Wind Turbines Northern Ireland

Wind Turbines are one of the most promising forms of renewable energy systems to have emerged in the last ten years. Wind turbines generate electricity directly from wind power, and with Northern Ireland having a reasonably strong supply of steady wind, we are ideally placed to harness the potential of this form of renewable energy.

Although the principle of a wind turbine is very simple, the successful application of this renewable technology is far from straightforward. Wind Turbines are generally quite expensive and consideration should always be given to the ‘payback period’. Simply put, if a turbine costs £10,000 to install and generates £2500 worth of electricity every year then the payback period would be 4 years. This is a very simplified example and raises as many questions as answers. For example:

  • What might the maintenance costs be (these need to be added to the overall cost)?
  • How can I estimate how much wind energy will be generated (wind surveys can help here)?
  • Who will buy the energy off me? (this is not currently a problem as the government is keen to promote renewable energy)

Although there is a lot of potential with wind turbines as a form of renewable energy, the return on investment has generally proven to be quote poor in Northern Ireland. In most sites, the wind is only strong enough to run the turbines about 35-40% of the time. This will vary from site to site, but the general average would be in around the 35% mark.

Feeding power into the grid

Wind Turbines are not generally suitable for local ‘consumption’ – the generation of the power does not coincide with immediate domestic demand, and storing it can be quite expensive. So the typical solution is to feed the electricity into the national grid. Residents of Northern Ireland who have installed renewable energy technologies, including a wind turbine, are entitled to claim a ‘Feed-in Tariff’. These are subsidised tariffs to promote the generation of renewable energy, whether it be from hydro, wind or solar energy. With a feed-in tariff, you earn a fixed income for every kilowatt of energy that your wind turbine creates – this income is earned whether you use the energy yourself or export it onto the grid. Additional income is earned for every kilowatt that you sell back onto the grid (i.e. you earn money for generating the energy in the first place, but you earn even more if you don’t use the energy up yourself.)

Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) place an obligation on electricity suppliers to source a certain proportion of their electricity supply from renewable sources. They came into effect in Northern Ireland in 2005. ROCs will typically come in to play in larger scale operations such as wind farms.

Go big or go home

Although some individuals are attracted to the installation of a wind turbine solution for environmental reasons and to reduce their carbon footprint, the decision will typically boil down to a financial calculation. Owning and managing a wind turbine is an expensive activity and if it is not done right it could end up costing a lot of money. The real money is to be made in the big wind turbines that generate significant amounts of energy. Small domestic wind turbines, although admirable from an environmental point of view, do not typically generate significant revenue for their owners.