Living with (and beside) a Wind Generator 21.10

Windmill and solar panels

In 1982 a reconditioned wind generator was installed at our newly built ‘mudbrick mansions’. It was to be our main power source for 16 years along with a small backup petrol generator and 200 amp hours of lead acid battery storage. The generator was rated at 300 watts. The total cost of the whole system including tower, reconditioned generator and blade, a small back-up petrol generator, battery bank, inverter, dual power wiring and installation was less than one third the cost of getting the mains power brought to the house. The genius behind it all was my good friend (and ex-student) James Poynton. This, along with a swap of an old trail bike for the tower, and lots of help from friends and neighbours, got everything up and running over one hot summer.

To minimise power lost through resistance the tower was situated close to the house. And the power system went through a number of upgrades over the years. The problem with the wind generator was matching supply with demand. For a lot of the time the generator was physically turned off with the blade feathered to the wind. For the windy months of winter, it was turned off frequently whilst there were also still periods, sometimes lengthy, in autumn. One experiment was to use a rotary inverter to run a dishwasher (with the heater disconnected) usually during windy periods. Another improvement was to double the battery storage.

Until the end of its life mechanical problems were few, and aside from once losing the magnetism of the outer casing and annual maintenance, the system required a daily battery check-up and sometimes turning the generator on or off according to the level of power storage. It was definitely a ‘hands on’ operation. The back-up petrol generator, when brought into use to charge the batteries during still periods, also pumped water and was sometimes used for the rare times clothes needed ironing. One quickly got used to the sounds and rhythms of the wind generator and it was easy to detect when electricity was being generated or if there was a problem with the system.

On the downside the generator blade did kill birds. When charging the blade was like an aeroplane propeller – invisible. The total kill was about one a year – exclusively magpies which was the most common species in the area. By comparison about twice that number of birds – and of a wider variety of species – were killed annually by flying into our house windows.

Excluding one’s labour and depreciation costs we operated with free power. With the help of amazing advances in solar PVs and energy efficiency we continue to do so. And it goes without saying that I am a strong supporter of wind power. It is the modern wind generator that is challenging the dominance of coal in our electrical supply system. Without a rapid phase out of coal and other fossil fuels mankind will be condemned to the most diabolical scenarios of global warming.