The Power of Wind (Literally)

Wind: that mysterious motion that excites or soothes our senses, stirs vegetation, pushes a sailboat along, and, at the speed of 94 mph, has the power to break a tree. According to Ayurveda, a mind-body medicine and one of the world’s oldest medical systems, the wind element powers all movements in the body and mind. And since 1888, it has been the source of electric power with the invention of the wind turbine.

Wind turbines are a way to generate electricity in an environmentally friendly manner since they do not require fossil fuels. There are several reasons we should cut back on fossil fuels, the most obvious being that they are a finite energy source—we’ll run out of them eventually. The concept of a wind turbine might seem big and lofty to you, though, since most of the time we see these giants far out into a field as we drive on a country road. But did you know that you can install your own wind turbine at home to power your electricity?

mother and child in wind farm
Energy choices we make now will affect the next generation.

Read further to find out:

  • If it’s practical for you
  • Variations of the wind solution
  • How economical is it?
  • Other ways to save energy

Gauging Practicality

First, you need wind. That might seem obvious, but depending on your location, a wind turbine might not be feasible if your wind supply is not steady enough. Most installers recommend a steady supply of wind of at least 12 mph.

In order to find out about your location’s wind supply, you can have an installer evaluate your location for you. If you want to do a little of your own research before paying an installer, look into wind resource maps, information from a local turbine system’s wind speed data, or airport wind speed data records. Keep in mind that this last method is not totally reliable due to the height points at which airports measure the wind. These resources can still ballpark an idea, though.

Sufficient land—at least one acre—is also key. Rural homes are an easier location to install a wind turbine, and since less than 1% of small wind turbines are located in urban settings, you might want to skip to the end on how to save energy in other ways if you live in the city.

If you do have enough land, you’ll need to check with your local building inspector, board of supervisors, or planning board to better understand zoning restrictions. Zoning codes might restrict your wind turbine’s proximity to property lines, require a minimum lot size, or restrict a wind turbine’s height if you live in a residential area.

Finally, before endeavoring on this project, it’s important to gauge whether your electricity bill will make a wind turbine worth the time and money in the long run. WINDExchange notes that a wind turbine will likely be an economical decision for you if your electric bills are at least $150 a month or you don’t have access to utility grid power. In the case of the latter, constructing a wind turbine could eliminate your need to connect to a grid altogether.

a wind turbine prototype towers into the sunny sky
The wind turbine prototype. But they’re beautiful in a way, aren’t they?

Variations

If you’re already connected to a utility grid, you can install a wind turbine that is connected to that already-existing grid. This will ensure that in the case of an energy deficit from your turbine, the grid will source the rest of your electricity. Further, if your wind turbine produces more energy than you need, the extra can be sent or even sold to the utility company.

visual guide of  grid-connected system model for wind turbines
Grid-connected system model (Photo: courtesy of WINDExchange’s Small Wind Guidebook)

On the other hand, wind turbines can offer a solution for homes or businesses that don’t have connection to a utility grid, especially if the cost estimate to connect to the grid is high. Why not use the money you would spend connecting to a grid—or even save a little—by creating a hybrid wind energy system? A hybrid wind energy system derives its energy from several sources—wind, photovoltaic technologies, and batteries, or an engine-generator—for when wind and sun levels are too low to produce enough energy.

visual guide of hybrid system model for energy production
Hybrid system model (Photo: courtesy of WINDExchange’s Small Wind Guidebook)

Size can vary as well. An average home uses 897 kWh per month, making a 5 to 15kW sized wind turbine realistic, though wind speed will play into the exact size to support your home’s energy needs. Check out this article on different models to get a better idea of the kind of turbine you’ll need.

How Economical Is It?

Wind turbines can be expensive, but keep in mind that it’s also a long-term investment; their efficiency can save money in the long run. The Wind Energy Foundation estimates the cost of a system that would power an entire home at $30,000, but notes that cost can range from $10,000 to $70,000. Cost depends on the size of your wind turbine system, but it should come out to $5,900 per kilowatt.

In comparison, the average American spends about $109 a month on electricity. This comes out to $1,308 a year. Wind turbines are definitely an investment, but electricity costs do add up; after 30 years, your average costs come out to almost $40,000 so that the price of wind turbines is not outrageous. In fact, they could save you money depending on how long you have them.

Because the government wants to encourage reduction in fossil fuel reliance, there are rebate and tax credit programs by state that could make a wind turbine more affordable for you. United Wind, a wind turbine company, offers a leasing program as well.

Other Ways to Save Energy

If you’ve come to the conclusion that a wind turbine isn’t feasible for you (maybe you live in a city or just can’t afford the investment right now), here are some other habits you can adopt in your day-to-day life to cut down energy costs:

  • Improve your insulation. Homes built before 1950 use about 60% more energy per square foot than those built in 2000 or later. Installing exterior or interior storm windows is also a great way to improve insulation and save on heating and cooling costs. You also might want to look into insulating your roof.
  • Turn your thermostat up (or down, if it’s winter) for part of the day, especially when you know you won’t be home.
  • Wash clothes in cold water, and wait until you have a full load.
  • Look for the Energy Star label when purchasing light bulbs, home appliances, and electronics. Energy Star-qualified LED and CFL light bulbs use 20-25% less energy than traditional incandescent light bulbs, as their products meet efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • If you’re really committed to this (we think you might be since you’re looking into wind turbines), try air drying your dishes and clothes when possible.
lightbulb with plant inside sits on the grass
Just switching light bulb brands can save your energy consumptions, and some money.

Check out this list for even more ways to save energy. If you think a wind turbine is a likely possibility for you, look into the Small Wind Certification Council for information on wind turbine manufacturers and reviews and WINDExchange, the Department of Energy’s online platform, to answer more questions you might have.