Do you like wind energy? It’s got a big fan base, and we’ve been fans for a while now.
Going back to as early as 5,000 BC, people have been using wind energy to propel boats along rivers and using windmills to grind grain. If you think about it, small-scale wind energy is super retro, just not in the way that great grandpa might remember. But how are we using wind energy now? Let’s blow through the basics, but hold on tight, you’re in for a whirlwind.
Imagine you zapped one of those giant turbines along the highway with a shrink ray. That’s essentially a domestic wind turbine. Domestic wind turbines are just small turbines that can be used to generate energy for an independent household, providing energy for appliances, air conditioners, heaters, and general lighting. Revolutionary, isn’t it?
Wind turbines are powered by wind turning the blades that power a rotor. When the rotor gains power, it spins a small generator, producing energy like any other generator. Something interesting to think about however is that wind is really a different form of solar power! Wind is caused by the sun unevenly heating our atmosphere and meeting irregularities on Earth’s surface mixed with the Earth’s rotation.
Wind can absolutely be used to power a home. Most residential wind turbines are used as supplemental power sources to lower a house’s dependency on the energy grid and lower energy bills. Wind as a residential power source is often combined with other renewable energy sources to make up the whole energy profile, namely solar. This combination works well because solar and wind are both intermittent energy sources meaning they don’t provide consistent amounts of energy 24 hours a day.
Energy storage is also an option. Batteries can be used to store wind-generated energy and have high levels of charging efficiency. Similarly, wind turbines can use excess power to compress air. The air is stored in tanks and when required, the stored air can be used to spin the turbine to create more energy. Energy storage can be expensive but offers a great solution to using renewable sources with intermittency.
There are two main types of home wind turbines
These turbines can either be placed on a rooftop or as a standalone tower. When choosing a standalone tower, the placement and build are important.
No matter which style of wind turbine you’re planning to install, you may need a tower for it to sit on. Towers raise the turbine above the air turbulence level and the higher the tower, the more energy it can produce. There are two types of towers: self-supporting/free-standing towers and guyed towers.
A guyed tower is less expensive but more complicated, it consists of lattice sections, pipe or tubing, supporting guy wires, and a foundation. However, the guy used in the guyed tower must have a radius equaling ½ to ¾ of the tower height, so they need a bit of space. A tilt-down or self-supporting tower is more expensive. They are smaller and lightweight and can be lowered during storms and other hazardous conditions.
Horizontal axis turbines are the most common style of small-scale wind turbines. They have 2 to 3 blades usually made of fiberglass that oscillate upwards. Although horizontal axis turbines are typically heavier, they are better engineered for higher energy generation. The amount of energy generated is determined by the diameter of the turbine's rotor.
Although a vertical axis turbine is one of the main styles of turbine, it by itself has 2 different types: Savonius and Darrieus. A Savonius turbine has a recognizable “S” shape when looked down at from above and Darrieus turbines look like a whisk beater. Vertical axis turbines use an axis that is perpendicular to the ground and is designed to capture wind blowing at all angles.
The size of turbine you need is based on what you want to use it for. Small turbines usually range from 20 watts to 100 kilowatts of energy produced, for reference, 20 to 500-watt turbines are used as charging batteries for recreational vehicles, and some sailboats are equipped with turbines that produce 1 to 10 kilowatts, used to pump water.
Turbines specifically made to be used in residential applications are usually between 400 watts to 100 kilowatts of energy produced, but it all depends on how much electricity you need to generate. A typical home uses approximately 877 kilowatt-hours of energy per month, in order to accommodate this, a wind turbine in the range of 5 to 15 kilowatts is required to make any sort of significant contribution to the home’s energy usage. Rotor diameter will depend on the speed and steadiness of the wind but as an example, blade size can range anywhere from 4 feet to 50 feet for a residential turbine.
The price of a typical residential turbine varies depending on how much power they’re producing. Roughly, they range anywhere from $4,000 to $8,000 per kilowatt. A wind turbine system that could offset most of the average household’s energy use would cost close to $50,000. So, not cheap!
Federal tax credits can only be applied to systems that generate no more than 100 kilowatts of energy, and these credits include installation costs. A particular tax credit, The Production Tax Credit provides a credit of 1 to 2 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first 10 years of generation. This comes from supplying your excess energy to the grid and the value that it has for energy customers overall.
However, make sure to check with your state for what incentives they offer, it’s different depending on where you live.
Okay, so they’re expensive but are they good at what they do? According to all theoretical maximums, wind turbines can be up to 59% efficient with the average turbine being 50% efficient. For comparison, solar panels are only about 20% efficient, and the average American coal-fired power plant is only about 33% efficient.
Due to how expensive they are, wind turbine systems can take anywhere from 6 to 20 years to pay for themselves, with the average being 15 years. However, after the system recovers its cost, a residential wind turbine system can lower your electric bills by 50 to 90%!
Simply put, one of the largest requirements for installing wind turbines on your property is, well... wind. You’ll need to make sure where you want to place the turbine has strong and constant enough winds to make a turbine worth the investment. The best locations for wind turbines are in coastal areas, at the top of rounded hills, open plains, and gaps in mountains. As of 2020, Texas has the most wind energy production totaling approximately 33,133 megawatts.
Turbine installation is not your next DIY project, so definitely go with a contractor for this job. Many turbines require a tower which means you’ll also need a building permit, and sometimes, depending on where you live and the local ordinances, there may be a height restriction so you might need to get an additional special permit to build the tower.
As with anything in life, there are pros and cons. We’ll go through the big three for each.
No matter the size, wind turbines are a source of clean energy. There are no chemicals emitted into the atmosphere when you’re producing energy with a turbine. With our world’s dependence on fossil fuels and the impacts of the climate crisis becoming commonplace, wind turbines offer a green solution that lowers your dependence on harmful fuels like coal and oil.
Unlike coal and oil, wind power is renewable, which means that we can never run out. Wind will always be generated as long as there is sun and a pressure system in the atmosphere. Despite wind not always blowing in your area, turbines can have a battery attached that stores energy so you’ll be covered even on a clear day.
3. Financially available
Wind energy may be pricey to install, but the wind itself is free! Unlike oil (hello high gas prices) we don’t have to pay to use wind as energy and it’s here to stay. Although it is expensive to install, wind turbines pay for themselves in a reasonable amount of time and the system requires little maintenance, and there are plenty of financing routes that homeowners can use.
1. Dependent on weather
Even though you can get a battery attached to your wind system, that doesn’t mean you’ll always have power. The wind is constantly changing and it’s hard to predict, so your ability to harness wind power is completely dependent on location and how consistent the weather patterns are in the area. All this makes it difficult to calculate how long it will take for your system to pay itself off.
2. Can be noisy
We’ve all experienced winds that whip past you and keep you up at night because they’re so loud, and wind turbines add even more noise. Wind turbines can emit sounds between 50 to 60 decibels. If you live in an area away from your neighbors this may be fine, but if you’re in a rural area, loud whirring may not be the tranquil neighborhood experience you were looking for.
3. Difficult to regulate
Building permits, zoning issues, and height restrictions can all deter homeowners from installing wind systems. There are construction permits and laws that may take a while to get around before getting your wind turbines and not to mention your HOA. Some areas may forbid the installation of wind turbines altogether.
There are a ton of other ways to sustainably power your home—or save on your electricity bills indirectly with clean energy—that may fit better into your budget or your lifestyle.
The most common solution other than wind is rooftop solar. But what if you rent your place and can't install rooftop panels? Or even if you own, you may not want to spend upfront cost. Well, good news! You may be eligible to sign up for community solar and still save on electricity bills.
Community solar is a shared-solar platform where you and other residents and businesses "subscribe" to shares of a local solar farm. Your share earns you credits based on that farm's energy generation.
At Perch Energy, we make it super easy—no rooftop panels, no installation, no upfront fees, and no headaches.
Perch will help match you to a local solar farm. You’ll support the operations of that farm so that it can generate and contribute as much clean, solar energy to the overall grid. You don’t directly receive electricity from the solar power you’re supporting, but thanks to government incentives, you’ll get credits toward your own electricity bill—conveniently applied directly on your bill through the utility company since the utilities are connected to the solar farms.
Essentially, you’re being rewarded with a discount on your own electricity because you’re enabling solar generation and development in your state.
Plus, community solar has tons of other benefits to people, the environment, and local economies—it’s hard not to feel good about being a part of it.
Another option is hydroelectric systems. If you live near a downhill water source like a lake or river, small-scale hydroelectric power plants can be installed in your home to provide you with a clean and renewable energy source to power your home.
Another option, not necessarily to power your home, but to heat, your home is an air source and geothermal pumps. These systems take the temperature from outside to heat your home, reducing your dependency on gas or oil-based energy to warm you up. An air source system pulls air directly from the outdoors and extracts heat from it whereas a geothermal pump pulls air from 10 feet underground.
So, which is better, solar or wind? Pricewise, they’re quite comparable, at around $50,000 for either system. However, when it comes to taking up space, to power an average American household you need 20 solar panels compared to 1 wind turbine.
In terms of efficiency, solar energy, while more readily available and far more predictable, sits at only about 20% efficient. However, the pros of solar are strong, they’re easily designed for residential purposes and require little to no maintenance over a 25+ year lifespan. As for wind turbines, they aren’t as well designed for small-scale residential use, and require more maintenance, BUT… they’re far more efficient at almost 50% efficiency, and they currently outpace solar by the overall amount of energy generated.
Needless to say, there’s no right answer to which is better, it all depends on where you live, the weather patterns, and what you’re looking for. So don’t count either option out until you’ve really read into it.
Overall, residential wind turbines can provide overwhelming amounts of energy for home use and cut out a few zeros on your electrical bills. While expensive to set up, they pay for themselves within a reasonable amount of time and can pave the way to a greener future. Although lots of renewable energy is still up in the air, maybe use that to your advantage and throw caution to the wind with a residential turbine.