Too many wind energy system owners end up disappointed because of poor research, unrealistic expectations, and less-than-robust design and installation. Here’s our final advice, distilled from decades of experience installing, living with, and teaching about wind energy—and commiserating with other users:
Don’t buy cheap! Wind turbines should last at least a few decades, but they live and work in a severe environment—and you can’t just slap a bandage on them when they break. Get the very best you can afford.
Understand the resource. Get measurements or accurate predictions of the tower-top average wind speed on your site. Without this, you’ll only be able to guess how much energy a wind turbine might produce.
Go with tried and true. Our combined (40+ years) of experience in the small wind industry has shown us that people, products, and companies come and go. It’s hard enough to get reliable products and excellent support from the experienced companies in the industry. Expecting magic from a new designer or manufacturer is a recipe for disappointment or disaster.
Install it well. Even the best equipment from the best companies will be compromised if not installed properly. Cutting corners because of cost, convenience, or someone’s “better idea” can cripple a “good” system.
Maintain it! One myth about small wind is that there are products that you can put up and then ignore. It’s impossible to find such a beast. All wind turbines require regular inspection and maintenance. It may be only a loose bolt that you or the technician finds, but tightening it could make the difference between another productive year and a catastrophic failure. If you don’t visit your wind turbine periodically, it will eventually come down to visit you.
Enjoy! We have wind turbines because they make electricity. But we may have other motivations too, including clean energy goals, a preference for local energy and independence, and just plain enjoyment. If you come to small wind with a lighthearted, forgiving attitude, you will ride out the inevitable challenges more gently, and appreciate the benefits even more.
Ian Woofenden lives with and talks about small wind from his home in Washington’s San Juan Islands. He is author of Wind Power for Dummies. Along with article coauthor Roy Butler and four others, he is one of the owners and coordinators of The Small Wind Conference, the premier annual event for the industry.
Roy Butler is the owner of Four Winds Renewable Energy. His home and business have been off-grid, powered by wind and solar electricity, since 1997. Roy is active in the small wind industry, sitting on a variety of boards and providing training for several organizations.
AWEA standards page • bit.ly/WindStandards
Intertek • www.intertek.com/wind/small
ITAC • bit.ly/ITACturbines • Unified list of wind turbines
Microgeneration Certification Scheme • microgenerationcertification.org
Small Wind Certification Council • smallwindcertification.org
TUV • bit.ly/TUVnelCert