When Susan O’Connell bought her house about five years ago outside Swords, there was a wind turbine on the property, generating electricity, she said.
“The people before me had it installed,” she said by phone on 21 August. “It’s standing on a pole in a field where I keep horses.”
It’s not one of those big spindly white ones that flock together in commercial wind farms. Hers is about the height of two tall trees, and generates enough power that she gets back about €500 a year, she says.
O’Connell’s is one of just 394 wind turbines that private households have in the four local authority areas of Dublin, according to 2022 census data.
Solar panels are much more popular. More than 19,000 homes in the county have solar panels for heating water, and more than 11,400 for generating electricity, according to census data.
There are lots of reasons for that, says Robert O’Sullivan of Fuinneamh Power, who installs and maintains wind turbines. But, he says, with the right turbine, the right site, and the right finances – wind can help power Dublin households too.
“If you can afford to do the two together you’ll have a great setup,” O’Sullivan says. In the summer, the solar will do well, and in the winter when there’s not so much sun the wind will pick up the slack.
In a housing estate between Finglas and Glasnevin, on the afternoon of Wednesday 16 August, Dermot McCormac pulled up to his house in his van.
Out he hopped, followed by two large brown dogs which jumbled out after him, sniffling the concrete footpath and neighbours’ lawns. It was a warm stuffy day, the sky grey.
Part of the ground floor of his two-storey semi-detached house was under construction, the front garden fenced off from the footpath, and dug up.
McCormac said he’d been planning to put a wind turbine on the roof of his house.
“I use a lot of electricity,” McCormac said. “I have a big aquarium.”
Indeed, there’s a 2,100-litre marine aquarium installed, glowing, just inside his front door, on the right. Brightly coloured powder blue tang and yellow tang drift and dart around coral.
O’Sullivan, of Fuinneamh Power, says he wouldn’t recommend attaching a wind turbine to a house as McCormac had planned.
It’s best to install a turbine somewhere that it’ll have space, a little away from houses and trees, where there won’t be swirls and eddies in the breeze – “dirty wind”, as O’Sullivan calls it.
A wind turbine’s more efficient in that kind of setting, he says. Also, the hum of a wind turbine could get annoying if you’re in the house, or even to neighbours, he says.
There are safety considerations, too, O’Sullivan says. Constant vibrations and “resonances” could slowly damage the house, he says. And what if strong winds knock the turbine off the house in a crowded neighbourhood?
In any case, McCormac wasn’t able to source the turbine he’d wanted and got permission to install. And one of the council’s conditions was that permission for the turbine was only for two years from when it was granted.
So, no wind turbine for McCormac’s house, for now.
In Balbriggan, a homeowner got planning permission in 2020 to attach a micro wind turbine to his house in a small residential street nearly at the sea’s edge, but high above the waves. But on 17 August, the turbine hadn’t been installed either.
It’s hard to get good small wind turbines in Ireland, said Elizabeth Ryan, who does customer relations and marketing for Sunstream Energy, speaking generally, not about either of the cases above.
Not many customers are buying them, so not many places are importing them, so options are limited. “It’s a small market,” she said by phone on Friday 21 August.
And there’s another barrier to running small wind turbines at people’s homes in Ireland too, Ryan said. There’s very few people who know how to maintain them, she says.
It’s a bit of a vicious circle, Ryan said. Because not a lot of people in Ireland are buying and installing wind turbines, there’s not a lot of companies importing, selling and maintaining them – which makes them less available and appealing as an option for people to buy and install.
Given all this, Sunstream has stopped selling wind turbines, Ryan said.
There are good sturdy wind turbines that thrive in Ireland’s climate, with its strong gusts, and humid sea-salty air, though, says O’Sullivan, of Fuinneamh Power.
He swears by a model formerly built by Scottish company Proven Energy which has been acquired by Japanese company SD Wind Energy.
They’re much bigger than the micro-turbines that McCormack and the owner of the Balbriggan house got planning permission to attach to their homes – but not nearly as big as the giant white spindly commercial ones.
Mike Hill’s got one at his house outside Newcastle in the South Dublin County Council area.
High on a hill, he’s got a view of farm fields (close), data centres (far) and the Poolbeg towers (like matchsticks in the far distance).
Not far from the house is his wind turbine, a nine-metre tall steel tube topped by three blades.
Sitting at a table in his bright, airy kitchen, Hill, who works a job in the IT sector from home, says he bought it about 15 years ago for about €28,000.
Hill’s father was Canadian science fiction and fantasy author Douglas Hill, who died in 2007. He was also one of the authors of The Young Green Consumer Guide, a 1997 book aimed at teaching children how they could help save the planet.
When Douglas Hill died, he left his son some money – and Mike Hill thought he’d love it if that went to pay for the wind turbine. That plus a government grant paid the set-up costs, he says.
In tribute to his dad, Hill dedicated the wind turbine to him with a hand written title in the concrete foundation that holds up the mast: “Windy old fart.”
The turbine’s been a success, Hill says. It can generate up to 6kw of electricity. Paired with an array of solar panels with the same capacity, they’ve a steady supply to power their house and their two electric cars.
“It’s a long-term investment,” Hill says. Later, by email, he says “Total production since installation is just under 120k kWh.”
Hill says he wouldn’t have the turbine except for a “perfect storm” of circumstances: his father’s interest in renewable energy and bequest, the government grant, a suitable large unobstructed site, and his wife Rosemary’s research into the details of choosing a turbine and getting it installed.
Wind turbines aren’t actually so rare in the area, though. There’s three or four in the neighbourhood, Hill says.
They cost roughly three times as much to buy and set up as an array of solar panels with the same capacity, says O’Sullivan, of Fuinneamh Power, who is there servicing Hill’s wind turbine this sunny day.
But then the wind turbine will generate roughly three times as much electricity as the solar array – because it operates closer to its capacity for more of the year, O’Sullivan says.
At the moment, wind turbines are a good fit for farmers, or others who have a bit of space, says O’Sullivan, of Fuinneamh Power.
They’ll have a site that’s big enough so its boundary is the mast’s height plus at least three metres, and so when the turbine’s operating it won’t be troubled by “dirty wind”.
And if they operate through a corporate structure, they can claim back the VAT, and also use the Accelerated Capital Allowances Scheme to offset the up-front costs.
The costs have gone up though, since Hill bought his turbine a decade and a half ago, says O’Sullivan. These days the set-up would be more like €43,000 plus VAT, he says.
“But as cars and boilers go electric and energy prices go up, it makes more and more sense,” O’Sullivan says.
Another consideration is what happens to a wind turbine when it’s decommissioned for whatever reason.
A wind turbine is mostly mechanical, rather than electronic like a photovoltaic solar panel, O’Sullivan says.
That means they can often be refurbished and put back into service, he says. But if that’s not possible, their parts can be recycled fairly simply, he says.