Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Dividing communities or taking responsibility?

There are two broad definitions of community:
  • a geographically-based community
  • and a community of interest.
The contentious nature of onshore wind turbines means that the they are often blamed for dividing  geographic communities. In the case of our development - Totnes Community Wind Farm - the opposition often seek to drive a wedge between Totnes and the parishes Harberton/ Harbertonford  - where the turbines will reside.

If the parishes of Harberton and Harbertonford were independent, the argument would have some justification. However, we are living in an increasingly inter-connected society, and therefore we are  reliant on other communities for our high standard of life. In energy terms, we impose the impact of living next to nuclear power stations, pylons, gas turbines, refineries, coal mines onto to other communities to maintain the status quo. Is this a fair imposition? We don't question it, because it is so embedded as acceptable in our society. Our addiction to the existing system, means that we ignore these inequalities - we forget the current and future victims, that may suffer for us. A conservative estimate puts the number of serious accidents (more than 5 fatalities) in the coal, oil and gas industries as 2592 (1970-2008) within the EU (10 times that in developing countries). All communities are liable for these hidden discrepancies.

Now I'm am not suggesting that the two turbines proposed will totally transform this inequality, but they are a step in right direction.

If we take the second definition and broaden our view of community, from small geographic differences to a more general, community of interest, the discussion becomes very different. It is in the interest of every community to secure a vibrant local economy and produce renewable electricity. As I have explained previously (in my first blog post/ letter) the smaller parishes do not have the resources available for such a substantial development, that produces enough electricity for 2500 homes. So as a joint community of interest we respond to the needs locally in any way we can.

If we widen the geographic boundaries, accept we share common interests, and take into account the current energy system has many less publicised victims, we come to very different conclusions.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Can we ignore wind and just use solar?

A frequent response from those opposing onshore wind is that we should use more solar energy as it has a lower impact. While I agree there is a huge potential for solar energy (PV and thermal), particularly in the South West, it is not a perfect solution. We live fairly far North, which means that in the winter months, when are energy use peaks, the energy from the sun is very low. We also use more energy at night - when there is no generation from solar.
There is also variability from cloud cover that can have an impact, which can be easily seen at the Civic hall and Leatside surgery in Totnes, with the live output (kW) shown on the screens.

You could argue that solar PV is much more variable than onshore wind, however it is far more predictable and reliable. I found a report on renewable energy targets for Devon completed by the University of Exeter which states:
"...one large 3MW wind turbine generates more electricity in a year (at 25% load/ capacity factor) than over 3000 domestic (2kW) PV arrays at a tenth of the capital cost" 
(NB. as the report is a year old, the price of the PV panels has come down since). 
This remains a staggering statistic, that should needs to be taken into account when analysing the different options. It also shows the difference between micro-generation of renewable electricity and that of large scale production. It is far more efficient to do it at a larger scale, but then you have to also take into account the larger impacts. This was also mentioned in my last post - 92 small turbines needed to produce as much as the two large turbines proposed in Totnes Community wind farm.

If we look at the renewable production of energy in 2011 from the 2012 DUKES report, there was an interesting change - wind and hydro performing much better than previous years (windier and wetter). There has also been a lot of media attention on the extreme weather observed in 2012 in recent reports. Given these developments it is surely better to use a diverse set of generation technologies, including onshore wind, so we can weather the 'perfect storm' of resource scarcity, extreme climatic events, retiring power stations and increased demand. All communities should be responsible for generating some of their energy and conserving their use. The scale of the challenge and the lack of time means we cannot afford to ignore any low carbon technology.