Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Hugh Piggott's Windpower 101

One thing that the British Isles does not lack is wind, especially on hills and western and northern coasts. As a result, wind farms are sprouting up all over the place, the most ambitious being that above Eaglesham Muir south of Glasgow, and an offshore one in the Solway Firth. An even larger farm, planned to cover almost the whole of the island of Lewis, has been rejected by government as too intrusive.

Robin Rigg Windfarm, Solway Firth (courtesy Carlisle Times and Star):

There are various problems with windfarms, apart from their visual and local environmental impact. The windiest places are usually sparsely inhabited, and so there is the problem of moving the electric potential from the place of generation to the place of consumption. There is also the problem of storage. It isn't windy all the time, and so excess electricity has to be stored somewhere, either in batteries or behind hydro-electric dams. The more we rely on windfarms, the more storage becomes a headache for power generators. But - with wind being free and everywhere, wouldn't it be great to generate your own electric from it?

With windpower all the rage these days, it is not surprising that the thoughts of ordinary punters turn to generating it themselves. Why not install a turbine, and sell the excess electricity generated back to the National Grid? With such thoughts in mind, I went to a morning talk at Earthship Fife by Hugh Piggott, perhaps Britain's foremost expert in home-build windpower.

Hugh Piggott (courtesy of Hugh):

Hugh lives in Scoraig, a tiny crofting community in an exposed location in the Northwest Highlands. There is no road to Scoraig - access is by boat - and it goes without saying that there is no mains electricity either. Fortunately Scoraig is very windy. It is the perfect place for a self-sufficient type to grow their own electricity.

Hugh's talk was illuminating. A couple of the people there were serious about building their own wind turbines. The rest were dilettantes like myself, and Hugh, though softly spoken, was completely and utterly hard-nosed practical.

"You said there was the possibility of hydro power at your location?"


"Then do that. It is much less hassle than wind power."

Hugh went on to describe the various pitfalls of wind power. The boring things like towers, batteries and converters are more expensive and important than the turbine itself, and if you can do something equivalent with less effort and more reliability, then that was the thing to do. I got the impression that if Hugh lived in a city he would insulate his loft, double-glaze his windows, wear an extra jersey, and leave the job done at that, glad to get the convenience of coal-fired electricity. He had done experiments in urban locations, including Edinburgh, and found that there wasn't the minimum level of average wind required to generate power at most of these locations. The companies who sell little rooftop wind turbines to well-meaning urban greens are, it seems, smooth-talking, snake-eyed charlatans.

So, not living at Scoraig or any other very windy location, it is water power for me. Anyone got a steep stream to experiment on?

Hugh's website:

1 comment:

Dave said...

I'm sure I could rustle up something after a couple of pints...