Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A breath of fresh air

A Swift Rooftop Wind Energy System by Renewable Devices - http://www.renewabledevices.com/swift/index.htmWhile the council's first moves after announcing their "carbon neutral" aspirations were dubious to the point of being counter-productive, here's one very tiny step in the right direction. Vector Energy is trialling urban micro-turbines, first in Waitakere and then in Wellington. The respective councils are taking part in the initiative, and our Mayor was quoted in the announcement as saying:
... she is delighted Wellington has been chosen to trial this new initiative, which fits well with Wellington's recently adopted carbon neutral vision.

"Wellington is the home of creativity and innovation and therefore very amenable to new initiatives that will ultimately benefit our city and, indeed, the rest of New Zealand. We know that alternative renewable energy sources are crucial for sustainability. We look forward to the trial."
Well, if you ignore all the puffery, it certainly fits better than cheap parking and more expensive public transport! According to the manufacturer's website (from where I grabbed this photo), each of their "Swift" turbines "produces more energy in its lifetime than is incorporated in the materials and processes used to manufacture it", so while it might take a while to pay off the capital cost, in the long term these are a great idea.

Large scale wind-farms will still be needed, but the fact that urban microgeneration is entering the mainstream is good news. These models look fairly utilitarian, but looking around me at a skyline of satellite dishes, aerials and air conditioning units, I'd say that if anything they'd have a positive effect on the visual environment. Some people aren't content with turbines that look merely okay, though: Tara-iti Wind Kinetics is a local blog that researches the question: "Would residential wind-turbines develop a widespread application if they were to be marketed as kinetic sculpture, in a manner akin to exquisite architectural fittings?" I've seen some of the author's designs, and they really do look beautiful.

I've often promoted the idea of a waterfront "eco-centre" (though preferably with a less cheesy name) that is not only the site of, but also a living example of, research into sustainable building and energy technology. There should be nothing to stop Wellington designing and even building our own turbines and other systems, and a research centre that acts as a very visible laboratory would be a great way of promoting these ideas. The DOC and Meridian buildings are a good start, but rather than just reducing energy consumption, the next step would be for buildings to become net energy exporters.

Also, now that the council is set to spend $220 million on upgrading social housing, wouldn't it be great if some of it could go towards something like this project in London? Combining local design, environmental sustainability and affordable housing: that would really be "creativity and innovation".


At 3:46 PM, June 28, 2007, Blogger llew said...

Cripes - I'd like two of 'em. And a solar water-pump.

Seriously, I've been wondering when microgeneration was going to be sold to us.

At 8:34 AM, June 29, 2007, Anonymous che tibby said...

you're right about the visual clutter issue. the occasional wind turbine would easily blend into the plethora of crap polluting my eyeline on a daily basis.

might make short work of our pigeon issue too.

At 8:51 AM, June 29, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Monbiot in The new Scientist has been fairly damning of these micro wind turbines in terms of actually doing anything practicle to "save the world"


renewable energy ( Part of the group that manufacture those turbines) estimate an installed cost of 3000 quid/Kw. This makes the 1.5kw turbine cost 4500 pound, or 12-15000 dollars, for 2-3000kwh/year, this is very expensive electricity,

a quick back of the envelope calculation comparison with NZ grid power, at say 20c/KwH, this turbine would take over 20 years to pay off, before it actually made any money ( and that assumes 3000kwh generated, ie it is running at full output for 1/3 of the year day and night,)

Nice idea, but this is just a PR stunt, rather than an actual solution to global warming.

At 9:10 AM, June 29, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

I've also seen sceptical article about them, and it's true that some of the estimated returns seem exaggerated. The results suggested here by Vector only offer 1/4 to 1/3 of a household's electricity requirements, rather than half as quoted by Monbiot, and our wind conditions (certainly in Wellington!) are a bit different to the UK.

It may indeed take a long time to pay off the initial investment, but that's based on current costs for both the turbine and electricity. As energy generation gets expensive (and it will have to, as we'll either have to start paying for pollution or investing in alternative energy infrastructure), and as the cost of the technology comes down, it will eventually become more economically viable. Early adopters almost always have to pay through the nose, but someone's got to take the first step or large-scale manufacture will never arise.

"Nice idea, but this is just a PR stunt, rather than an actual solution to global warming."

I don't think these are ever going to be a "solution" or "save the world", but even a quarter of a household's electricity coming from renewables would make a difference, and that's a start. I agree with Monbiot in that we shouldn't let microgeneration distract us from the need for large-scale renewable energy projects, but even if it is more of a gesture than a practicality at the moment, if it helps raise the profile and acceptability of wind generation while advancing the technology, I'm all for it.

At 9:28 AM, June 29, 2007, Blogger Nikolai H said...

Thanks for the link, Tom.

Anon: Monbiot is largely correct. Michael Lawley is the manufacturer of a device locally, read his Q&A for solid figures. 1.5kW for 15,000 is actually the more optimistic end of the scale.... http://www.ecoinnovation.co.nz/
His approach is to provide an alternative to $30,000 grid connections in outlying areas.

However, microscale wind turbines are only one element of an entire microgeneration suite, and work well in conjunction with photovoltaics and solar water heating, to the extent that the sum of the system is far more effective than its component parts. SWH removes up to 20% of your power bill (in summer, anyway), and PV/Wind in concert allow each element to scale to the best respective season, rather than having to accomodate the downtime with a larger single device.

So not a complete solution, but not without merit as an agent for demand-side reductions.

At 10:35 AM, June 29, 2007, Blogger Joanna said...

Why is it that the naysayers of measures to improve the environment are always anonymous?

At 10:57 AM, June 29, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joanna, I am not naysaying persay,

The point I am making is that there are possibly better methods to improve the environement if you have a fixed amount of money,

Micro wind is useful in off grid location and areas where connecting to the grid is expensive, but economies of scale are important, distributed generation is a enviable objective, but it is usually more expensive than large scale production.

Also for distributed generation to work well, it requires a workable reverse metering regime, which power companies will fight tooth and nail against, ( they like the whole you pay retail, we pay wholesale model).

While this is an eviable outcome, I think we should actually focuss on more conrete steps rather than blue sky posturing.

I just get frustrated with politician fawning over things like this,which play well on TV.
When what they should be doing is developing a national environment statement for wind generation, that sets out a level playing field for subimtters,

At 11:46 AM, June 29, 2007, Anonymous maximus said...

i can't remember where i read it, but in the UK, B&Q (like Mitre 10 / PlaceMakers) were selling home Wind Micro-generators - and by $ value, they were the biggest single thing they were selling. ie most of their stuff is cheap junk, and these were - say, 900 quid each (dunno exct figures) so perhaps that wasn't hard - but still - hugely significant.

But the sad thing is that the model they sold, or perhaps the location they were put in, was a disaster. Terrible performance. Great profit for B&Q but not a good result in terms of drop in energy. Although, Britain is, somehow, reducing its carbon footprint way more so than NZ. Shame on us. I think it may be something to do with selling more cars with catalytic converters in teh UK - we import 50% crappy used cars without them - but still : the UK more green than us?

Why isn't Placemakers pushing these microgens to the NZ public?

At 4:13 AM, July 06, 2007, Anonymous Kevyn Miller said...

Maximus, A huge part of the reason the UK is reducing its carbon footprint is because of the redevelopment of inner city docklands, warehouse and factories that were abandoned from the mid-60s to mid-80s. This is reversing the outward growth that happened when large post-war factories were built on greenfield sites on the outskirts of cities, taking housing developements along with them. Inner city redevelopment has the big advantage of being fairly easily integrated into existing tube systems or, in Manchester's case, being the key driver for a light rail system on disused freight railway right-of-ways. There are many examples of this in both Europe and USA. Unfortunately most population growth in the US is in the south where sprawl is still the norm, but that could change with sustained high gas prices.

Tom might be able to point us to some good links on some of these developments and especially some of the award winning ones.


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