Classic Dutch windmills are wind driven turbines designed to pump water out areas to keep land from flooding so it could be used to say—grow tulips, as in the iconic painting of “Fields of Tulip WithThe Rijnsburg Windmill” by Claude Monet.
More specifically to our purpose, a wind turbine is a rotary engine caused to spin by the wind and designed to generate electricity for a single home. In other words, it is the opposite of a fan. It uses wind to make energy, while a fan uses energy to make wind.
As the debate over climate change rages, we are evidencing enormous increases in the cost of our utilities, if for no other reason than supply and demand. We, here in the West, are experiencing our worst drought in history, and with the threat of an El Ninjo developing, it will only exacerbate the problem should that happen. The rest of the country has had one of its worst winters in history—with constant ice storms and snow. The demands on our public utilities have been great—either to generate electricity for heat, or to pump water to irrigate farms and bring water to our cities. This summer will undoubtedly tax utilities even more, because of the demand for electricity to run air-conditioning.
Residential wind energy is not only helping curb the economic costs of generating electricity, but it is a deep green (100 percent renewable) alternative source of energy. According to the Wind Energy Foundation (WEF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising public awareness of wind generated energy, consumers wishing to generate their own green power may now be able to install a small wind turbine for their home.
Basic Steps for Installation
Check the Wind - Determine whether the wind resource in your area makes a small wind system economical. It is obviously important to have unobstructed access to the winds. Ideally you will have a place for your turbine with average wind speeds of 8 to 14 mph.
Check Your Needs - Determine your household electricity needs by checking your monthly or yearly electricity usage. A typical American home requires a 5-kilowatt generating capacity to meet all its needs, and you want to know from the manufacturer whether or not the output from the turbine is field tested or laboratory tested.
Check the Laws - Find out whether local zoning ordinances will allow wind turbine installations. A 5-kilowatt turbine has an average diameter of 18 feet and an average height of 80 feet, about twice the height of a telephone pole. Zoning codes can sometimes impose minimum lot size and distance requirements from the turbine.
Types of Systems
There are two types of systems: those connected to the electricity grid (on-grid) and those used off-grid with a battery backup for power. Of course, when the winds blow you are off-grid and when they do not, you are either on-grid or making use of your battery backup. While many systems today are off-grid, there is growing demand for on-grid systems, which use the grid as the battery backup.
According to WEF purchasing a system large enough to generate sufficient power for the average home, costs about $30,000, but the price can be as much as $70,000 depending upon installations costs. There are federal tax credits available from the U.S. Department of Energy as well as from many states. It is obvious from these numbers that depending upon the cost of installation, the size of your home and your consumption, it can take several years to recover your costs. Let us not forget, however, the impact or perhaps I should say, lack of impact on the environment.
A system can last 20+ years—as long as routine maintenance is performed. Some systems can even be monitored remotely from a home computer.
Moral of the Story
If you should decide to have a wind turbine installed for your home, it needs to be sized to the needs of your household and purchased from a reputable manufacturer. The Small Wind Certification Council maintains a list of certified small wind turbines. Ask the seller for references, speak to people who have wind turbine systems running their homes--do your homework.
If you're not an experienced (and adventurous) do-it-yourselfer, a wind turbine should be installed and maintained by a professionally trained technician.