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A stiff breeze behind wind power

Photo: Graeme Smith

Wind turbines are very rarely out of the press. In fact, it’s arguable that the technology has become the icon at the centre of the climate change/ energy policy ideological battleground. Lately, subsidy cuts and planning wrangles have provided the negative angles.

But out there, big things are getting done in the wind industry. The London Array is the world’s largest offshore wind farm, and it’s just been opened in the Thames Estuary to an unsurprising level of interest.

It’s the sheer quantity of stakeholders that make wind power the hot topic it is: environmentalists, business, governments, bird-watchers, consumer watchdogs, straight-up don’t like ‘em sceptics and more all have things to say.

It’s inevitably going to be hard to come up with a plan that makes everyone happy. The new development is 630MW of wind – enough to power half a million homes, and certainly if wind power gets bills and carbon emissions down in the coming decades, there’s an argument for greatest happiness for the greatest number. But in the now, arguments will rumble on.

The think tank IPPR has also chipped into the wind power debate. In a recent piece for Business Green, Will Straw looks at UK manufacturing and skills capacity as it relates to offshore wind. He makes an economic case (improving the balance sheets as we import less energy), geographic advantages, and the potential in terms of jobs in industrial heartlands that have endured hard times.

But overall, the tone was very cautious: lots to do in order to achieve potential, essentially, not least in upgrading critical infrastructure like ports, and offering more students the chance to academically tool themselves to enter the industry.

Wind is an area that the real titans of technology are looking at. Google have got the best brains from their Google X Innovation Unit on the case, in fact. It will probably come as no surprise that the ideas coming out of there may seem pretty radical when tallied against today’s wind world. Their top man Astro Teller has got this to say:

“You get one of these 300 tonnes wind turbines, 300 tonnes of steel. You only get power through tips of blades, just circulating in space. What if the little tips circle in space without the 300 tonnes of steel – wouldn't that be awesome?

"If you had a long tether attached to blades, you can generate power by this specifically designed tether. This technology exists. We believe there is some possibility, because this is so much radically cheaper and easier to deploy than a normal wind turbine that it may have an important part to play in the future of world energy production. That's the technology story."

If all this wind talk has piqued your interest, but you’re thinking of something a little closer to home, and closer to now, why not find out what a domestic wind turbine could do for you?

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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