The hidden history of wind power in Peterborough

airfix propellor screenshot

I am convinced that the design of wind turbines is still in its infancy.  Having said that, I don’t really understand why people are sometimes quite rabidly opposed to the air fix propellor on a stick model, which is doing such a great job all over Europe.  Yes they are very engineer-y.  Yes they are so clearly using technology used in the aircraft industry.  Yes, they are very very masculine and depending on where they are put they can be a little domineering.  But how could it be otherwise?  These are the soldiers: the vanguard of the wind generation revolution: these massive rotators fight to get the tiniest bit of political support, they are the machines which have to demonstrate massive power potential in locations remote from their own consumers.  They have not picked their territory: they are nobly fighting to secure a place in the same antiquated network model as the fossil and nuclear power generators we need to replace: not necessarily the ideal battle field for wind.  When you look at one of the larger structures you cannot fail to recognise the language of aeroplanes including their use in warfare: even if your awareness is purely instinctive or unconscious.  Perhaps that is part of the negativity they sometimes attract. Here they are in cheerful, colourful mode doing their bit to explain and defend the work of the wind energy industry (and attracting the usual derisory moans and grizzles).

But while this massive battle rages, delicate vertical axis models have been available for ages (look up VAWT ).  They have been quietly dancing, spinning curvaceously, unobtrusively, like wine glasses or a flimsy dress picking up the tiniest, the slightest breath of wind.  The delicacy of what they can do doesn’t always get as far as Youtube, where up-loaders succumb to the prevailing pressure to post videos showing how fast, rather than how slow they can go.  Here is one going pretty fast and working flat out for a Welsh school:

A decade ago I felt that the VAWTs might be the future, with their much more feminine profiles, greater potential to blend in and work quietly, more decoratively and much less obtrusively.  Unhampered by lurking military resonances.  Would they last longer, situated as they can be in much less exposed settings?  Would they prove more resilient?  They look good near trees and buildings and they work hard in community settings, right alongside the consumer of the power they generate, wasting much less in the grid.  I have wondered: would these smaller sideways turners be the future?  They certainly don’t seem to generate the same vituperative anti wind spin.  If they haven’t already caught your attention look up “vertical axis wind turbine” on Youtube.  You will find a huge international ideas festival of designs and the international community of people: engineers, technicians, artists… working on them, in their gardens, in their schools, in their workshops and factories.

Then there are the millions of people fascinated by the decorative potential of wind.

This isn’t a wind turbine: it is a moving sculpture and it talks maths, jellyfish and snowflakes.  It appeals to wind chime enthusiasts, garden designers.  But can you  imagine something like it gently turning on The Green Backyard and providing power? Or in one of Peterborough’s parks? Couldn’t something a little simpler go on your chimney? Couldn’t wind power look stunning?

Considering its location, the unitary authority area of Peterborough has astonishingly low levels of wind generated power.  Personally I assume this has to do with its politics.  It can’t be to do with its engineering skill base.  But did you know that Peterborough does have a well hidden history of wind turbine investigation, if not early adoption?  But it is so well hidden that you could be driven to wonder whether it might actually have been concealed.  You have to be in the know to have even found out that there is something to look for.  I know that someone tried and where it happened: but I only know a tiny bit about it, but it doesn’t make sense:  there isn’t a narrative which tells the story.   I am sure there must be more to it than I have been able to discover.  I also don’t know why this early attempt at wind power generation fell so early and failed to progress.  Who or what stopped it in its tracks?  Was it really just lack of money? Could that have been what scuppered it?  I for one don’t know what happened.  I am inviting you to share what you know with me privately using this form or publicly in the comments section:

Author: Fiona Radic

Web Weaver, Network Cultivator

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