Quiet Revolution Goes Quiet: Maker of QR5 VAWT Files for Bankruptcy

By Paul Gipe

Quiet Revolution, the one-time manufacturer of an architecturally dramatic helical wind turbine, filed for bankruptcy on 15 April in London.

Note: The following is adapted from the forthcoming Wind Power: Renewable Energy for Home, Farm, and Community by Chelsea Green scheduled for release in 2015.

The strikingly beautiful QR5, Quiet Revolution’s helical, fixed-pitch VAWT has been widely imitated. Despite its appearance, it remains a simple H-rotor that intercepts less than 16 m2 of the wind stream. While the manufacturer rated the turbine at 6.5 kW, the QR5 is equivalent to a conventional wind turbine 4.4 meters in diameter rated at 3.2 kW to 4 kW. Like many other VAWTs, the QR5 used inflated power ratings.

Because of their dramatic aesthetic appeal, helical VAWTs quickly become the darling of architects looking to adorn their buildings with some “green” ornamentation. In North America, the addition of a wind turbine to a building or as part of a building’s development gives the building design extra “points” toward an energy-efficiency certification. Architects seeking top honors became notorious for adding small wind turbines—often helical—as an architectural element, often only kinetic sculptures. Quiet Revolution pioneered this market in Great Britain and was probably the world’s most successful company at integrating their wind turbines as part of an architectural design.

Company press releases emphasized the “compact design” of the turbine, making it more suitable, they claimed, for rooftop installation. Of course, what they failed to say is that, by definition, a “compact design”–or one that has little swept area—will generate very little electricity. Nor did the company explain that rooftop siting of wind turbines was problematic at best.

In the fall of 2008, RWE, one of Germany’s “big four” electric utilities invested ₤7 million ($11 million) into the company. RWE is not a significant developer of renewable energy in its home market, and is notorious for aggressively opposing expanded renewable energy in Germany. Critics quickly suggested that RWE was trying to “greenwash” its image in Britain by promoting wind turbines. Past experience with utility investment in questionable new wind turbines was usually the “kiss of death”.

Quiet Revolution launched in 2005 and by 2008 had installed only 30 turbines throughout Britain. In early 2011, the company was hoping to double the number of installed turbines from 150. In late spring 2011, the QR5 became the first small VAWT–of any configuration—to become certified to international standards.

Now, after several years of operation, tales of the turbine’s performance in the field were becoming available. It was not unexpected, then, to hear the company announce in late 2012 that they were redesigning and recertifying the turbine to double its output and to increase the turbine’s return on investment.

By late 2013, the new turbine had yet to be certified and Quiet Revolution was promoting a conventional Chinese-built wind turbine on its web site. The Chinese wind turbine achieved certification to the British standard. Meanwhile, the certification for the original QR5 was removed, though it was expected that the redesigned turbine would eventually become certified.

Like all its predecessors, what began with much fanfare, failed to remake the market for small wind turbines. After nearly a decade of promotion, less than 200 of the QR5 had been installed worldwide, only marginally better than Herman Drees’ Pinson Cycloturbine in the early 1980s.