Wind turbines for homes are becoming an increasingly accessible alternative energy source. In 2010, the average cost of a small wind turbine installed in the US was $5,430/kW (source).
This has translated to a considerable increase in growth of small wind turbines, with $139 million dollars in US sales in 2010 alone (source).
Grants, rebates, and tax credits offered by various levels of government, utility companies and local agencies, have brought clean wind energy within reach of homeowners. It only takes a 5 kW turbine positioned in the right place, to harness enough wind energy to power the average US home. This makes the average cost of a turbine, prior to any offsets, just under $30,000.
This may seem steep initially, but often about half of this can be recovered almost immediately through rebates and grants. Then there are on-going tax credits that help offset the cost. Finally, there are the savings you receive on your utility bills. So, depending on what incentives are available in your area and what your local rates are, cost recovery could be as little as 6 years.
What are the benefits of a wind turbine for your home?
Obviously a personal wind turbine carries all the benefits of a wind farm, but at a smaller scale. Namely, that it is a free resource that has no pollution products.
It has an advantage over solar energy in that it works at night, a time when we most often need power.
Like solar energy, homes with wind turbines, have the option of feeding excess energy back into the grid if they are attached to the network. So, any energy that is not being used by the household is bought back by the utility company and is credited towards your energy bills.
Wind energy, goes a long way to reducing a household’s carbon footprint. In fact, combined, small US wind installations annually displace 161,000 tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to taking 28,000 cars off the road (source).
Seven things to consider when purchasing a wind turbine for your home
Wind: The most important consideration when considering a wind turbine as an alternative energy source, is you local wind speed. It is recommended that you only consider installing a turbine if your average annual wind speed is 11 mph or more. It is worth investing in an anemometer to measure the wind speeds at the proposed location for a minimum of 3 months, though a full year is better.
Placement: Wind turbines are best placed on the crest of a high hill; consistent strong winds are best. Consider whether there are any buildings proposed near the location or immature trees that will grow in the next 20 years that will alter the wind flow.
Style: There are two main designs of turbine, one with a horizontal axis, and one with a vertical axis. Vertical wind turbines do not need to face directly into the wind and therefore are suited to areas where wind direction is a bit sporadic. However, most small turbines for homes have a horizontal axis.
Mounting: Technology has improved to allow some turbines to be mounted directly on buildings. While this lowers the cost of installation (no support infrastructure is necessary), it may have some disadvantages. Firstly, your house may not be located in the best spot to take advantage of prevailing winds. Secondly, it may add stress to the house structure as there can be a lot of vibration involved.
If you choose a pole mounted turbine, there are fixed poles, which are stronger but immovable. There are also moveable pole systems that allow the turbine to be raised and lowered to allow easier maintenance. A small wind turbine should last 20-25 years, but as there are a number of moving parts, maintenance is necessary during this time. These moveable systems generally have a rigging system with cables, and may have more noise associated with them as the wind whistles through the rigging. Of course, if you’re a land locked sailor, you might like this!
Inverter: Most turbines generate DC current, so an inverter is needed to convert it to AC, which is used in the home. The inverter requires energy. If you are hooked into the grid network, this is likely where you will get this power, but what it means is that if the grid goes down, it doesn’t matter how windy it is…your inverter is down and you won’t be able to use the energy.
If you have a back-up battery system as well, this will keep you running when the grid is down. Batteries last about 6-10 years.
Permits: Be sure to ask your local council what is required in terms of permits. You might also want to chat with neighbours if the turbine is going to be visible to them.
Be picky about your installer: Like any big purchase, it’s wise to get a few different quotes as prices and service can vary. The installer should be able to give you a thorough breakdown of how they devised the best system for your needs, and of what is included in the cost. Some installers include a routine inspection as part of their service. You should ALWAYS get detailed instructions for routine maintenance and an operation manual.
This video looks at a personal small-wind turbine in Oregon and although the visit is sadly on a still day, it does run through some of these considerations:
Wind turbines for homes are becoming a more feasible option for alternative energy. As demand increases, costs will only improve. Harnessing clean wind energy helps to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and it reduces harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Please let us know if you’ve got a wind turbine and what your experiences have been – it’s always helpful for others to read about your lessons learned.