British engineers slam home wind turbines as 'eco-bling'

Jan 20, 2010
Installers for Namaste Solar connect solar panels to the roof of a home on in 2009 in Boulder, Colorado. In Great Britain, installing wind turbines and solar panels in people's homes is "eco-bling" that will not help meet Britain's targets on cutting carbon emissions, engineers warned Wednesday.

Installing wind turbines and solar panels in people's homes is "eco-bling" that will not help meet Britain's targets on cutting carbon emissions, engineers warned Wednesday.

In a new report by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE), Professor Doug King said it was better to adapt buildings to make them more energy efficient than try to offset energy use with "on-site renewable energy generation."

The leader of Britain's main opposition Conservative party, David Cameron, is among those who have installed , fixing one onto the roof of his home in the plush west London district of Notting Hill.

"Eco-bling is a term I coined to describe unnecessary renewable energy visibly attached to the outside of poorly designed buildings," King told the Daily Mail newspaper ahead of the report's publication.

"It achieves little or nothing. If you build a building that is just as energy-hungry as every other building, and you put a few wind turbines and on the outside that addresses a few percent of that building's , you have not achieved anything.

"It's just about trying to say to the general public that 'I'm being good, I'm putting renewable energy on my building'."

In existing buildings, which account for the vast majority of those in use in 2050, King suggested low cost alternatives such as installing thermostats on central heating systems or using low-energy .

The report said it was also vital to engineer buildings to minimise energy demands in the first place, including using masonry to store heat or ensuring a good use of natural light in homes and offices.

"Before renewable energy generation is even considered it is vital to ensure that buildings are as energy efficient as possible, otherwise the potential benefits are simply wasted in offsetting unnecessary consumption," it said.

However, it warned a lack of skills in understanding in buildings meant the construction industry would struggle to meet government targets to make all new buildings "zero carbon" by 2020.

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User comments : 9

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M_N
3.5 / 5 (8) Jan 20, 2010
I'm not sure why someone rated this story 1 star. Its message is spot-on: it is MUCH better to address sources of inefficiency before thinking about adding solar panels or wind turbines. The cost-benefit ratio is much better. Solar hot water systems should also be installed before photovoltaics are considered.

I have no problem with adding these things AFTER inefficiencies have been addressed.
Shootist
3.3 / 5 (4) Jan 21, 2010
Screw inefficiency. Either electricity is so cheap its nearly free or we will all freeze in the dark. There is no middle ground. The western economies are designed around access to cheap energy. Without cheap and plentiful energy the economy will crash. Forever.

George Westinghouse said it best, "We'll make electricity so cheap only the rich will be able to afford candles".

100 1000 megawatt fission plants will be a good place to start. After that we'll bulldoze West Virginia flat to dig out King Coal for coal liquidfication/gasification. That should last until we can bring fusion and solar power satellites online.

I'll fight you green weenies til my last breath.
russcelt
1 / 5 (1) Jan 21, 2010
While Professor King may be correct from an energy engineering and economic perspective, if implemented through government policy, it will further degrade participatory democracy in Britain. The implication is that eco-bling is harmful. When in reality it is the fear is that eco-bling will stop people from implementing meaningful changes in their habits. This seriously underestimates people's ability to adapt when given full information. By effectively raising the entry fee to participate in green living Professor King's study and the way it is reported will only strengthen centralized control. And when central planners eventually get it wrong the consequences will be catastrophic.
DozerIAm
not rated yet Jan 21, 2010
Shootist, I have no idea if you are being sarcatsic or sincere, but either way thanks for the chuckle!

Russcelt, you have it exactly right - people should embrace the concept that we (people) will sometimes do it wrong, sometimes do it half right, and maybe if we are really lucky sometimes do it completely right - but that's still a far more efficient model that what happens when the government gets involved!
DozerIAm
2 / 5 (1) Jan 21, 2010
Oh, and while its implied from my previous post I'll explicitly add to M.N. - I disagree with the tone of your post more than the scientific content of it. You are accurate that it makes sense to do the "biggest bang for the buck" projects first before adding on, for example, a small wind turbine. However, the reality is most people have to contend with issues such as THEIR HOUSE ALREADY EXISTS. Ok, maybe the caps for emphasis were a bit much. Still, it seems you are reasoning in a vacuum. New construction is the time to plan "green". I've looked into heat sinks and PVs and for my existing home, it would work out to a net increase in cost. However, a small wind turbine might pay for itself before the warrantee expired.
bobertjmurphy
not rated yet Jan 21, 2010
Professor King may be right from an engineering perspective, but he ignores the social/PR issue.

It's easy for right-wingers to see energy sustainability as something only "green weenies" worry about, as Shootist so aptly put it. But when a prominent conservative ostentatiously displays his renewable-energy bling, it makes it possible for Pub Bloke in the UK, or Joe Sixpack in the US, to consider green alternatives without fear of mockery by his mates or his pals at the gun club.

I'd love it if American arch-conservative Rush Limbaugh went on his radio program and gushed about his windmills.
DozerIAm
5 / 5 (1) Jan 21, 2010
if they made financial sense, I'm sure he would.
david_42
5 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2010
Money spent on eco-bling is far better applied to improving home efficiency. I cut my electrical bills 75% by installing a heat pump and upgrading insulation. This cost less than 1/5th the cost of photovoltaic panels that could only power my house in the summer and would be useless in the winter.
DozerIAm
not rated yet Jan 24, 2010
David I am with you - I switched to CF's and I am saving money every month. I also looked into doing a heat pump but unfortunately there isn't room around the property to put one in. Next up is replacing my single pane w/storms to insulated modern windows, for some more savings. There's some up front cost of course, but far less than going PV or Solar.