www.therussellhouse.org
   home of the Sliding House

   The website of Ross Russell and Sally Morris:
   documenting progress on our project to design and build our house in Suffolk in the far east of England.

update photopanorama compressed


This is the start of a page documenting the installation of our wind turbine.  The same format as the diary pages for Sliding House itself, so in reverse chronological order.

December 2009: Yes I know I said reverse chronological order, but it is easier to start with where we are now! I’ll fill in the earlier sections a bit later....

Starting with the basics, what we are installing is a Proven 15 kilowatt turbine on a 15 metre tall free standing mast.  It is a three blade turbine of a downwind design - there is no vane to keep it aligned into the wind nor any servo motors to do the same - merely a sail below the blades so that they swing away from the wind.   It is a grid-connected turbine. The house will we run on imported mains electricity when there is no wind and we will export any surplus power to the grid when it is howling a gale.  Given the layout of our site the turbine is actually quite close to the house (on the higher ground and hence catching more wind, despite nearby trees) rather than in the middle of our paddock which would have put it directly in the line of sight of our near neighbours as well as being further down a the slope. 

The expectation is that it will generate upwards of 15,000 kWh per annum - as much as our entire energy consumption in our all-electric house. We will export this via a split phase supply with about 7.5kW peak output through each phase. But in reality, during the winter when it is most windy, we will use a fair percentage of the power ourselves.

The pictures shown in various places below show the installation in progress. We had the foundations laid over the summer (more detail below) including trenching to lay cables from the turbine site to the garage, where all the clever electrical kit will reside. The turbine was delivered on 2 December and moved in sections to the place where it will stand.  I have then had four half days of work from the contractors to get it assembled and hoisted upright. The electrical installation will happen later his month and at the same time I expect to have an import/export meter installed to monitor the amount of power we will buy and the amount we will sell to the grid (as well as, for complex reasons, a “total generation meter” so that we can work out what the gross output from the turbine is and hence what subsidy we will get from the taxpayer for being an eco-pioneer). It should then be ready to switch on and get generating.

 

Here are some view from the house and around the site so you can see the context.  They are not great pictures (well it takes time to get the right light and wind conditions) but they’ll do for now.....

turbine 1 cturbine reflection cturbine through glass c

turbine 4 c02

turbine 3 c

 

turbine 4

 

Below: a few pictures of the turbine from around the site. Apart from our near neighbours (see bottom of this page for what they see) it turns out to be not too intrusive at all.  The pictures below were you can see a turbine at all were taken from bridleways or footpaths nearby - often with me taking care to get a good view from between trees and hedges.  The first shows the view from South of us on a public road: not too much of an eyesore I hope!

skyline 1c skyline 2c skyline 4c

 

September / October / November 2009:

Well here is a story. Having got planning consent and negotiated prices for the turbine and all the kit that goes with it, we should have been all set to go.  But at the last minute, a few problems arose with the electricity supply through which my mains power for the house is supplied and to which we will export surplus power from the turbine.

The first setback is that the necessary “three phase supply” which I asked for and paid for a couple of years back (when I was building the house) turns out to be nothing of the sort.  It turned out that the connection to the house was only a “split- phase” supply.  I had one phase for the geothermal heat pump and one for everything else. Not a good position to be in. Nevertheless, I thought, I just needed to get the local electricity company EDF to upgrade me to a three phase supply. “No problem” I think, given that I can see the overhead cables supplying the site and I can clearly count three cables, two of which are connected and one bend back on itself and left unconnected. All I need is for them to connect that spare cable to the supply in the house and I’ll have a true three phase supply. So I ask them. Their guidance says that this is cheap and quick.  But it is neither.

It turns out that the local transformer, the one that takes the 11,000 volt supply used for long-distance transmission and scales it back to 240 volts for household use, is not up to the job.  It’ll require an upgrade.

It then turns out that the supply to the transformer itself is single phase only - only two cables run to it not three.  So if I need a three phase supply that means running new cables from the nearest sub-station, which is more than a mile away. They will do it if I ask and charge the cost to me.  An indicative quote arrives for £25,000 for this upgrade! Despite conversations with neighbours (a garage and a large poultry farm, both of which have struggled with inadequate supply for many years and might benefit from an upgrade) this price is prohibitive, even if split several ways. So our choice is either to install a lower rated turbine (which would have been 6kW instead of 15kW and hence not a good alternative) or try to persuade EDF to let us feed 15kW through a single phase supply. This is technically possible but it requires sign-off by their engineers based on a survey of the local infrastructure and local electricity usage.  This takes several weeks.

But in the end they decide that I can feed 15kW of power into the grid using the existing supply and with no expensive upgrade at all. This is precisely the right answer, although it arrived several months later that I would have liked.  Anyway, in late November I got the message tat this was OK and was able to proceed. And the moral is?  Don’t take your electricity infrastructure for granted, even if you do live only 13 miles from Sizewell B which chucks out over 100,000 times as much power as I will!

 

August 2009: Well, at last some progress! On 3 August I got my planning consent confirmed in writing.  On 17 August I had the guys on site to dig foundations and fill with concrete.  This took a few days (not least because the clay here had baked hard in the summer) but it took only a few days on site to get a dirty great hole dug and filled with concrete, with the metal base-plate for the mast in place and secured via steel reinforcement grids. See a few photos below for a quasi time-lapse record of the process.

WT foundations 003WT foundations 103WT foundations 202WT foundations 302

WT foundations 402WT foundations 502WT foundations 603

July 2009: Most of my time on the project was spend dealing with bat issues (see here for the fascinating things I found out!). But on 22nd of July I went to the planning meeting to present the application and be ready to answer any questions.  This was a slightly nerve-wracking experience.  I went there all ready to butter them up by explaining how brilliant their decision to give consent for the sliding house itself was, given its subsequent awards, and how the turbine would make us wholly carbon-neutral.  In the end the planning officer did most of the selling for me and it went through without much difficulty at all. 

June 2009: The local parish council came to visit.  I thought it best to invite them to see the site so that when consulted by the District Council, they would be able to make a realistic assessment of the suitability of the site. In fact quite a few of them came to visit (a people carrier full) – I think they mainly wanted to see the house itself, although we did wander round to where the turbine would be and they asked a few questions.  I had previously spoken to each of the neighbours about this and all were very supportive, although our very near neighbour was obviously concerned about both noise and visual impact. In the end the site of the turbine got moved so that it is more in our line of sight (from our living room) and less in the line of sight of the neighbour. 

April/May 2009: My application for planning consent was submitted online on 7 April and followed up with paper copies a day later. The service standard they have here for small projects like this is that they will determine any application within 8 weeks of a complete application – which would have been 9 June.

There then followed a frustratingly inactive period. I had no response at all from the planning department, despite reminders.  About four weeks after the planning application went in I found out that they had lost the application and done nothing at all.  So I ended up submitting again, and then sending new information as they asked for it.  In mid may they wanted to visit the site to assess what a 15m tower would look like – in the end they couldn’t find time to do so I filled a large red balloon with helium and let it rise on a carefully measured 15metre string which I took photos of.  I’m not sure what they will have got from this given that even on a still day such as the one I chose, a balloon like that catches any breath of wind so it was very soon bobbing on the end of a 15 metre string at about a 45 degree angle!  Anyway the results [will be] shown below.

 

March 2009:  I’ve started the story here, although actually it goes back a bit further including lots of research on whether wind is better than solar (it is for electricity!), what size of turbine to buy, which manufacturer,  how suitable the site is etc. But this is the point at which I sought preliminary views from the planning department on what they would think of an application – I made an enquiry online and then at their office and got what I thought at the time was helpful advice (although they made no mention of bat surveys or noise restrictions, which would have been helpful – see later comments).

I made up a photo-montage to show the what the turbine might look like from the front of our near neighbours’ cottage. I’ve shown it below, together with a picture of the actual turbine now it is built.

skyline 3c

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