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Micro-wind picking up again?

When we take on a technology field trial, we start from a position of neutrality. We certainly want low-carbon technologies to be performing brilliantly, but if they’re not, steps need to be taken based on an honest assessment to make sure they do.

It’s fair to say our 2009 report Location, Location, Location looking at micro wind turbines, didn’t please everyone – least of all the industry making the technology.

Even though the trial showed micro-wind can work well, it also showed highly variable performance, largely based on us finding out that siting these turbines was much more instrumental in good performance than was previously thought. This meant that we suggested the greatest markets for the products were in rural, exposed areas, and nationally-speaking, Scotland.

But independent reports delivered honestly do bring change. Our ongoing heat pump field trial, now in phase 2, has already brought about new standards agreed between business and government, and Lit Up has helped increase confidence in the performance of LEDs.

An effective industry may understandably smart at initial findings that don’t present an altogether glowing picture of their field, but sooner or later, it will get on with the task of making things better. And there are now some signs of real promise that micro-wind is going to make something of a comeback, new and improved.

Ecotricity have struck the first blow in getting the early news out there. They’ve been publicising the final tests of a new turbine design, the vertical-axis ‘urbine’. The company’s owner Dale Vince had this to say on the developments, words that very much echo our performance findings from turbines sited in urban areas four years ago:

Large windmills rotate on a horizontal axis and do a great job because they turn themselves to track the prevailing winds, but our 20 years of experience have shown us that closer to the ground and in more built up areas, you get completely different conditions with the wind constantly changing direction.  "Micro windmills with that horizontal design spend too much time searching for the wind. A vertical-axis turbine, such as the Urbine, doesn't care which direction the wind comes from, so is perfect for the more challenging wind conditions where micro windmills get installed.”

Needless to say, our field trials and monitoring team would love to give the new model a spin. It would be safe to assume that if one company’s on the case, others will be too: it seems the buzz really is back for micro-wind – one which hopefully turns into the real-life contented buzz of better turbines on people’s homes in the near future.

In ‘big turbine’ news, we were also interested to see that there appears to be a technological breakthrough in getting over problems associated with siting wind farms close to airports. It’s obviously important for radar to be able to distinguish between a plane and a turbine, and a British company has made the technology to do just that.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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