Sustainable Garden Pleasures: The Firewinder

The Firewinder on Glastonbury Tor
Tom, Joe and the Firewinders on Glastonbury Tor

Recently, I had the pleasure of driving with Joe Wadsworth in the Brighton to London Eco-Rally.   Aside from being a great co-driver, he’s also partly responsible for waving the flag for the ingenious Firewinder.

Here, Joe shares his views on renewable and sustainable energy, as well as letting us into the secrets behind one of the hottest eco-products to hit the market this year. 

Q – What is the Firewinder, who invented it and tell us more about them?

A Firewinder is a wind powered lantern – the Original Windlight. It was conceived by the founder of the Firewinder Company, Tom Lawton, and resembles a three foot high pasta twist with LEDs on the edges that light up when it spins in the wind. Firewinder breathes with the wind, the greater the windspeed the brighter the lights.

Q – What’s your involvement with Firewinder and why are you so passionate about a wind powered light?

Both Tom and I wear many hats and have many different aspects of a fledgling business to attend to, but generally I look after the commercial side of the business. That said, we’re only at the start of the Firewinder journey, so you’ll more often than not find us bashing scaffolding tubes into the floor and strapping Firewinders onto various posts, walls, towers or updating websites and negotiating accounting packages. It’s a very varied job for sure!

And why so passionate about a windlight? You only have to see one in a 20 mile an hour wind and you’ll see! Seriously though, captivating and mesmerising lightshow apart, I believe Firewinder has a part to play in engaging and inspiring people to consider renewable energy. I guess suggesting it will raise the collective consciousness towards being more sustainable is a bit rich and preachy, but for me it’s about having a very visual method of communicating how easy it is to turn wind into power.

Q – Aside from its obvious use as a delicious exterior light, does it serve another purpose?

In its current form no, it’s just a wind powered light with a green message !

Q – Do you believe conscious consumers are voting with their purses and buying more sustainable products?

Yes, for sure there are many more companies producing a proliferation of sustainable products for these eco-conscious customers – the trouble is that with the economy being the way it is, there are a considerable number of people who are currently more focused on the monetary cost of things rather than the environmental cost, and this is a hard one to crack.

Q – Indeed, is it possible to be a truly ethical consumer?

No, not really… For me it’s about starting the process and embracing continual improvement. Let’s face it, food production, clothing, transport, the Internet – lots of these things and the way in which we use them are not ethical, but as I say making the change isn’t flicking a switch. It’s more a process that involves changing (and sticking to!) one’s attitudes towards consumerism, materialism, the environment and so on that will lead to a generally better world for all of us.

Q – Tell me about the displays and events Firewinder has been involved in?

We installed about 50 of them in January on Glastonbury Tor, with kind permission for the National Trust, and although unadvertised, we attracted nearly 1,000 people to walk to the top of the Tor and see what we were up to. It was literally freezing… The BBC liked what we were doing so much they sent a crew along and the coverage even made the BBC homepage, which was very encouraging.

From this first public event, many others have snowballed. We’ve just got back from Glastonbury Festival, where we had a smallish installation within the Theatre and Circus arena. Great set-up, bad wind – there wasn’t a breath. However what was bad news for us was good news for the festival though, as they didn’t suffer the usual mud bath!

We’ve had so much interest from public (and private) event organisers that we will be devoting much of our time to showing the world how we turn wind into light. We’ll hopefully have a permanent and accessible installation of hundreds in the UK from October through March – details to be revealed soon – but the dream for us would be to become involved in the infrastructure of events like the 2010 World Cup and of course the 2012 Olympics.

We have projects in discussion ranging from art installations to festivals to lighting up clifftop castles from locations all over the world including Spain, Australia, South Africa, Bhutan and the USA amongst others, so we’ll no doubt be kept busy. You can check our website for more details.

Q – Do you believe the UK has the ability to harness the power of the wind, sun and waves and be energy efficient, if yes, what needs to occur for this to happen?

Yes I do. Whilst solar might not be practicable in UK due to our rubbish sunshine record, wind power certainly is – in fact we’re the best place in Europe – and there are many projects ongoing looking at the viability of wave / tidal power, which is all very encouraging.

However we have to be wary of governmental commitments to targets and figures. Instead of spending money trying to reach these targets, the gov’t would rather spend the money fighting the legislation – it’s madness.

When you hear announcements like the recent one made by Lord Hunt (UK to have 7,000 new wind turbines offshore by 2020 providing 25GW and powering a quarter of the UK’s electricity demand) it all sounds good, but when you look at the deliverability of this proposal it just doesn’t stack up at all.

Firstly the grid can’t take it, secondly we simply can’t build and install that many turbines within the time (six a day every day – I don’t think so!) and thirdly, for the money needed (nearly £100bn) we could build over thirty nuclear power stations that would provide all of our electricity at getting on for a tenth of the price per unit. Whilst I am not the biggest fan of nuclear power, it’s this non-thinking and blatantly unachievable spouting from the government that annoys me

So there’s work to be done…

I’m a big believer in domestic / local energy production, though whatever process suits the requirement best. Of course each and every potential application of wind / water / sun energy production requires its own impact assessment, but in the main the smaller systems create less environmental problems, require less investment and infrastructure and provide the users / owners with a real sense of green achievement (as well as a revenue stream for excess production!)

Q – How can the Firewinder change peoples perceptions of sustainable energy?

We hope that when people see them, and then realise they are 100% wind powered, that is simply triggers a response. It can only be a good thing for more people to enter the renewable energy debate.

We are about trying to establish change in the thinking of normal people. It’s not the 10% of people who are holier-than-thou super-ecos or car tyre burning idiots – we’re looking to give the 90% of people in the middle a little push towards living a greener life, and engaging them with a very visual and emotional way.

Q – What does the future hold for the Firewinder and are there other products on the horizon?

We will continue to introduce the world to the wonders of wind powered lighting through our events and public / private installations and grow the Firewinder brand. Of course we have plans for other products, both useful and fun and we look forward to bringing these to market.

On one hand we’d like to keep engaging the younger generations with whizzy wind powered toys and gadgets, but part of me really likes the idea of providing useful solutions to the vast number of people who have very limited access to electricity. We’ll see…

Q – How can people find out more about Firewinder and where’s the next display event?

You can visit www.firewinder.com, and you’ll find on there a blog where we cover some of the stuff we get up to.

Thanks Joseph!

Be sure to pay their website a visit and see a Firewinder in action in one of their videos – a picture just doesn’t do it justice.

Rubbishly yours,

TS x