Wednesday 7 August 2013

Noise from wind turbines. A real problem or NIMBYism ?

Video from a field of 12 turbines which on average provide enough electricity to run about 3700 average homes. The sound is as recorded on the camera at the site. You'll note that we could converse quite normally even right next to a wind turbine.

We can't see any wind turbines from our home because even though there are no hills here to hide them, they're not visible when you're a distance from them. However there are quite a few turbines within range of cycling trips. I've cycled right up to them several times in the past but this time actually made recordings of the noise that their opponents say they produce. You have to listen quite carefully to hear them. It's quite a contrast with with conventional coal-fired power plants and hydro-electric power plants which I've visited in the past, both of which are deafening.

Objections seem to disappear when people have a stake in the turbines. Older two blade turbines like this are less aerodynamically efficient and spin faster (2 blade turbines have to rotate 1.5 times as often as 3 blades to catch the wind) which makes them "noisier" than the newer designs. They're still rather less noisy than milking machinery, though, and this farmer is one of many who has installed such a turbine just a few metres from home.
Yes it's possible to make a recording of the swoosh swoosh sound made by the turbines, but only by increasing the gain and making sure there are no background noises. Any background noise is enough to drown out the turbine noise, including the noise of the wind going through trees or in this case the crunching of gravel beneath my bicycle tyres and the calls of the sheep nearby.

People also live next to really large turbines without really large problems. By contrast, when we lived a few kilometres from a coal fired power station we had dust and often foul smelling air to deal with.
I like wind turbines. They're not a complete solution to our energy needs, but they're a useful part of what we need to do to generate energy in a renewable future. Here in the Netherlands we do not have hydroelectric sources (though we are sometimes sold it as if we do) and due to the flat landscape we have a lot of wind. For this country wind should perhaps appear at a higher point on the alternative energy matrix.

Our holiday route also took us past many traditional windmills. These are of course beautiful, but so are the  modern turbines. They're a symbol of modernity and hope for the future.
I believe that people will come to accept wind turbines once the NIMBYism has been overcome. They're beautiful objects and the worst possible failure mode is simply that one of them should fall apart or fall over. This is in great contrast to the ongoing disaster of global warming due to burning of fossil fuels

One of a series of ludicrous NIMBY "letters to the editor" printed in a pro-nuclear local newspaper in Somerset, UK. Hinkley Point nuclear power station has leaked in the past but not caused an outright disaster. Not yet. Nuclear power has always been claimed to be safe but ask the people of Fukushima perhaps no longer believe it.
Wind power is not efficient on a small scale. Small wind turbines simply don't work very well. It you must install a small scale wind-turbine, the best of them are the larger ones which resemble large scale designs, not the exotic shapes. For domestic installations, solar panels on the roof are a much better idea.

Another farm, another wind turbine. Sensibly, this turbine is installed on land, and the farmer no doubt enjoys watching the electricity meter spin backwards at a considerable speed. Off-shore wind-power is a ridiculous idea by comparison. Maintenance is made far more difficult, running cables to the land is difficult and the salty environment won't do much for the life-span of off-shore turbines.