Thursday, December 21, 2006

Eco Bollocks Award: The Windsave WS1000

It is now two and a half months since I tried to buy a Windsave WS1000 wall mounted wind turbine from my local B&Q. Their surveyor turned me down because our house walls are timber, which isn’t regarded as a suitable material to take the strain.

One of the interesting things to emerge from me blogging about the experience was that Windsave themselves saw what I was writing and approached me with their comments. Firstly, Nathan Briggs, who describes himself as a consultant to Windsave, commented on my second blog piece (Oct 12th) that “I'm glad we didn't try to fit a windmill (to your house) and I hope you see the sense that we didn't. With just 5.1metres/second (m/s) I doubt you would have seen anything close to 1000kWh per annum so payback would have been terrible anyway.”

I replied to Nathan with the following observation. “My question back to you is this. My average wind speed, 5.1m/s at 10m height, according to the DTI windspeed database, is pretty typical of southern England and in fact is rather higher than most large urban areas. You are candidly admitting that at this windspeed my payback would be "terrible". So why are Windsaves being sold through B&Q across the country with the oft-stated suggestion that they could generate a third of your household electricity?”

But I never heard from Nathan again so the question was left unanswered. But a few weeks later, I received an email from Anya Gordon who is a sales manager at Windsave in Glasgow. She wrote: “As I am sure you can appreciate, being a new company launching an innovative product such as the WS1000 system into the UK market has not been without its trials. The product has been designed and launched on the basis that it will meet the requirements of the majority. As previously mentioned, we appreciate that it will not be suitable for every application.” Later in the same email, she added: “We have also noted your comments regarding windspeeds and effectiveness of the systems and we are currently upgrading our website and literature to further clarify some of the points you’re raised on your blog.”

There have been some changes to Windsave’s website. In particular a page has appeared called “Assessing Performance.” It says that the average wind speed across the UK is 5.6m/s at 10m above ground level. They also recommend “having our system installed in areas benefiting from wind speeds above 5.0 m/s.”

It’s hard to say what exactly this means. All places will get wind speeds about 5.0m/s at some point during a year but that is a very different thing to an average wind speed of 5.0m/s. Another critical factor that is often overlooked is the fact that the average wind speed data is given for a height of 10m above ground level. The typical Windsave will be mounted at less than half this height, in a location that is almost certainly going to prove to be turbulent. The projected power outputs are in reality amazingly low. They themselves are indicating that a WS1000 located on my house would have generated around 175kWh per annum.

Reports arriving from other sources suggest that even this sort of output is fanciful.
• The St Albans Eco House has a Windsave fitted. It’s first two weeks of operation produced just 500watts of electricity.
• Bill Dunster, the Bedzed architect and big wind turbine fan, has lived with a competitor to the Windsave, the Swift, for over a year and has yet to get any power out of it at all!
• The well-known green activist Donnachadh McCarthy found that his roof mounted turbine in London generated just 1.3kWh in two months. His comment to me: "It is a beautiful machine, it is silent but it vibrates and the output is miserably low. My view is that they are still experimental and have serious technical obstacles still to overcome. Buy them if you wish to support the research but not if you wish to save CO2.”

Which leads us to the big question that Nathan Briggs failed to answer back in October. It’s all very well Windsave selling a product of questionable provenance. But why, oh why, is B&Q pushing them out of its stores all over lowland England where they just will not work? Here is what it says on the B&Q website today: the Windsave wind turbine “could contribute to a potential saving of up to 30% for the average home if there is optimum wind speed at the site.”

It’s a very short step from that to “it can save around 30% of your electricity bill” which is what I was told in B&Q by an impressionable sales assistant. And an impressionable customer will of course hear exactly what they want to hear.

But it’s time they heard the real story. Unless you live in a very windy spot, a Windsave (or any other similar wall or roof mounted product) will not generate any meaningful power output at all. Come on, it’s time to admit that the roof-mounted wind turbine industry is a complete fiasco. Good money is being thrown at an invention that doesn’t work. This is the Sinclair C5 of the Noughties. As such, the Windsave WS100 becomes the second winner of my coveted Eco-Bollocks award.

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27 Comments:

Anonymous Nick Grant said...

What always amazed me is how the micro wind thing had been so uncritically embraced and promoted by Government, planning (Merton Rule), trade mags, high profile architects etc.

What none of them seemed to notice is that the people who have been messing around with wind turbines for the last 20+ years or so all recognised this was bollocks but only now is it sinking in.

Can I nominate carbon offsetting and Living Machines for an award, in fact where to stop??

Very refreshing.

11:45 am  
Anonymous Jonny parker said...

This is happening all over the place, many renewables are still on trial and a great amount are proving unworthy of task.

We are currently sourcing wind turbines that produce a balenced yeild in energy, and its very difficult.

Navitron are a sound supplyer that won't sell you a lemon. Capture energy in cornwall also will make sure you get something fit for purpose. We run wow-wow.co.uk eco centre, we are hoping to find decent renewables that work for the task given. We would very much like to hear from anyone's concerns with renewable technology so we can help pick the good form the bad. phone 0845 3962 156 for a chat or email info2wow-wow.co.uk

1:55 pm  
Anonymous Nathan Briggs said...

Hello Nathan Briggs back again...

Unsurprisingly I didn't "respond" to your blog because I don't spend my entire life looking for postings about me or Windsave, I will always respond to any direct requests to Windsave for technical Info.

Thank you very much for your award, it will join the ever growing ranks of awards that Windsave has garnered over the last few years most of them from reputable institutions and Professional bodies.

In response to why are Windsaves being sold throughout the country, is that there are potential sites in every region. While the average wind speed in the UK may be 5 something m/s the variation is large, some sheltered spots will get virtually 2m/s average some exposed and coastal spots will get 7 or even 8m/s. The South coast contains many such sites.

The product has most certainly NOT been designed to fit to the majority of homes, somewhere between 10 to 20% of domestic houses have suitable wind, Windsave is very happy with this as a potential customer base.

Windsave is a reputable company with an innovative product. But no system will generate power where there isn't wind, which is the basic claim of your post. Why make it seem as though you are disagreeing with exactly what Windsave have said all along and told you when you tried to fit a turbine?

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Blogger David said...

Great award! You said about one of these kiddy toys "It’s first two weeks of operation produced just 500watts of electricity." But that is some sort of typo. Presumably you mean something like "500 watthours?" Could you fix that, it'd be interesting to know the correct figure.

thanks, great work!

9:43 pm  
Anonymous Martin Tallett said...

What would be really useful and what is lacking from the Windsave site is a graph of power output for a real site preferably at 5.6 m/s average windspeed. That would be a graph for a whole day, month and year. They must have that data now.

My house is a fairly average house in a 4.6 m/s area but I still think that on average a windmill would generate half my electricity.

Submitted at 17:29 07/05/2008

5:31 pm  
Anonymous anthonyberet said...

Like the other commenter, David, I am posting to question the 500watts figure given for the St Albans Eco House. That would be 120% of my average electricity consumption, so sadly, can't be right. Do you in fact mean 500 watt-hours?

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Anonymous amazingdrx said...

http://www.otherpower.com/otherpower_wind.html

Try this site for small home scale wind. If these do-it-yourselfers can make it work, why can't industry?

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Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.

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