Why I bought the Power Predictor

Welcome to my blog where I talk about my experience researching Micro Wind Generator Systems (wind turbines under 50kw), and the Power Predictor wind anemometer. It was my lengthy research into wind turbines which led me to purchase a product called the Power Predictor wind anemometer, manufactured by a company called Better Generation. This blog documents my story so far…

Better Generation Power Predictor

“If you like, you can skip this post and go straight to the results!”

I stumbled across the Power Predictor whilst carrying out some research into the installation of a wind turbine on my girlfriend’s parents farm in the Peak District National Park. Rona & Geoff Cooper, from Common Barn Farm in Rainow, Cheshire had always wanted to install a wind turbine ever since I’ve known them, but due to busy work commitments and a hectic lifestyle, they have never found the time to investigate it further. It was inspiration gathered from a recent viewing of the highly acclaimed “The Age of Stupid” film, directed by Franny Armstrong that I decided to look into a greener lifestyle for myself and close family and friends, and spur me to take action into researching wind turbines.

Common Barn Farm sits in a very exposed position 1300ft above sea level, with gusting winds the daily norm, so Rona & Geoff always believed a wind turbine would be great addition to the farm. I believe they were always put off the idea because of the intense research and work involved in such a project such as applying for planning permission, deciding on which turbine to go for, which grants are available, how to sell electricity back to the grid and whether the Peak District National Park would actually approve it, not to mention can they actually afford it!

Common Barn Farm

Common Barn Farm

Rona & Geoff operate a large working sheep farm with over 800 sheep, as well as two holiday cottages, five bed and breakfast rooms and a tea room, so you can imagine how busy they are and how much electricity they consume. Last year, the annual consumption for the entire property was 45,000 kw/h, which is very high considering the average household energy consumption is around the 3300 kw/h mark. High consumption brings high bills and with a poor economy at present, I felt that I would take the burden off Geoff & Rona’s shoulders, and begin the research into wind turbines myself.

Last Tuesday, I took time out from work and spent the entire day speaking to numerous wind turbine companies and green energy related organisations. My aim was to find out the following:

  1. What is the average annual wind speed at Common Barn Farm and will this equate to be enough to power a wind turbine?
  2. What grants & loans are available for a wind turbine in the Peak District National Park?
  3. Which wind turbine should we have installed?
  4. Will we actually get planning permission if we are in the Peak Park?
  5. Which surveyor should we use?
  6. Can we generate enough power to match current consumption levels?
  7. Will we be able to sell excess power back to the grid, if so, how much is this likely to be?
  8. How much will the government pay us to generate our own power?
  9. How do Renewable Obligation Certificates work?
  10. What is a G59/1 application?

Reading this you’re probably wondering why I am babbling on about all of these questions, rather than talking specifically about the Power Predictor. Well I just thought it would help if I explain the entire process which lead me to purchase the Power Predictor, to help you make a better informed decision on whether this product is right for you. Just bear with me for a little longer!

Anyway, you can see from the list generated above that there is a lot of information and research required when it comes to purchasing a micro wind generator system. I’m calling it a micro wind generator system rather than a wind turbine, because I’m referring to a wind turbine with a rated output of 50kw and under. I’ve been advised by the many wind turbine installers that when applying for planning, you should always refer to it as a micro wind generator system, because the words “wind turbine” seem to stir up an image of a wind farm, which in my case and probably yours, is not what you have in mind. But to make my life easier for typing purposes, from now I will be calling it a wind turbine!

After a long day of telephone conversations and endless browsing of renewable energy websites last Tuesday (17th November 2009), I felt I had gathered enough information to relay back to Geoff & Rona the correct steps to take in installing a wind turbine. I’m not going to mention all of the details of my findings in this blog entry, rather just a summary, and will create new blog posts which go into more detail later on.

The initial step and also the most important one portrayed to me by the many experts in the field, was to gather accurate, average wind speed data for the location of where the wind turbine will be sited, to see whether a wind turbine would be suitable for powering the farm. You need an average annual wind speed of least 5 m/s for a wind turbine to be a viable source of renewable energy. You can check average wind speed data for your property by visiting the Wind Speed database on the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) website: http://www.berr.gov.uk/windspeed-database/page27326.html.

The figure quoted for Common Barn Farm was 6.9 m/s at a height of 25m agl (above ground level). The database gives average figures for 10m, 25m and 45 m agl.

Click on the image below to enlarge.

Windspeed Database Query Results for Common Barn Farm

Windspeed Database Query Results for Common Barn Farm

The problem with using the online database is that you only get data for a 1km grid square, which does not take into account buildings, hills, trees, telegraph poles etc…which cause turbulence and thus affect wind speeds. The data from the national wind speed database would be accurate if the land was flat and there was absolutely no objects in site, but this simply isn’t the case, so the only way of knowing for sure, is to measure the wind speed on your site yourself, using a wind cup anemometer.

The next step in the process is to arrange for an accredited surveyor to visit your property, so that they can analyse your land and view your current energy consumption from the grid, before recommending a suitable location and specific model of wind turbine. This step should probably be carried out before installing your wind anemometer, if your property is located within a large area of many acres. If you are just simply looking to install a wind turbine on the roof or side of your house within an urban area, measuring your wind speed first is probably the best option, but don’t quote me on this because I can only tell of my own personal experience of a large property; Common Barn Farm sits within 250 acres of land, meaning there are many possible positions for a wind turbine.  The location where you believe to be the best might in fact be quite the opposite if you haven’t factored in buildings, trees and turbulence created by steep hills. A survey will take out all the guess work in deciding where to site your anemometer and ultimately your wind turbine.

One surveyor advised by email, that the position of a wind turbine should be at least a lateral distance of 10 times the height of the obstruction, so with a 10m high building you need to be at the least 100m away. However, if you are located in a National Park like Geoff & Rona are, the location a surveyor suggests, will not necessarily be the location a planning officer agrees with. Nick Parsons from the South Yorkshire Energy Centre told me about another property called Stanedge Lodge in Sheffield, which is also in the Peak Park, which took approximately 5 years for planning permission to be granted. This was for a small 6kw Proven turbine, which in the end had to be painted green and sited close to a group of trees to camouflage it amongst the surrounding countryside. Ironically, this property is now on the front cover of the Peak District Renewable Energy leaflet!

We haven’t had a survey yet, but we are all off the opinion that we will have to compromise on the wind turbine location before planning is granted. We will probably have to compromise on the height and power output of the wind turbine too, so before we apply for planning, we are going to arrange an informal chat with our Local Planning Authority after a visit from a surveyor.

Once a survey is complete, a surveyor should be able to suggest an appropriate wind turbine based on the average annual wind speed for the proposed location, but for them to do this, they will have to have accurately measured the wind speed with an anemometer for at least 1 month, and ideally one year to take into account seasonally changes. On account of this, surveyors will often use the data from the wind speed database to recommend a wind turbine which will suit your property, in terms of annual output, max operating conditions and payback time. As previously mentioned, this method is pretty inaccurate, and you could end up with a wind turbine which doesn’t suit your property. This leads me onto the reasons why I chose the Power Predictor by Better Generation.

It was after a recommendation from Phil at the Energy Saving Trust and a subsequent telephone conversation with Gary Payne from Live Work Greener, who also praised the Power Predictor that I decided to look into this product and after my own research, purchase it.

You will probably have found this website after searching for more information on the Power Predictor, so you’ve probably a rough idea of what it does, but for those of you unfamiliar, I will explain. The Power Predictor, invented by Toby Hammond from Better Generation, is a wind cup anemometer with built in data logging facilities which allows you to upload your wind speed data which you have gathered from your property, to the Power Predictor website which analyses your recordings. The Power Predictor website converts the raw pulse data which is recorded from the device into meaningful m/s data, which will show you graphs of the wind speed for your property on different days of the month, for up to a maximum of 3 different locations, if you have decided to test different areas.

The best bit about the Power Predictor is the fact that their website holds up to date power output data for all the top wind turbine manufacturers and their different models of turbines. The wind speed data recorded from your property can be compared with the outputs for all the turbines in their database, giving you an accurate projection of which turbine would be best for your site in terms of the biggest financial and carbon savings and the fastest payback period. So if you are like me, in that you will probably have to keep moving the anemometer to test new locations which meet planning approval, you will be able to make an informed decision easily about which turbine to go far, if your new wind speed data is different to your previous reading.

Here’s a video animation of how the Power Predictor works:

YouTube Preview Image

I did look at other wind anemometer devices, but found that there wasn’t anything out there which really compared, especially at the price of £149.50. To me it was a no brainer, especially after the advice I received from the Energy Saving Trust. If you have watched the video above, you will have noticed that the Power Predictor can also collect solar data and compare it with the projected figures of leading solar panel manufacturers, in the same way it does for wind data.  This makes the Power Predictor even better value, as this will come in handy at later date, when I look at installing solar panels. After I’ve finished using it, I’m going to lend it to family members and friends who I’m sure will appreciate using it too.

I opted to buy the Power Predictor with the 6m extension cable, as we are planning on mounting our anemometer approximately 15m above the ground. The Power Predictor does however come with a 5m cable, so if you are able to mount the device somewhere with access by a ladder you should be fine without the extra 6m.

We are quite fortunate in that Stockport Radio Society use the land at Common Barn Farm to hold radio contests, so with their kind permission, we are going to mount the Power Predictor onto their radio mast which stands 50ft above ground level. We will still have you use a ladder to reach the memory card located in the data logging device, but this should be fine. I will let you know how we get on in later blog posts. If you don’t have anything suitable to mount your anemometer on, Better Generation also sell a 12m mast which is available from their website.

I ordered the Power Predictor on Saturday 21st November 2009, and as soon as it arrives, I will update this blog with my findings and will continue to add new posts every time I download an update from the data logger. My next post will let you all know how easy the Power Predictor was to set up, and whether I had any problems.

To find out more information about the Power Predictor, please visit the Better Generation website, where you’ll find detailed spec lists and additional product features.

If you would like to stay update with my new blog entries detailing my Power Predictor findings, please add your name and email to my newsletter subscription box in the top right of this page.

I hope this blog entry has been useful to you and I haven’t bored you too much!

Until next time, Ben

Power Predictor Results

Well, it’s about time I wrote a new post so here it is! I retrieved the Power Predictor from the mast on the 12th January after I had returned from my Christmas holiday in Hong Kong and Thailand. I must admit, I was a little anxious of whether the Power Predictor had stood up to the harsh weather conditions the UK had experienced whilst I’d been away, but I had nothing to worry about. Upon examining the device, the plastic cover was coated in ice particles and was completely misted up, but I soon managed to undo the clips and retrieve the memory card. I think the silicon moisture absorber pad, which comes inside the Power Predictor had done its job well! I was also a little worried that the battery might have run flat on me, considering I’d left it for 6 weeks in the very cold weather, but all was fine. A fellow Power Predictor user commented on one of my previous blog entries to say that the battery had run flat on him after only a few days, but this was because he had left the screen display on, instead of setting it to turn off after 5 seconds.  I spoke to Toby from Better Generation the other day and he said that they are replacing the current battery the device is supplied with, with a long life Duracell one for extra piece of mind. But like I say, I didn’t experience any problems with low battery life.