From Beer Coasters to EU Parliament

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Sometime in the fall of 2010 I sat down with my friend Kate Harriman at a bar in Amsterdam. Our drinking hole of choice was Pacific Parc in the Westerpark and I had invited Kate to help me develop a new idea into a real photography project.

I recognized that climate change imagery focusing on environmental impacts wasn’t encouraging action – instead, it seemed to be pushing many towards complacency. It was time to work on something positive. Something that shared stories about change, about renewable energy, and about how the world is today – not some distant future that we can’t grasp.

Over a glass of Texels Skuumkoppe we started to write down our ideas and thoughts on the only available stationary, the beer coasters. Inevitably we ran out of coasters but quickly solved the problem by ordering more beer.

Over the next months and years, Kate and I continued to spend countless hours on our project. It now had a name, Force, and we wrote proposals, called potential partners, honed our language, and called more partners.

I found the first story after a 30km bike ride to visit farmer Stephan de Clerck.20130604_rvw_amsterdam_013 He and his family have been harvesting the wind for over a decade. That bike ride quickly told me two things: first, a bike is not the easiest mode of transportation for a project on wind energy, and second, the locations weren’t going to be easily accesible.

My trips started to get further and further afield. A bit of money from a magazine allowed me to self-fund a trip to the the Czech Republic. I tacked a few days on a travel magazine gig to get stories from Ireland. A trip to Nepal for the Climate Oxide project allowed an exploration into the nascent wind energy scene in Kathmandu. A family visit to Australia allowed me to stop in Thailand to explore the construction of the largest wind park in South East Asia.

The stories were varied and by the end of 2011 included 5 countries.

I partnered with the Global Campaign for Climate Action who posted the stories in the lead up to RIO +20 and this got the attention of the European Wind Energy Association. The EWEA felt that my story-based communication was a breath of fresh air, and they adopted it as part of their 2013 communications plan. They funded the exploration of three more European countries – Romania, the UK and Poland. That three-week whirlwind trip resulted in 8 more stories and the EWEA has been steadily publishing these stories on their blog over the last few months.20130604_rvw_amsterdam_015

Yesterday I was at the European Parliament for the the opening reception of the photography exhibit Discover the Stories Behind Wind Energy. Images are below. Six different stories from six different EU countries line the Couloir Cheval – the corridor where the conservative MEPs pass through on the way to their office. Good placement!

It has been a long road, 3 years. It involved a lot of trust, commitment and personal investment, but Force has once again reaffirmed my belief that a good idea, combined with a lot of hard work, will result in exciting partnerships and successful projects.

The EWEA photo exhibition will continue to be shown by EWEA members across Europe in the coming year.

Quality visuals and well-told stories can make a difference. It is my hope that the Force project has helped us to take a small step towards the future that we want.

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Three Mayors, three Communities, one wind

This post originally appeared on the EWEA website. It is a part of my Force series focusing on the stories behind wind energy.

 

Rosu Nuti
Mayor of Progresu and Fácáeni
Romania
Population: 7200

Rosu Nuti was born in Progresu and has been the mayor here for 10 years. Her ambitious spirit is apparent the moment she walks in a room and if you need proof of how hard she works, one glance at her overflowing desk should help.

When Rosu first heard about the plan to construct a 44 turbine wind farm in the community, she immediately saw the benefits. However, as is always the case with something new in a community, there was some confusion and pessimism among the citizens.

Rosu spent a lot of energy organising and convincing the village that this was a good idea. Eventually they came around and ground will be broken on the project this year.

For Progresu and Fácáeni the money injected into the local economy will have a clear benefit. Infrastructure here is underdeveloped: roads are poor and horse-and-cart is still the mode of transport for many. Any local jobs that are created will be welcome in a village with an unemployment rate of 45%.

“The earth won’t be able to give us fossil fuels for eternity, and when we take into account the nuclear plant nearby, we prefer to have a field of turbines,” says Rosu.

Valentin Vrabie
Mayor of Pestera
Romania
Population: 3500

Valentin Vrabie is the most popular mayor in Romania. He was awarded a prize for best mayor in Romania and was re-elected with 95% of the vote. He has achieved this distinction not on his own, but with the help of the wind blowing through Pestera.

When wind energy developers came to Pestera, interested in building a 30 turbine farm, Valentin Vrabie seized the opportunity. He immediately opened the doors and did what he could to streamline the process. He understood that the revenue from this project could turn Pe?tera around.

Valentin didn’t believe that the taxes from the wind farm should go to the county office in Constan?a. He successfully lobbied to have the laws changed and the taxes are now flowing into the Pe?tera commune coffers.

The results of this legislative change are apparent everywhere in Pestera. There is a beautiful new park, a new mosque, a new school complete with fibre optic line and new laptops, and a renovated church. Every year large light shows and celebrations attract tens of thousands of people. All this in a period of global crisis mentions Valentin.

Valentin and the community are excited that there is another wind farm coming to Pestera this year. It will make this commune one of the richest in the country. As for Valentin, when he has finished his term in Pe?tera commune he has his political sights set on the county.

Beiu Ion
Mayor of Saligny
Romania
Population: 2300

Beiu Ion was the vice-mayor of Saligny,when the turbines were built. 19 in total, they stand on unused agricultural ground on a hill above the village, surely a sight prettier then the nuclear reactors over the hill in Cernavoda.

Beiu and the villagers were very supportive of the project to build the turbines when initially proposed. The construction was smooth and although there were a few small disputes, when the money started to come in, those concerns were quickly overcome.

That money, approximately €300,000 a year, goes a long way in this little community. When Beiu was elected mayor last year he inherited a community that is transforming. First on Beiu’s list is to ensure all the houses have running water and to pave the roads in Saligny. With a life span of 25 years on the wind farm, the community is looking forward to a future with the wind.

Wiping the Slate Green

This post originally appeared on the EWEA website. It is a part of my Force series focusing on the stories behind wind energy.

Delabole is famous for its hole in the ground. Well, to be more accurate, it is famous for its slate mine. The hole is visible from the backyard of Peter and Jacqueline Harman’s slate house. For 23 years that hole has had a backdrop, contrasting new and old, of the first commercial wind farm in the UK.

The wind turbines turn lazily in the Atlantic breeze. They don’t bother Peter. “I think that if people could see that they can benefit from it, it might change their opinion,” says Peter.

Peter and Jacqueline are retired pensioners that have just moved to Delabole, a little village in the south west of the United Kingdom. Their home is still in a state of renovation; boxes piled high, furniture covered with sheets and projects visibly underway. Everything in this house runs on electricity, including the heating; and when your walls are 21 inches of slate it can take a while to warm up. Although “once warm, it stays warm” insists Peter.

The Harmans’ electricity bill is significant so Peter spent some time researching the best rates. He noticed an article in the local paper, The Slate, with details about the new Delabole Local Tariff from Good Energy.

The concept is simple. Good Energy owns the aforementioned wind farm and their customers living within two kilometres of the site are eligible for a local tariff. The idea is that those that have it in their backyard should benefit from it. This is something that the developers of Delabole wanted to do at the very beginning but only recently has a change in regulations allowed it to happen.

The tariff gives a 20% discount on standard energy prices and includes an additional ‘windfall’ bonus. If the turbines exceed their expected yearly performance each household gets £50. It is the first scheme of its kind in the UK and puts the community at the centre of renewable energy generation.

After speaking to Good Energy, Peter didn’t even look at other rates. He immediately signed up and as of April they have been receiving their discounted wind energy. He believes that he will save around £70 per year, no small amount for a retired couple.

Peter emphasizes that it wasn’t only the financial reward that affected their decision. He says that Jacqueline is a strong believer in the need for action on global warming, and even if he hasn’t quite made up his mind on the science, he really likes renewable energy and what it represents.

Peter has spread the word and now several of his neighbours have also shown an interest in signing up. He thinks that this idea should be replicated across the UK.

“Wind farms are a good idea, as long as they don’t put hundreds of them everywhere and spoil everything, but if they have a wind farm in a local area, why shouldn’t local people benefit from having it there?”

 

Force – stories behind wind energy

 (Robert van Waarden)

The Force project was born from my belief that by providing examples of positive personal and community stories, we can help grow the renewable energy sectors and avoid the worst consequences of a climate crisis. Force is a series of photographic essays that highlight that wind energy solutions are not an aspect of the future but are a lived reality right now for people and communities all over the world.

This project has proven to be an important and timely vehicle through which to communicate wind energy solutions. Force has been supported by the European Wind Energy Association and the Global Wind Energy Council.

Leading up to Global Wind Day on June 15, 2013, the EWEA will publish one or two new stories each week from the Force project and then exhibited the stories at the European Parliament in June, 2013.

There are two ways to discover the Force stories, explore the map below or visit the image gallery.

 

Birds and Turbines – An Ornithologist in Poland.

This post originally appeared on the EWEA website. It is a part of my Force series focusing on the stories behind wind energy.

The shadows are still long on the freshly fallen snow when Krzysztof Pietrzak starts out on his daily walk. Spring is in the air here in Goscino, Poland, and during the next few hours Krzysztof will walk 10 km with his dog Ciapa (‘clumsy’). Krzysztof is an ornithologist. Everyday he follows the same route, monitoring the bird and bat activity at the wind farm near Goscino. His primary job is to determine the mortality rates of birds and bats in relation to the turbines. And Ciapa, despite her playful and clumsy character, is a trained professional particularly good at finding bats.

Inevitably one of the first questions Krzysztof receives is; how many birds or bats have these turbines killed?

“In the first few months of working here, I killed more birds with my car driving to the site, than I discovered killed by the turbines.” he responds. The official statistics of this ten turbine farm is eight – 16 birds per year, around one bird per turbine each year. He attributes this to the location of these turbines. They are away from the edges of the forest, marshes, swamps or rivers; places that birds frequent. “Cars, trains, electrical fences, triangular electrical poles; all these things kill more birds then wind turbines.” says Krzysztof.

Krzysztof began working with birds at the age of 15, volunteering for local NGOs in Poland. He credits his love of birds and the natural world to his childhood. His mother taught him sensitivity to the environment and he proudly says that his first steps were taken in the forest. He holds a degree in biology with a specialisation in ornithology, and is further educated in agriculture and physiotherapy.

The growing wind energy industry has been a boon for ornithologists. An unemployed ornithologist is difficult to find in Poland now, quite a shift from a few years ago when there were very few paid opportunities for people in this profession.

“It’s not a job for everyone, it is a lifestyle,” says Krzysztof. “My friend is my dog, the job keeps me fit and I haven’t been sick in years. The most difficult part is the weather. But, I think that I can call myself a happy person, which isn’t very common in Poland.”

Krzysztof spends every day walking under turbines so what does he actually think about them? He says he likes them. However, he insists that it is important to engage an ornithologist early in the planning process to avoid headaches later.

For Krzysztof a larger concern with wind farms is the potential impact on bird migration pathways. It is easy for a flock to go around one farm, but on a long flight from northern Europe to Africa, the amount of wind farms to be avoided is much greater. Typically a migratory flight takes a lot of energy so birds arrive very tired. The addition of what could amount to hundreds of extra kilometres over the whole route could cause problems. Krzysztof admits that studying this issue would be very difficult and so right now it remains only his theory.

The length of the study on birds at the Goscino wind farm is ten years. This means Krzysztof finds himself in the enviable position of having a secure job due to wind energy. He loves it. Walking under the turbines gives him time to think and he dreams of one day canoeing the Yukon River in Canada and joining the Polish Antarctic stations. But, until he makes it to those far-off places, he can be found on his walk under the turbines with his friend, Ciapa, bounding along happily beside him.

FORCE – Inspiring a Photography Contest

 

Unique windmill with Halladay turbine in village Ruprechtov, near Brno, Czech Republic. Cyril Wágner the owner and builder installed in 1882 thru 1884 a Halladay turbine, named after its inventor and design engeneer, American farmer Daniel Halladay. The runner consists of a chain of operable vanes controlled by rods, enabling them to be tilted as required automatically according to the wind. Duble tail vane maintained the wheel at the right course. Using this invention, the mill could double its output in corn processing...The turbine with a diameter of 10 meters, weighing approximatelly 2 tons revolves at about 16 meters above the ground. (Robert van Waarden)

A couple of years ago I started the Force project, a photographic body of work that highlights the social, cultural and human stories behind wind energy. The Force project was born from my personal conviction that by providing examples of positive personal and community stories, we can help grow the renewable energy sectors and avoid the worst consequences of a climate crisis.

Throughout my travels I have met some amazing and inspiring people and this project has proven to be an important and timely vehicle through which to communicate wind energy solutions.

I am very proud of the most recent development in this project. Force has inspired the subject of the Global Wind Day and European Wind Energy Associations (EWEA) 2013 amateur photography contest. Everyone is now invited people to submit and share their wind energy stories for a chance to win.

This is a wonderful development because it gives many people the opportunity to share their stories and help inspire change. Do you have a wind energy photograph and story? Drop by their site to enter.

I will be sitting on the jury panel and I look forward to judging the results. The winning images will be displayed in Brussels at the European Commission on June 15.

Furthermore, I will be working with the EWEA over the next few months to expand the Force project. If you want to stay on top of these developments, follow me on twitter, sign up for my newsletter or watch this blog!

Low Wind Key to Success in Thailand

“I know that 70% of the area in the world has a low wind speed. I thought, if we want to promote the wind machine, 70% is a lot of the world,” Dr. Roy.

Dr. Wirachai Roynarin or (Dr. Roy as he is more commonly known), is a Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at RMUTT in Bangkok and owner of Prapai Technologies, a company that specializes in low wind-speed turbines. He grew up in a small farming family, where he learned to respect the land, before going to England to study. He returned to Thailand believing he could help his country and he set his sights on the wind.

He is excited about the prospects for wind energy in Thailand, but insists that it must be done correctly. A few years ago, during the fuel crisis in Thailand, wind energy suddenly became popular. Companies began importing and installing wind turbines that were largely not suitable for the low wind speeds of Thailand.

“When they bring from abroad, they look like a monument, they don’t rotate. Until a storm comes and then they rotate. They are not designed for most of our region,” says Dr. Roy.

A solution lies in low speed, decentralized wind turbines he says. Wind turbines that can be put anywhere and are small, light structures, like ants feeding the grid. The first major project of Prapai is the King’s Wind Farm. A 200kw wind park made up of 20 individual 10kw wind turbines. The park is about 100m square and located in the village where the King of Thailand spends his summers. The King himself supported the construction and the electricity is directed to the community and the grid. It has been deemed a success, although not without difficulties. Dr. Roy and his team have had to grapple with earthquakes and monsoon gusts. When I visited the site, workers were busy in the 42-degree heat repairing three turbines that were damaged from a recent monsoon.

The wind farm was developed on a previously dry, deserted field and for Dr. Roy this is very important. “The most important thing we have is the forest. We need to protect the forest.” he says. “Why do you have to destroy the forest and the fresh water to put the wind machine on a mountain? You can put a 10kw wind machine anywhere in Thailand, you don’t have to cut the tree, you can put wherever you want. You can put it in front of your home, in front of your office. It isn’t tall, it is 18m, it is nice, it is lovely, you can decorate it, and you get energy.”

Dr. Roy is quick to counter any suggestion that his motives are strictly business led. He suggests that he wouldn’t mind if you closed Prapai Technologies and didn’t order his product. Just make sure that the product you do use is suitable for the wind speeds and country of Thailand.

“My wind machine maybe are not the perfect machine in the world,” says Dr. Roy “but I know that they are good machine in this world, because they are not made for business, they are made from the heart.”

Led by Dr. Roy, low wind-speed development could take off. But will Thailand recognize the benefits of the only wind turbines made in Thailand for Thailand?

This blog post is part 10 and the final of a series of wind energy stories from photographer Robert van Waarden