Home Wind Turbines Turn Fashionable in Britain
LONDON -- A mere breath of a breeze disturbs the quiet of autumn in south London and the wind turbine on the gable of Donnachadh McCarthy's home turns lazily.
The morning sun casts shadows from solar panels onto the walls of the house and filters through the windows into his living room.
"I'm in surplus. I am now providing money to the grid," he said with a grin, gesturing at a red light winking on the wall that marks the progress of his domestic power station.
"I have exported 20 percent more electricity than I've imported this year ... the average carbon footprint is 8.5 tonnes in the EU, whereas mine is less than half a tonne."
McCarthy has long tried to stay at the forefront of British green power generation.
Last November, he made a small media splash as the first Londoner to gain permission to put a turbine on a house that already boasted an array of renewable energy devices.
And his direct action to avoid using fossil fuels -- the main cause of climate change -- is beginning to look not so much eccentric as ahead of its time.
This year, David Cameron, leader of the opposition Conservative Party, said he would add a turbine and solar panels to his west London home, giving "microgeneration" mass media exposure.
Sure enough, domestic turbines promptly gained the accolade of a scare story in the tabloid press.
"Homeowners could be forced by Labour to put up 3,000 pound ($5,250) wind turbines on their roofs," warned the Daily Mail in an article about the governing Labour party's energy policy.
The government is so far showing no signs of making turbines compulsory but earlier this year it launched an initiative that will devote 80 million pounds ($150 million) over the next three years to develop and promote microgeneration.
The Energy Saving Trust, funded by the government and the private sector, says green power generation could supply more than one third of energy needs within a few decades.
About 80,000 homes in Britain are producing electricity with small renewable power generation units such as turbines.
Now turbines have been embraced by mainstream retailers like B&Q, a chain of hardware stores run by Kingfisher Plc, which sells them for 1,500 pounds ($2,800).
"(They) can be easily attached to your home and can save around a third of your electricity bill. And with energy high on the government's agenda, grants are available to cover up to 30 percent of the installed cost," the store gushed in a statement launching turbines last month.
The Energy Saving Trust, a government agency that coordinates attempts to boost renewable energy production and increase efficiency, estimates domestic wind turbines could supply 4 percent of Britain's electricity requirement and reduce domestic carbon dioxide emissions by 6 percent.
Solar panels could, if the price were reduced, also supply 4 percent of electricity needs and reduce domestic emissions by up to 3 percent, it said in a report last year.
"I have no doubt that microgeneration has the potential to be a major element of the energy mix," said Mark Lazarowicz, a member of parliament who sponsored a law passed this year aimed at simplifying the process.
"Speaking to some of the producers, they are saying they are getting more enquiries now than they can cope with. They are having to increase production to meet demand, and this will bring prices down, which will in turn increase demand."
Small turbine producers have sprung up in Britain.
One manufacturer, Futurenergy, sells domestic wind turbines for 695 pounds ($1,200) on its Web site (www.futurenergy.co.uk) and began shipping them four months ago. They now sell about 100 a week to customers all over the world, said director Peter Osborn.
His turbines are bigger than most domestic units and more suited to the windy north and west of Britain than fashionable west London.
But he said the market was huge for farms and rural users. Cameron and other Londoners could buy smaller models.
"I am very optimistic. Every day a new door opens, and they will continue to open," said Osborn.
Other retailers are similarly optimistic, although McCarthy warns that alternative energy will only go so far in Britain's battle to restrict the emissions causing global warming.
"Renewables are not the answer. This is about a range of things that come together. Mainly it's about reducing your need for energy," he said, as he showed off the array of electronics linking his devices to the national power grid.
"This is 40 percent lifestyle, 40 percent efficiency and renewables can only help with the rest. When you see how much some people waste, you need to tell them to start there."