Get Started with Wind Power

Beginner
Proper siting of a wind turbine tower.
Determining the height of your wind generator tower and where to locate it are important factors when designing a wind-energy system.
A wind vane and anemometer.
An anemometer (right) and a wind vane (left) measure wind speed and direction.
Wind Turbine Siting
While it looks lost in the trees, the ARE turbine in the distance is actually on a 165-foot, guyed lattice tower that places the turbine more than 40 feet above everything near enough to affect its exposure to the wind.
Maintaining a Wind Turbine
Perform regular maintenance—at least once a year—to help your wind generator last, and provide you with electricity for years.
Proper siting of a wind turbine tower.
A wind vane and anemometer.
Wind Turbine Siting
Maintaining a Wind Turbine

Get Started with Wind Power

Wind-electric systems are the hardest renewable energy system to install and maintain, with the highest danger, and the highest failure rate. While die-hard do-it-yourselfers may take this on as a challenge, most people will be better served hiring or at least working with a wind energy professional to design, install, and maintain a reliable, long-term system.

The first step in the process is to assess your site and yourself, to determine whether you have a good wind resource, a good site, and a good situation for a wind-electric system. Site analysis takes experience, expertise, and “feel”—most people overestimate their wind resource, and underestimate the cost and difficulty of capturing it. Professional wind smiths draw on mapping, weather data, and local experience to determine where best to site a wind generator on your property, how tall to make the tower, and what to expect as far as performance.

A common incentive to pursue wind energy is that it’s fun and satisfying. Often, it’s difficult to make a strong financial case for home-scale systems, and the smaller they are, the harder it is. When a combination of a great resource (more than 12 mph average), high utility rates, and reasonable incentives are present, you may be able to satisfy your subjective motivations and your financial goals.

When estimating the cost of a wind-electric system, make sure you look at the complete system. The wind turbine is only one part of the package, and rarely the most expensive part. You need tower and foundation, transmission equipment, electronics, metering, and more to make a working system. Also make sure you have a generous line item in your long-term budget for ongoing maintenance. Without this vital attention, your investment will be unlikely to last for the long haul.

While it’s attractive to consider a dynamic wind turbine high above your home, making some or all of your electricity, it’s best to approach such a project with clear priorities and open eyes. First and foremost, remember that energy efficiency will be a better buy—both for your pocket book and the environment—than a wind-electric system. First do the work of paring down your energy load, by purchasing the most efficient appliances you can buy, and using energy wisely throughout your home.

Avoid the common pitfalls of wind energy:

  • Make sure you know what your wind resource (average wind speed) is, and that it’s adequate to the task.
  • Understand what you will get out (in kWh per year) from any wind turbine you are considering
  • Buy a large enough wind turbine; the swept area is the collector, and you won’t get a lot out of a little collector
  • Install your wind turbine on a tall tower —well above all nearby obstructions. Short towers and roof mounting are bad ideas that you’ll be disappointed in.
  • Perform regular maintenance—at least once a year—to help your wind generator last, and provide you with electricity for years.

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