Watt, Why & How e-Newsletter

Clearing the Air on Small Wind Energy Systems


Source: www.nrel.gov
Small wind turbine
Is a small wind energy system right for your home? Is it a good investment? Across the country, a growing number of homeowners are asking questions such as these as they look for ways to save energy and reduce their environmental footprint. More than 151,000 small wind turbines are installed in the United States, according to the American Wind Energy Association, and that number is growing. If you are considering the installation of a small wind energy system, this article will help to answer some of your questions. 


How do small wind energy systems work?

Wind turbines convert the moving energy in wind into renewable electricity. As the system's turbines spin in the wind, a rotor captures that motion to drive an electric generator. Most turbines have automatic speed control systems to keep the rotor from spinning too fast in very high winds. 

Is your property suitable for wind energy?

In determining if a small wind system is suitable for your property, start by estimating your site's wind resource; it can vary significantly over an area of just a few miles due to changes in local terrain. Wind installers generally recommend an average wind speed of at least 12 miles per hour. Consult the U.S. Department of Energy's wind resource map to estimate average wind speeds in your area, or obtain wind speed data from a local airport or weather station.  

What size wind turbine do you need?

The size will depend on your energy use, the average wind speed at your site and the height of the wind turbine; all of which will affect the amount of energy it generates. A typical home uses approximately 9,400 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, according to the U.S Department of Energy. Based on the average wind speed in your area, a turbine rated in the range of 5 to 15 kilowatts (kW) would be required to make a significant contribution to this demand. 

What is the cost and payback?

Small wind systems cost about $6,000 per kW, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The cost to install a wind system capable of powering the average home would be approximately $30,000, but the price will vary with system size. Wind resource, energy prices and available financial incentives will affect the payback period, which can range from 6 to 30 years, according to the American Wind Energy Association. 

Are there any zoning or permitting issues?

Before you invest in a small wind energy system, contact your local building inspector or zoning board to find out about any zoning or permitting issues. They can tell you if you will need to obtain a building permit and provide you with a list of requirements. 

What financial incentives are available?

The federal government provides a tax credit for up to 30 percent of the cost of installing residential wind energy systems. A variety of state and local financial incentives are also available. Search the Database of Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) for information about programs in your area. 

For more information about planning and installation, see Small Wind Electric Systems from the U.S. Department of Energy.  

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