Wales has an excellent wind resource, and a wind turbine is perhaps the most potentially lucrative of the renewable energy technologies available to communities. However, it is also the most contentious technology and the development of a community wind turbine will require lots of consultation to ensure local public support for what your group is trying to do. The planning process for a wind turbine can also be much more involved, costly and protracted than for other technologies.
The economics of wind energy depend upon the speed and frequency of the wind at your chosen site. High, elevated sites, and those near the coast, usually provide the best wind speeds with low turbulence. Having ascertained that your chosen site has an amenable owner who is willing to consider the development of a turbine, the first step is to find out if there is enough wind at the site to make it a viable proposition. To do this, you can make use of the NOABL database, which holds average wind speed data from right across the UK. You can access the NOABL model via the DBERR website for free. The database carries wind speed data at three different heights, 10m, 25m and 45m. This correlates to the average ‘hub’ heights of the different sizes of turbine. As a rule of thumb, for turbines of 500kW and above with a minimum 45m hub height, you are looking for a wind speed of 6.5 metres/second (m/s) or above.
The only way you can be sure of the power output that you can expect from your wind turbine is to measure the wind speed and direction of the wind over a twelve month period. This is done using wind measurement equipment commonly known as an anemometer. Hiring an anemometer for a year and gaining the required consent to erect it is complex, time consuming and an expensive up-front cost. An alternative is to purchase a Virtual Met Mast report for your site. This is data produced by the MetOffice and is based upon historic wind speed data from the area around your site that is then modelled to the specific location and hub height of your turbine. The accuracy of this modelling is good and certainly enough to base your energy generation calculations and the cash flow for your project, but you may find that any potential investors will require the certainty of measured data from the site before they are willing to lend.
The access to your site for construction of the turbine and the availability or cost of laying a new connection to the grid in order to export the electricity you generate are other key elements that can make or break your project. Early discussions with the Distribution Network Operator (DNO) in your area are recommended. Similarly, the impact of your turbine on the landscape, and whether it is sited within or near an historic or environmentally important and protected site (SSSI, SAC, Ramser) will determine both the likelihood of your being able to obtain planning permission and whether additional information such as an Environmental Impact Assessment will be required. As with the DNO, early discussions with your local Planning Officer and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) are recommended, so that you have a good overview of the regulatory requirements and the development costs you will need to find before you are in a position to raise the finance to install your turbine.
More information on how you might fund your project can be found on our Funding page.
This page is also available in: Welsh