Generate wind power
Eco-friendly power generation is attainable with wind turbines. By installing your own wind power station, you could potentially kick the dirty energy habit, making your home or business one of the greenest on the block.
How to generate wind power
To ascertain whether a turbine is right for your situation, examine the following guidelines:
- Space specs: Generally speaking, regardless of whether you choose a vertical- or horizontal-axis turbine, it’ll work best on properties that are 1 acre in size or larger (although some newer technologies have been designed for smaller locations) and must be mounted at least 30 feet above any nearby wind barriers, such as trees, buildings, or bluffs. They often work best between 80 and 120 feet above ground, although can be as low as 65 feet tall.
- Getting permission: Because wind turbines are tall structures, you’re usually required to get a building permit before beginning your project. This handy permit guide should help you get organized.
- On or off the grid?: You can generally choose to either remain connected to your city’s power system or go totally independent. Hybrid systems are also good options.
- Assert your independence: Stand-alone systems, which require batteries to store power for windless periods, are ideal for those in remote locations. Generally, you’ll need a combination of energy generating techniques (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal) to provide consistent power when you’re off the grid.
- Stay connected: You can choose to have your wind system grid-connected, which allows you to access normal power systems during periods when wind speeds are low. Generally you don’t require batteries for grid-connected systems since any excess power you generate is pumped back into your power provider’s pipeline. So besides government incentives and rebates, you can take advantage of net metering options to offset the costs of your clean energy system. Your state may have regulations in place that require your power company to pay you for any extra renewable energy you pump back into their system.
- Wind wattage: Though more than 50 percent of US land mass has adequate wind to warrant a wind turbine, it’s a good idea to establish whether your location is suitable ahead of time.
- Use this interactive wind resource map and then this MyWatts Estimator to determine whether the wind in your area is adequate for a wind turbine installation. Remember: this map will give you only a basic overview of your area’s general wind-worthiness. Terrain and other factors have a lot do with whether you’ll benefit from one of these energy-makers. Investing in a small anemometer (a small device for measuring wind speed) is prudent, too.
- Small wind turbine systems are defined as those producing 100 kilowatts or less. Depending on your office or home energy requirements, you may this may or may not be enough. Home-owners note: the average US home uses approximately 780 kilowatt-hours of energy per month, thus depending on wind speed in your area, the average family will require a turbine rated between five and 15 kilowatts.
- Keeping friendly with the Joneses: If you want to remain on good terms with your neighbors, you should speak to them (those within 500 feet, that is) before erecting a giant tower in your backyard. Alleviate their fears about noise, TV interference, and view-blocking by reviewing the facts and myths of wind generation. Perhaps by doing so, you’ll inspire them to look into the technology for themselves!
- Cost considerations: Small wind generation makes the most sense for those on at least 1 acre of land with Class 2 winds and utility bills of at least $150 per month. With a 10 kilowatt turbine and net metering, the system could be paid off in less than 10 years. However, smaller turbines in less-than-ideal locations may not be cost-effective. A 3 kilowatt tower, for instance, could cost about $15,000, generating only enough power to offset between 30 and 60 percent of a $100 monthly electricity bill. That said, if you’re in a rural area, extending the utility lines to your property may set you back $20,000-30,000, making a wind turbine a wise financial choice.
Find it! Wind power experts
With installers in all 50 states, this is one of the biggest suppliers of small wind turbines around. It's got turbines of various sizes, providing between 5.2 and 35 kilowatts per day. Batteries, inverters, and other technical equipment is also available from this company.
Suspended high above the ground (up to 101 feet from its earth-bound base), this ground-breaking “lighter-than-air” tethered wind turbine can access higher-level winds, generating up to 10 kilowatts of power that can be accessed directly or fed into a battery system.
These 30-feet tall, propeller-free turbines are quiet and relatively inexpensive (around $4,000 each). Find out whether your turbine is generating the estimated 1,200 watts per year with this wireless modem technology that communicates with your home computer.
With the controls and inverter built right in, this compact wind turbine generates 1.8 kilowatts of energy daily. It’s user-friendly and quiet, making it ideal for home owners. Developed in cooperation with the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The biggest functional drawback to wind energy is its intermittence. Since wind blows sporadically, turbines cannot provide a constant, stable source of energy, and therefore must be supplemented with alternate forms of energy.
Generating your own wind power helps you go green because…
- Locally produced energy is more efficient and requires less resource-intensive infrastructure.
- You’ll reduce your dependence on dirty energy from coal, natural gas, or nuclear power plants.
Like most other forms of renewable energy, wind energy is a form of solar energy. The amount of solar energy received by the earth varies throughout the day, and water and land absorb and reflect solar energy at different rates. These two factors work together to form pockets of air with varying degrees of temperature. As these air masses interact, they create wind.
The most ideal (and attainable) conditions for wind energy generation occur at about 100 feet above ground, where faster, more stable wind can be found. Turbines can be installed on land (often in farmer’s fields) and offshore (where winds are even stronger). These huge units consist of a tower onto which a rotor blade is mounted. As the wind turns the rotor, it spins a shaft which feeds energy into a generator.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that worldwide wind power could potentially supply 5,800 quadrillion Btu of energy worldwide every year, which is 15 times more than the current energy demands of the world. In fact, one large-scale wind turbine can provide energy for between 225 and 300 homes. The DOE also estimates that by 2030, 20 percent of American energy could be supplied by domestically generated wind. Wind energy is clean and renewable, can be produced locally which decreases dependence on foreign oil sources, is very economical, and can provide extra income for farmers since turbines are often installed in agricultural fields.
Wind power generation is booming in the US, growing at an average of 20 percent per year. 2007 was a record-breaking year, with 30 percent of new energy generation coming from wind projects, enough to power 1.5 million American homes. Ironically, mega-oil Texas is leading with over 4,000 installed megawatts of wind energy, beating even California.
Though wind energy runs cleanly without creating pollution, there are concerns about increased bird deaths from electrocution or collisions with rotors. This issue became particularly prominent when California's massive Altamont Pass wind farm was erected, which is reportedly to have near record-breaking bird mortalities. Since then, environmentalists and bird lovers alike have been raising red flags. But, to put this in perspective, consider these annual non-turbine death estimates for birds in the US:
- Utility transmission and distribution lines: 130 to 174 million
- Tall buildings and residential windows: 100 million to 1 billion
- Automobiles: 60 to 80 million
- Lighted communication towers: 40 to 50 million
- Agricultural pesticides: 67 million
- Cats (feral and house): 8 to 217 million
While small birds are less likely to be affected by wind turbines, larger species such as raptors will likely continue to experience fatal collisions with turbines at an estimated rate of 0.033 birds per turbine per year, with a total bird species death rate around 40,000 per year in the US, far below other avian threats listed above.
Wind turbines of the 1970s and 1980s have been accused of generating unacceptable amounts of noise, thus raising the hackles of neighbors nationwide. Today’s turbines are much less noisy than their ancestors, typically making negligible noise as the blades pass through the air (called aerodynamic noise)—a well-maintained wind generator should register between 55 and 60 decibels, or dB(A). The greater the distance between the turbine and the observer, the more the noise diminishes, making most of these units inoffensive. By way of comparison, day-to-day background noise is usually about 50 dB(A): trees swaying on a breezy day 55 dB(A), a car in operation about 60 dB(A), and a quiet vacuum cleaner about 70 dB(A).
Tax breaks and subsidies
Price can be a limiting factor of generating your own wind power, and prices seem to be on the rise. Turbines can range in price from $1,500 to over $50,000, but you’ve got some incentive options to lighten the load. There are hundreds of incentive programs in place and something in almost every state, so you’re bound to find a rebate that’ll work for you on the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency Financial Incentives for Renewable Energy table.
- Btu (British thermal unit): A unit of energy used universally in the heating and cooling industries. It is defined as the unit of heat required to raise 1 pound of water by 1°F.
- Illustrated History of Wind Power Development
- Buying a Small Wind Electric System - A California Consumer’s Guide
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory - Toward a 20 Percent Wind Electricity Supply in the United States
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory - Bird Movements and Behaviors in the Gulf Coast Region: Relation to Potential Wind Energy Developments
- PR Newswire - Mesa Power Places World's Largest Single-Site Wind Turbine Purchase Order
- US Department of Energy - Small Wind Electric Systems: A Maryland Consumer’s Guide
- American Wind Energy Association - US Wind Energy Projects An interactive state-by-state map of current wind projects throughout the country.
- American Wind Energy Association - Small Wind
- US Department of Energy - Advantages and Disadvantages of Wind Energy
- US Department of Energy - How Wind Turbines Work
- American Wind Energy Association - What is wind energy?
- US National Renewable Energy Laboratory - Wind Energy Basics
- American Wind Energy Association - Offshore Wing
- US National Renewable Energy Laboratory - Learning About Renewable Energy: Wind Energy Basics
- American Wind Energy Association - Wind Energy Potential
- American Wind Energy Association - Wind Energy Basics: How much electricity can one wind turbine generate?
- US Department of Energy - 20% Wind Energy by 2030
- Natural Resources Defense Council - Wind, Solar and Biomass Energy Today
- American Wind Energy Association - Installed US Wind Power Capacity Surged 45 Percent in 2007: American Wind Energy Association Market Report
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- TreeHugger - Common Eco-Myth: Wind Turbines Kill Birds
- American Wind Energy Association - Putting Wind Power’s Effect on Birds into Perspective
- National Wind Coordinating Committee (NWCC) Resource Document - Avian Collisions with Wind Turbines: Estimates of avian collision mortality by Wind Resource Area Page 39
- American Wind Energy Association - Residential Wind Turbines and Noise
- Treehugger - Cost Of Wind Power Turbines Is SkyRocketing