Power cuts are common in national parks throughout the UK, creating a welcome environment for alternative energy sources. Due to the visual impact of large wind turbines, however, they are prohibited in the protected scenery. And, as you might imagine, solar power can’t quite reach its full potential in the UK’s rainy climate.

This was reason for Win Keech, a former Rolls Royce turbine engineer and Co- Founder of The Power Collective (TPC) with Dean Gregory, to develop the RidgeBlade. The Ridgeblade is a wind turbine, yet instead of being located in an open field or the ocean, it is mounted to the roof of a building and is much smaller and less obtrusive than the wind turbines we’re used to. The roof of a building offers a perfect place for a wind turbine seeing as air travels much faster when pushed over the peak of a roof, just as over the airfoil on an airplane wing.

“The amount of energy you can generate obviously depends on a lot of variables, but in principle the payback on the RidgeBlade is similar to solar power. We strive to be ‘energy neutral’ and develop a technology that will help people move towards energy independence, while simultaneously reducing our carbon footprint,” says Gregory.

Early in 2009, the national park authority provided a small amount of funding to the company to prove their technology and develop the first prototype. Since then, the extensive R&D phase has continued, now resulting in a wind turbine of 6,5 meters long and about 25 centimetres high.

Two minutes to midnight

It was only two days before the application deadline that Gregory found out about the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge. “It was nothing but big jugs of black coffee for two days,” he laughs. “When we won, it felt unreal, the prize money was very welcome and kicked off another testing phase.”

“Because we’re mounting the turbines to the roofs of homes, they do not only need to be 100% safe, they also have to be quiet and they can’t vibrate,” Gregory explains. “Since the first prototype back in 2009, there have had to be some fairly major design changes in order to safeguard all these issues. We have to be very cautious, because when you bring something to market, it has to be perfect.” Gregory goes on to explain that some years ago, a competitor brought a do-it-yourself wind turbine kit to market which turned out not to work at all. There was a TV programme about the failing product and many people lost faith in small wind turbines altogether. In this sceptical environment, it was difficult for TPC to launch their product and it’s one of the reasons why Gregory and his team are adamant about thorough testing. “We’ll need to do a big marketing campaign to create an attitude shift and awareness for our technology, but because we’re not fully ready to launch yet, we haven’t done so.”

Lawyers to the rescue

TPC have patented their technology – but not without a relatively serious patent claim right after the competition. “Unfortunately we had to spend some of the prize money on lawyers to fight the claim. Ultimately we won, but it took a lot of resources, time and energy. You can’t foresee these things, let alone protect yourself against it,” says Gregory.

But the single biggest hurdle wasn’t the competition or patent challenge, it was actually trying to get governmental approval for their product. “We had to gain government approval before we could bring our technology to market, but the people who were administering the standards with which we had to comply were also our competitors,” Gregory explains. “In hindsight, we should have just started selling outside of the UK. Waiting for approval made us lose momentum and took too much time. But then again, not being able to sell your product in your own country is not a very good sales pitch.”

“With the limited resources we had, there was very little control we had in the approval process. It was during this time that I learned my most valuable lesson about entrepreneurship: sometimes you just have to keep your head down and keep going. It’s a very British lesson,” Gregory laughs.

Good times bad times

“In frustrating times like those, the community that the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge provides is very helpful. Success stories are great but paint a false, or at the very least incomplete, picture. Being able to share the difficult times with fellow entrepreneurs around the world was encouraging.”

So what’s on the horizon for RidgeBlade and when will they launch?

“A big announcement is coming this summer,” says Gregory. “I can’t say too much about it yet, but our ambition was to get this product made and install it on roofs around the world. We are nearer now than we have ever been. We’re confident and are very much looking forward to the next phase.”