Small wind turbines generally have two or three fiberglass blades with a rotor facing the wind and an attached generator. Turbines used for homes typically range from 400 watts to 20 kilowatts. A wind turbine rated between 5 and 10 kilowatts could supply all the electricity needs of an average home.
In Colorado, a 2008 law required utilities to allow small turbines to hook into the electricity grid and for their owners to sell power back when they generate more than the need. The “net metering” rules apply to residential customers using turbines with up to 10 kilowatts of rated capacity and commercial customers using up to 25 kilowatt turbines.
Photo Courtesy of DOE/NREL, The Advanced Wind Turbines Incorporated AWT-26
Among the benefits of a small wind system:
Free power-- Harvesting the wind appeals to many rural residents used to being plagued by bellowing winds—it’s a way to get back at the traditional adversary. A reputable system should run for 20 years or more with proper installation and regular maintenance. Best of all, the wind is free forever and will protect you against uncertain electricity costs.
Environmental benefits—Electricity generated by wind emits no greenhouse gases and, importantly in dry climates, requires no water.
Deciding if a wind turbine is right for you depends on numerous factors:
A small wind turbine only makes economic sense if you locate it in an area where the wind resource is favorable, and that generally means steady moderate winds rather than big gusts. Winds on your site should be at least class 2 (annual wind speeds averaging 9.8 to11.5 mph at 50 meters above ground level) to be suitable for wind generation. You can consult wind maps for your area here: (http://www.eere.energy.gov/windandhydro/windpoweringamerica)
Installers can also help you decide if you have an adequate wind resource.
Photo Courtesy of DOE/NREL, Variable speed test bed equipped with advanced generator
Other considerations include:
Your average electricity bills are relatively high.
You have at least one-half acre of unobstructed land where trees and other buildings won’t interfere.
Your local zoning codes or covenants allow wind turbines which work best when installed on poles at least 30 feet high.
You are comfortable with long-term investments.
You are eligible for financial incentives for a small wind energy system. This site will help you decide: (http://www.dsireusa.org/)
For off-grid consideration, your property is in a remote location not easily accessible to utility lines.
Questions to ask installers include:
While major corporations have installed giant turbines on enormous wind farms, the small wind market is not as advanced, with work still underway on developing national certifications.
The American Wind Energy Association (http://www.awea.org/)
offers questions to ask installers and lists equipment makers and their web sites. A guidebook on small wind systems is available here:
And more information about small wind in Colorado is available here: (http://www.ext.colostate.edu/energy/wind.html)
Communities can also gather together to tap into wind power as a group. Community wind projects may be part of larger utility-scale developments or community-financed small projects. Here is a link to a guide: Ownership Matters, Community-Based Wind Development in Colorado
Photo Courtesy of DOE/NREL, Artist's drawing of NREL's National Wind Technology Center