Making electricity with the wind is not easy. As seasoned wind-energy installers with decades of experience, we—as well as thousands of others who live with home-scale wind turbines—tell a challenging tale. And the small wind industry today reflects those challenges, with long-established companies struggling and going under while the cost of reliable solar-electric modules continues to drop. If you think you want a wind-electric system, first think smart, then realistically.
Done well, residential-scale wind energy can provide clean kilowatt-hours in a very satisfying way. But because of the characteristics of the wind, wind systems have several strikes against them:
This article will help you sift through the rhetoric and numbers, and make a wise decision about whether or not to tap local wind energy. If you decide that wind is right for your site, we want to help you understand how to make it work for the long term.
First, we suggest you get a handle on your motivations, needs, and situation. These will help determine whether a residential wind-electric system makes sense for you. People choose wind energy for several reasons, including:
Each of these motivations—and combinations of them—will lead to different choices. Be realistic about why you are considering wind energy and make sure the actual results satisfy your expectations and goals.
When installed correctly in the right location, a residential wind-electric system can produce cleaner energy than North America’s utility grid, which is dominated by coal and other dirty energy sources. But a wind system needs to make significant energy (kilowatt-hours) for years or decades to make environmental and financial sense. Otherwise, you could end up spending a pile of money on an unproductive wind energy system—and still be shelling out dollars for that dirty coal energy you’re using now.
Scrutinizing your real cost of wind energy is crucial if your primary goal is to save money. Many wind-electric systems are installed with unrealistic financial and durability projections, and end up generating energy that is more expensive than the local utility grid. A low cost per kWh requires a productive and long-lasting wind-electric system.