Small Wind

Small wind turbines are generators that produce electricity for individual homes (and other small entities, such as farms and small businesses).
Credit: TSWind

How Much Do Wind Turbines Cost?

The American Wind Energy Association estimates that small wind systems cost $3000 to $5000 per kilowatt of generating capacity, though permitting, installation and site preparation costs could add 15-20% more to the purchase price. This means that a $4000 system may cost $5000 after permitting and preparing the site.

Size of a Wind Turbine

Small turbines range from 400 watts to 100 kilowatts. Sizing your wind turbine will be based on a number of factors, including your home's energy load and the average wind speed in your region.

Average homes use about 10,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) or electricity per year. This means they average about 830 kWh per month. A home with this energy need would need a turbine with 5 to 15 kW of capacity. Regions with lower average wind speeds would need larger turbines to meet this need, and regions with higher average wind speeds would need a smaller system. For example, a 1.5- kW wind turbine would meet the needs of a home requiring 300 kWh per month in a place with 14 mph annual average wind speed.

However, American homes typically consume much more energy than the average home. To meet the loads of a typical North American home, a small wind turbine would need to sweep 26 m² of the wind stream. This is equivalent to a wind turbine with a rotor diameter of almost 6 meters.

Return on Investment: Solar vs. Wind

According to NAHB, “initial costs (of wind turbines) can run between $40,000 and $50,000 for a 10-kW system, or a simple payback of approximately 21 years without factoring in tax or other incentives that may be available”. An average system will save up to $200 per month if the electricity costs are 10 cents per kilowatt. As you can see, the payback period of your small wind system will depend on your energy usage, electricity costs and available incentives.

While wind turbines have a high upfront cost, but may compete with other traditional sources of fuel when their payback is taken into account. A small wind turbine is cheaper than a solar PV system, but the return on investment may be longer for a small wind system.

There are many other considerations you should keep in mind when considering a wind turbine for your home. These include:

• If your area has good wind supply
• Whether your local zoning codes allow small wind systems
• If your average electricity bills are $150 per month or more
• Whether or not your home has easily accessible utility lines

These can impact the time it will take to make your money back as it relates to the effectiveness of the turbine (or in the case of the zoning codes, whether it is allowed). To estimate how much a small wind system will cost based on your location and current energy usage, you can use this calculator.

Installing Small Wind on Your Property

Typically, you will need to hire an experienced and/or certified small wind installer to install a small wind turbine on your property.

The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) provides a certification for small wind installers. Additionally, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) grants its seal of approval to top educational institutions that provide wind energy training.

Alternatively, the dealer can give you the equipment and you can install it yourself.

Case Study: Small Wind

In June 2004, Morrisville State College installed a small wind turbine at their Dairy Complex. The turbine was an Excel-S from Bergey WindPower Co., and stands at 37 meters. Its rated power is 10 kW and the rated wind speed is 31 miles per hour (mph). The turbne is grid-connected and helps to power a free-stall barn, along with numerous other cow and show barns, plus storage facilities.

The small wind turbine total installed cost was $47,750, though 70% was covered by the New York State Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

On average, the small wind turbine produced 17.5 kW hours daily and electrical output of 0.7 kW between November 1, 2007 through March 2011. The average annual electrical generation is 5,580 kW hours. The highest electrical output was recording in March 2011, which was 10007 kW hours or 1.4 kW per month.

At $0.11/kWh, Morrisville State College saw a benefit of $613 per year, or a total of $3,316 untl August 2011. The benefit is lower than the college anticipated, which may be due to low average wind speeds of 6.2 mph.

Small Wind Turbines on the Market

Southwest Windpower, based in Broomfield, Colorado, offers the popular Skystream 3.7, the first all-inclusive wind generator for homes, businesses, schools and government or public buildings. Developed in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, it comes with the controls and inverter built in and is designed to produce power at low wind speeds.
The Skystream 3.7 generates up to 400 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per month. AWEA rates the its annual energy at 3,420 kWh. It’s rated power is 2.1 kilowatts (kW) at 11 meters/second (m/s), or 2.4 kW at 13 m/s. The user can monitor the wind generator’s performance with Skyview monitoring software.

The Skystream 3.7 is now available in select Home Depot stores. Alternatively, customers can take a wind energy assessment on Southwest Windpower’s website, then get a consultation and schedule an installation, if its deemed a smart investment.

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