don’t make a wind turbine to save money!,” he writes on his website, referring to his pioneering work with wind turbines in his home in Scoraig, north-west Scotland. Piggott acknowledges advances in the industry, but still says that installing a wind turbine should be done out of interest and a desire to use clean energy, rather than a simple financial calculation. “I never thought it was about the money and I still don’t,” he says.
The small wind turbine industry also needs to deal with competition from increasingly affordable photovoltaics (PV), points out expert David Wood, NSERC/ENMAX Industrial research chair in renewable energy at the University of Calgary, Canada. He suggests small wind turbines may be most effectively used in conjunction with PVs. “A mix of PV and wind helps deal with the intermittency of renewable energy generation,” says Wood.
However, small turbines are trying to win customers with the promise of improving energy production and reducing costs. “One of the biggest challenges is the negative image from the past,” says Gosse Hiemstra, from Van der Meer & van Tilburg, in the Netherlands, an independent consultancy firm specialised in innovation, which is collaborating with the European project SWIP. “Small wind turbines were not delivering what they promised. In many cases they were technically poor and the yield of the energy was lower than promised. But now it is much improved and so we have to fight that battle.”
The project is working on tools to improve siting, and reduce maintenance requirements, so that once a turbine is installed consumers can be ensured of maximum productivity. “If you put a small wind turbine on a roof in the wrong place, then it can be in a site where you have no wind, so you have no energy. That can be caused by another building, or a tree,” says Hiemstra. “So we have software where we can find the right place on the roof.”
Hiemstra argues that better use of feed-in tariffs could incentivize adoption of small wind turbines. “When you produce energy by solar or by wind for yourself, you can deliver that to the grid for the amount of yearly use of your home,” he explains. “And that way you get a good price, the same amount you pay to the energy seller, but when you go above that the price is very low.”
While subsidies may be drying up, Hiemstra is hopeful that a renewed interest in generating energy independently will help drive the small wind turbine industry forward.
Contacts and sources: