An eco-friendly wind turbine installed to save energy at a Hinckley college has been labelled a “disaster” after revelations it has expended more power than it has produced.
In its three year lifespan the 31.5ft turbine – thought to have a price tag of around £40,000 – has turned only 8% of the time and has not created electricity but used enough to run an energy hungry household for two years.
When installed on the roof of the new North Warwickshire and Hinckley college campus on Lower Bond Street in September 2011, education chiefs lauded it as part of their commitment to embed sustainability across all college activities and a weapon in the fight to cut carbon emissions by 35% within four years.
But since its set up the vertical axis blades of the turbine have only been spinning for 8% of the time and only been working for 38% – during the remaining 62% of the time, because of its settings, conditions have been ‘unsuitable’ – ie the wind at 5m/s, a fresh breeze – has been deemed too strong and it switches off.
This means the device has used 497 kHw more than it has made – enough to run a fridge for a year, a microwave daily for half-an-hour for two years and a tumble drier daily for six months.
Figures from the college show (based on the average price of a kHw at 17p) the turbine has used £1,730 worth of electricity, twice the annual bill of a high energy usage household.
Hinckley retiree Dave Owen was emailed the startling statistics by college sustainability officer Serena Bacuzzi following a Freedom of Information Act request.
He said: “I noticed the turbine never seemed to be moving so I put in a request asking how much it had cost to buy, how much it cost to install and how much energy it had created.
“The college couldn’t answer my first two questions as they said it had been part of the overall build but they said the turbine had used more electricity than it had produced.
“It turns out the planning permission given restricted its use at night and when the wind got to a certain speed but the college has imposed its own speed limit on it, cutting out at a what is effectively just a breeze. As it stands this has been a total and utter disaster. It has not achieved any savings at all, it is actually costing money. The sheer waste of public money is indefensible.”
Through emails and a face to face meeting Mr Owen discovered the turbine, although designed to operate with winds up to 26m/s and most productive with winds of around 16m/s, was being shut down when gusts were either below 1m/s or above 5m/s (2.237mph – 11.18mph) – the equivalent of a light to fresh breeze.
The college said this was decided after discussion with the manufacturer.
Planning permission had stated the turbine should not work when the wind was above 10m/s between 11pm and 7am and a break was installed preventing it from working at all at night.
Although this break has now been removed the wind speed window has not been altered and remains at up to 5m/s, 24 hours a day.
Mr Owen said: “This is both stunning and shocking. I can’t see how the college has met any of its sustainability targets.”
The apparatus, a qr5 manufactured by Welsh company Quiet Revolution which appears to have gone out of business, is the same model as the seven turbines installed at the Olympic Park in London.
The smaller scale turbines are designed to be more effective at harnessing the wind power in urban environments cost and are said to be able to provide 7,500kWh of power a year if average wind speeds reach 7m/s – a whole 2m/s stronger than the limit at which the college turbine stops.
At a cost of around £40,000 Quiet Revolution claimed the turbines would pay for themselves within 12 years.
Andy Crowter, group director of facilities and estates at North Warwickshire and Hinckley College, said the turbine had not been costed seperately to the new campus development, adding: “The college wind turbine is intended to promote the use of green energy and to save on college electricity. Its use is limited between 11pm and 7am to minimise unwelcome noise for neighbours. This was a condition imposed by the planning authority. Unfortunately, the turbine developed a fault which, because both the manufacturer and installers have gone out business, has not been rectified. We have now secured a new maintenance contractor and anticipate the turbine being back in use shortly. We are confident it will recover its costs and create a small income over the coming years.
”The turbine is not there primarily to create income but to promote sustainability – one of the most important challenges facing the UK. The turbine is a symbol of the college’s awareness of its environmental responsibilities, an icon of good practice to its students and recognition of the college’s award winning Carbon Reduction Plan. The turbine has been in place since 2011 and to date, we have had no complaints from neighbours regarding noise.”
The college’s pledge on sustainability includes commitments to ‘“embed sustainability into the management of the college” and “lead by example on sustainability issues and become an inspiration to the community”.