Is wind energy the best for me?
In the pursuit of reliable and affordable sources of renewable energy people are looking at wind turbines. Although the space requirements (generally requiring one acre+ of land) and wind requirements for these systems make it hard for some to implement, wind power is still an opportunity for roughly 25%of the US population. People living in windy areas, on large plots of land and energy bills exceeding $150 per month should seriously consider a small wind electric system.
What are some obstacles to look out for?
Before committing to a wind energy system you should research local zoning laws. Most residentially zoned areas have a height limit of 35 feet. In order to find out and and obtain a building permit call your local building inspector or municipality. Regardless of zoning laws one should be respectful of neighbors that might complain that the turbines are aesthetically displeasing or too noisy. Objective facts should be used to ward off naysayers. For example the noise level of a residential turbine is no more than a household refrigerator.
What size of wind turbine will do the trick?
Depending on application, you will need to consider what size turbine to use. Small turbine system outputs can range anywhere from 20 watts, to 100 kilowatts. Based on your local wind patterns and electricity needs one will need to evaluate what size works. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the average household in 2012 consumed a yearly average of 10,800 KWH. Depending on average wind speed, wind turbines rated in the range of 5-15 kW will provide significant contributions to this demand. Because wind speeds increase with height, tower height also plays a role in maximizing potential output. Increasing tower height can have positive effects on cost and return. For example increasing tower height from 60 feet to 100 feet may involve a 10% increase in cost but could potentially increase output by 30%.
How much will it cost?
According to the American Wind Energy Association’s 2011 U.S. Small Wind Turbine Market Report, small wind turbine systems cost $3000-$5000 per every generating kilowatt of generating capacity. This is much cheaper than solar systems but can still have long payback periods. Although there is significant initial investment wind turbines, eventually, depending on the system, you will break even where the cost will equal the present value of all the electricity bills you have avoided. It is hard to calculate an encompassing payback period because of the variations in machine output to region and cost. To estimate the power output of your system used to further evaluate the payback period, this simple equation is used by the wind turbine industry:
Power output kilowatts=k Cp 1/2p A V^3 , where:
- k=.000133 (constant)
- Cp= maximum power coeffiecint ranging from .25-.45
- p= air density (lb/ft^3)
- A= rotor swept area (ft^2)
- V= average wind speed (mph)
Instead of doing this calculation yourself it maybe just easier to contact a local wind turbine manufacturer.
Obviously before making a huge investment one should consider the risks and benefits of the decision. In the case of small scale wind power, the benefits have almost no associated risk and the cost per energy output is higher than solar alternatives. But the payback period may be long and not worthwhile. Also one must evaluate their households capacity for wind power and be wary of legal barriers. More research should be done if you are actually considering an installment, but hopefully this article helps open the door to new possibilities of energy independence.