Thoughts of wind power may conjure up mental pictures of centuries old windmills of the past. True, such devices were way ahead of their time with respect to harnessing the elements to provide a desired result. Homes of yesteryear were not burdened with high demand light fixtures and waterfall pumps. Today‚s modern home has refrigerators, lights, air conditioners and water feature pumps. With rising energy cost spiraling out of sight, potentially doubling within the next five years, what can homeowners do to combat the high cost of energy?
If you could make your own electricity day and night for less per kilowatt-hour than you are currently paying, would you consider it? Suppose doing so also helped the environment? What if you could lock in that low rate for the next 10 to 20 years?
Wind power technology has improved significantly over the past several years. Modern Turbines are much smaller, quieter, and more efficient than ever before. The cost per kilowatt-hour of energy produced is also lower than with photovoltaic, and turbines do not require the cleaning and maintenance of solar panels. Some new turbines have a power inverter built right in, allowing you to easily connect to the utility grid.
The first consideration in adopting wind power is answering a very important question, namely, “How might a wind turbine affect my neighbors?” Perception is reality and some neighbor concerns are noise and visual impact. A residential-size wind generation system typically blends in with most outdoor sound, such as noise generated from airplanes, traffic, and the wind blowing through trees. A home wind system will produce around 40 to 50 decibels of sound, about the equivalent of a washing machine. With tower height and setback requirements, the turbine is installed a distance from neighbors, making them seem even quieter. Bob Hayes, President of California based Prevailing Wind Power says “Wind power is the perfect solution if you have a relatively large lot, good wind and are paying more than 11 cents per kilowatt hour at your highest rate.”
Small wind generators are typically installed on a monopole tower of 30 to 40 feet in height, and look similar to a flagpole. The smooth surface and lack of climbing apparatus keeps them safe from would-be climbers. The color of the tower and turbine are designed to virtually disappear against the sky. The newer designs are quite elegant, and many owners view them as a form of art or sculpture.
Some micro wind turbines generate DC power, which could be used to power a waterfall pump and low voltage lighting. If you purchase a battery pack, you can store energy and recharge as necessary.
Unlike large wind farms located in natural wind canyons or migratory routes, the residential-size wind turbine has been shown not to be a significant hazard to birds. The blades on these turbines are just 3´ to 12´ in diameter, as opposed to 300´ or more on wind farms. Birds are far more likely to be killed by the neighborhood cat or by flying into a window or traffic, than from a collision with a wind turbine.
Each county and city has different zoning rules for height, swept area, and the number of turbines allowed on a particular parcel. Many cities are only now getting requests for permits and are establishing permit processes as they are submitted. A phone call to your local planning department should be your first step in pursuing a wind power installation. A planner can tell you whether a wind system is allowed, the minimum lot size (typically 0.5 to 1 acre), setbacks, and permit process. City planners understand the need of their constituents to reduce their reliance on utility power and to reduce their monthly electricity costs; so many cities are reducing the permit barriers and lowering for renewable energy sources. Sometimes the planners do not have any experience with wind power, but welcome the opportunity to learn more about it, and how the permit process works elsewhere.
Adding renewable energy to your home has also been shown to increase property value. A survey of California homeowners found that 50% would be willing to pay more for a home equipped with solar and wind technology. The same survey found that 60% of homeowners would be more interested in a home that has a renewable energy system installed versus a home that does not.
Net metering is what allows the homeowner to see the immediate benefits of making their own electricity. The system is connected through the utility meter, and essentially slows down or runs the meter backwards as the turbine produces energy. If you have ever studied your utility bill, you may have noticed that you are charged on a tiered scale, with a small charge per kilowatt-hour at the baseline amount, and higher charges as your usage exceeds each level. At the higher usage levels, you pay much higher rates! The benefit of net metering is that the most expensive portion of your bill is removed first, in essence taking the cream off the top, and getting you back into the lower rate levels. Even if the turbine doesn’t produce 100% of the energy your household uses, you will save significantly by reducing your usage in the top tiers. If your turbine creates energy in excess of your usage (such as when you go on vacation), the utility will give you a credit that can be net over the next 12 months.
Wind power that is grid connected will not help you as a backup system. If you need power when there is an outage, or if you are off the grid, you would need a battery storage device. The unfortunate thing about battery storage is that, whether they are used or not, batteries wear out over time and battery disposal has a negative impact on the environment. There are energy management systems available that include a battery backup, and these show you the energy produced by your wind and/or solar power generators. The system can also time your grid usage to non-peak times, while using battery power during peak demand, when energy is most expensive. Most utilities are installing new meters that will allow them to charge customers on a time-of-use basis, and charge more per kilowatt-hour at peak demand times.
Wind power can be structured for many different circumstances, with respect to power needs, location, wind speed and local zoning. Some wind turbines are small enough to take along as a DC power generator on a boat or an RV. They can be put up upon arrival and are much quieter than a diesel generator. Residential-size turbines can be horizontal or mounted on a vertical axis, or even mounted on a rooftop. For public settings, turbines are being installed on top of existing towers, such as light posts in a parking lot. Schools are looking to wind power to help reduce costs of power and to educate children about the benefits of renewable energy. Whatever your situation, there may be a wind power solution to fit your needs. You can get started by Googling the words “residential wind power.” One of the very first web sites you will see is the American Wind Energy Association. This web site gives valuable information regarding wind power and it has a list of companies, which sell wind turbines. Wind power is here to stay. Wind power saves money, helps the environment and helps us to fulfill our stewardship toward our planet Earth.