There is a light that never goes out

Dave Wilson discusses the pros and cons of wind power and nuclear energy.


‘The public will believe anything, so long as it is not founded on truth.’ – Edith Sitwell.


Most of us have neither the room nor the money to erect a 3.6MW General Electric wind turbine in our own back garden to meet all our electricity needs.



Even if we had, it’s unlikely that we’d ever get permission to erect it. Can you imagine any local planning authority in the UK giving the thumbs up to a householder to erect anything with a rotor diameter of 341 feet and swept area of 91,439 square feet in his own backyard? Unlikely, isn’t it? And certainly bad news for those of us that would like to do something big for the environment.



But all is not lost. Because even though the whopping GE wind machine might be out of the question, it appears that a smaller, less powerful alternative might soon be within everyone’s reach.



All thanks to the lads at British Gas, who have teamed up with the fellas at Windsave to make roof top wind turbines available to UK households. A pilot feasibility scheme is underway this year, and if it is successful, then the turbines could be rolled out throughout the country.



The bad news is that these turbines won’t produce 3.6MW. But the good news is that they won’t cost over a million pounds either. For the £1500 that you’ll have to shell out to buy one, you’ll get just 1kW of power and, according to British Gas, reduce your CO2 emissions by half a tonne per year.



So why not do your bit for the environment, cut your bills and save the planet at the same time?



Well, here’s why not. Even if we fitted turbines to five million homes throughout the UK at a cost of 7.5 billion pounds, we’d only end up reducing CO2 emissions by 2.5 million tonnes per year. Considering the fact that a typical coal fired power station emits 10 million tonnes of CO2 per year, it hardly seems worth it.



In fact, it isn’t worth it at all. And it makes us all realise, yet again, that the UK government is just missing the point when it provides silly little grants to members of the beard and sandals gang who will inevitably wish to erect one of these unsightly little windmills on their property.



So if wind isn’t the answer, what is? Well, if someone could come up with a 500kW sub-£2000 nuclear plant for my house I might pay some attention and think about getting one [And who’d do the outages, eh? – Ed].



And what about the nuclear waste, I hear you ask? Well, not to worry. I could always do what my dad used to do with his old motor oil. Throw it in the river at the bottom of the garden.


Dave Wilson,  Editor,  Engineer Online


Reader response:


Sir: We didn’t have a river at the end of the garden, so my dad used to paint his old motor oil onto the garden shed to help preserve it. Fancy trying that with your homebrew nuclear waste?


Andy Beck


Sir: I’m not sure what kind of a house you live in but 3.5MW would service a small town. My house uses about 1.388kW/hour average over a month. So a 1kW generator would service about 70% of my needs if I used some kind of power storage and was in a pretty constant wind area. Even if I got 50% efficiency from the system I’d still be saving the environment quite a bit. I think the turbine might be quite a bit smaller than 341 feet too. Also, at 50% efficiency I could have the £1500 paid back in 52 months and after that have 1/2 off my electric bills. Is it worth it?


Bill J. Johnson