Harnessing Wind Power at Home

We’ve all heard about the benefits of wind power—it’s clean, renewable, and helps reduce our nation’s reliance on polluting fossil fuels. In 2015, wind power generated almost 5 percent of the total electricity created in the U. S. That was enough to power over 18 million homes.

A small wind system can provide the same benefits. Here are five questions you’ll need to answer to determine if a small wind system makes sense for you.

1. Do I Have Enough Wind and Space?

For a wind system of any size to work, you obviously need to have wind. It’s the fuel for your energy system. Because wind speed increases with height, small wind turbines are mounted on towers to give them access to stronger winds. Ideally, the site where you intend to put your turbine should have at least a 10 mph annual average wind speed, as measured at the top of your tower. To help you figure out if you have enough wind, consult wind resource maps.

In addition to wind speed, you also need to consider the size of your property. You really need to have at least one acre to install a small wind system safely. Ideally, a small wind turbine should be situated at least 200 feet from the closest neighboring house.

2. Can I Meet Zoning and Permitting Requirements?

Once you determine you have enough wind and space, it’s time to check on local ordinances. Contact your local planning board to find out if you need a permit to erect a small wind system, and learn about any requirements.  You’ll also need to check the zoning regulations in your area for renewable energy systems to find out what the restrictions are for height, positioning, and noise.

3. Will I Be Able to Generate Enough Electricity?

First, you need to determine how much energy you need or want to produce. Start by taking a look at your electric bills to see how much energy you currently use. How much energy you’ll need to produce will depend on whether you’re going off- or on-grid (more on that next). In general, you can expect a small wind turbine located on a site with wind speeds of 12 to 14 mph to generate about 1,300 kilowatts per hour annually.  

4. Do I Go Off- or On-Grid?

An on-grid system is one that’s connected to the electrical grid. Your system doesn’t have to produce all the energy you use, because you can always pull your system from the grid, if the wind fails you. Or, if your system produces more energy than you use, you can feed the excess back into the system and earn a credit from your energy provider. If you live in an area that isn’t connected to the public electric system, or your goal is to be totally energy self-sufficient, you’ll want to consider installing both wind and solar systems, since wind and solar energy tend to be available at different times. An off-grid system will be more expensive than an on-grid one, since you’ll need a more powerful turbine, as well as batteries to store excess energy so you can use it when the wind dies down. The upside is that you can eliminate your reliance on fossil fuels and electric bills.

5. Does It Make Economic Sense?

Wind systems are expensive. On-grid systems that provide just some of a home’s power can cost $9,000 and more including installation. Fortunately, there are grants and incentives available to offset some of this cost. Check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency to see what’s available in your area. Consider, too, how much lower your energy costs can be with a wind turbine, whether you’re on-grid or off.

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