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Urban micro-wind doesn't work say new trials

Posted by Matthew Rhodes on 19 January 2009 at 2:14 pm

Urban micro-wind doesn’t work in almost all urban contexts and has, on the whole, been poorly deployed and sold for the best part of the last three years. These are two of the objective facts set out in the report of the Encraft Warwick Wind Trials.

On publishing the final report into urban micro-wind last week, we entered the strange world of the media, special interest lobbying and public responses to wind power. Our research is thorough and conclusive, carried out by two members of the Encraft team, and supported by all theory and by existing smaller scale trial work in the field, as well as by most experts and industry participants.

Encraft held a seminar on Tuesday (13th January), which was attended by people from across the industry. The report was well-received, and not contested by any of the significant organisations working in the field. A representative of the Energy Saving Trust (EST), which is running a slightly larger industry-led trial, publicly confirmed that its results, due for publication in three months, will be consistent with ours.

Overall we are pleased that we successfully achieved our desired objectives, of running an open access, customer-led field trial to inform consumers, and that we’ve helped set the agenda for ongoing academic and industry research in this field. We’ve also maintained largely constructive relations with the industry throughout, without compromising our objectivity.

Our major task is to get this message out into the media in a way that encourages better practice in the microwind sector and avoids tarring all other small and large wind generation with the same brush. In practice wind is, of course, an excellent technology for windy sites: it just doesn’t work near buildings or trees. By and large we did this successfully, but having put considerable effort into this I was disappointed with the response of the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA).

We consulted BWEA throughout the trial, and its representatives were at the launch event to witness the high level of industry and customer support for the trial results, but even so it has sought to undermine what we’ve done by attacking our report – including publishing clearly incorrect facts about the nature of sites in the trial. It seems it's worried the project may undermine wind in general.

I think it is completely wrong about this. Small wind customers are often the same people who object to larger wind farms, and are probably the key constituency to get on-side if we are to deploy bigger turbines effectively across the UK. If we do not work with end customers honestly and openly, share data and help people understand how technologies work we cannot expect them to support the industry in the way we clearly need them to.

By taking a negative approach to communications about a straightforward piece of field research and a technology people can relate to, BWEA has made clear it will stand up for larger wind at the expense of constructive development of smaller wind; it has undermined its own scientific credentials and authority by showing itself more concerned about politics and public opinion than facts; and it has made clear it doesn’t care at all about small wind customers – the ultimate guarantors of an economic and healthy industry.

I think the implicit BWEA assumption that growth in the wind sector can be achieved through government lobbying alone is misconceived and counterproductive. Countries like Denmark have shown how effective support for small wind can unlock support for large wind extremely effectively, and the scope is obvious from our own surveys, that show public support for small wind consistent at around 80 per cent.

It is high time we shifted the balance of discussion in the UK away from naked industry lobbying and special pleading and more towards informed customer engagement. We need to find ways to get the microgeneration customer’s voice and interests to the policy-making table in Whitehall. I’d be a strong supporter of a Microgeneration Customers Association or similar. Does anyone else think this is a good idea?

Photo by chikawatanabe

About the author:

Matthew Rhodes is chief executive of Encraft

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