Imagine this! Wind turbines you can just set up behind your house and have it run your electricity… all for free… or for, at least, only the initial cost of buying one and installing it. That would be wonderful, no? You would not have to wait for your city or county or state to figure it out and make it available; you would not have to cowtow to your neighbor in the hopes of getting a go ahead on a community project; you could just act on your own. Sounds very Democratic and American, doesn’t it?
Well, it seems that nowadays there are more and more options for those of you who do want a small wind turbine out in the yard or on your roof. These items admittedly range from the standard to the bizarre, and come in sizes that varying from powering several major appliances in your home all the way up to your whole house and beyond! There are all wonderful options for those of us who want to run out ahead of the pack and go green sooner than later.
Did you know that, in the right conditions, wind power can be much more economical than other renewable energy options such as solar or geothermal? In design and feasibility, traditional propeller-type wind turbines remain the best options for residential settings outside of urban areas. They are efficient and time-tested, and the leading manufacturers of these turbines have been at it for a long time.
Two of the leaders are Bergey Windpower and Southwest Windpower. Bergey makes several versions of its Excel turbine, many of which are suitable for home use. The Excel, in particular, can be connected to the electrical grid and is big enough to power an entire home. Southwest Windpower makes the Skystream 3.7 turbine, an innovative machine that has a number of advances specifically targeted to residential users. It is meant to be tied to the electricity grid, and in reasonably windy conditions could power an average home. It is ideally suited to folks living in the wind corridor of the country, mostly in the midwest. Although it could also work really well along the coastline, where ocean breezes can keep it turning.
In the past few years, a number of manufacturers have entered the market, intent on designing what is known as “VAWTS”. These are Vertical Axis Wind Turbines, which rotate around a vertical axis rather than spin on a horizontal one. These are designed to make wind turbines easier to install and better for tightly packed suburban and urban environments.. The key advantages to VAWTS are that they can be quieter, are more amenable to the swirling wind conditions found in urban environments, which is often detrimental to traditional turbines. They also have a smaller overall footprint in the tower width and height. But remember that these are new companies and are often in the learning process. Also, the turbines are less efficient that the larger horizontal ones because a portion of each turbine is always spinning into the wind.
Some exciting new examples of smaller turbines suitable for residential areas include:
Mariah Power makes the WindSpire wind turbine. This model is 30 feet tall and only two feet wide and has a really artistic appearance. You can check out how nice these are, HERE, where they are on display at the Inauguration and at the National Auto Show. These cool looking turbines are very quiet and compact, meaning you could install multiple turbines alongside one another for more power. Each unit should provide from 10-50% of the electricity for a typical home depending on where you live in the country.
Helix Wind makes several vertical axis turbines with very complex and somewhat unusual designs. You can check out their models HERE . The strange design of these turbines efficiently transforms variable winds into clean electricity. Their largest model, the S594, can provide 50-100% of a typical home’s electricity use under the right conditions.
SunDance Solar sells the AirX models of small wind turbines, which are considered to be the world’s #1 selling small wind turbine. The new technology used in the Air-X was only previously found in mega-watt-class wind turbines. The AIR-X uses a new microprocessor based technology that results in an increase in performance, battery charging capability, and reliability. Additionally, “flutter” noise from the machine has been reduced.
Now that you have this great info, I am sure you are chomping at the bit to get out and buy one. But not so fast! There are a few things you should know before you take the big jump. First of all, and the most important, you should live in an area that has some windy conditions and not too much local blockage against the flow of that wind. You don’t want to put one up in a “cage”, or where buildings around your building simply block the flow of air. Be sure to give this a lot of thought because just an occasionally windy day won’t cut it; you should have a steady stream of air such as along the coast, in a midwest wind tunnel or along the shore in Jersey or Chicago.
Also to be considered is exactly where you are going to put the turbine. It should be as high as possible and well away from local obstructions. Remember that wind speeds are faster at higher elevations. If you are in a low lying area with a single story house towered over by other larger, 2 and 3 story buildings, then you will have to make big adjustments. Putting the turbine on a tower is an option, as long city ordinances allow it.
Just remember that the buildings, structures and trees in urban areas play havoc with wind speeds and directions. That wind turbine happily spinning five feet above your garage might look good, but it will perform much better (2x better or more) if it’s 50 feet higher. The financial payback period is all about performance. Typical guidelines for horizontal turbines are that the bottom of your turbine should be 3x above the nearest upwind barrier, or 25 feet above any upwind obstacles within 300-500 feet (whichever is higher). You MUST remember this when selecting both the turbine and the location where it will be installed.
Then there is the matter of getting the required permits and approvals to install a wind turbine. This can be a big hassle. There are a number of issues with wind turbines that you don’t have to face with solar panels. They are believed to be noisy, even though testing of modern turbines doesn’t support this. They are also believed to block views of neighboring landscapes, especially if you’ve elevated your turbine into the proper wind zones.
Then there are safety concerns as some communities worry that the turbines may break, collapse or fall. This is besides the fact that the American Wind Energy Association has stated that there haven’t been any injuries from falling turbines in 25 years. This is a battle you may have to fight with local authorities and neighbors.
And then, last but not least, there is worry over the impact of turbines on birds and wildlife. This is a major issue for utility-scale turbines, but the National Audubon Society in California found that small wind turbines pose little or no additional risk to our feathered friends. You can use their studies as an argument against those folk who may bring up the concern that flocks of local birds will end up decimated in the blades. There is less risk with wind turbines than there is with airplanes.
The net result of all of this is that depending on where you live, you’ll have to go through a somewhat complicated permitting process. My advice in this matter is to contract a good installer who can help navigate the process. This may actually be the most important part of the process, to get the right contractor to do the work! It can make a huge difference when you begin to face all of these obstacles. You can begin your search for equipment providers and licensed installers at AWEA . Good luck with your worthy efforts to go green!