ASK THE EXPERTS: Car Alternator for Wind Turbine?


I’m thinking about using an automobile alternator for a homebuilt wind generator. Will this work?

Ron Johnson • Albuquerque, New Mexico

Hello Ron, A car alternator is a bad choice for a wind generator. The efficiency in normal use is never more than about 60 percent. The bearings are too small to reliably support large blades (more than about 1.5 meters diameter). It is designed to be lightweight and robust, and to withstand running at very high rpm. At low rpm it produces nothing, and low rpm is where wind generators spend the majority of their time running.

If you use a car alternator in a wind turbine, the speed problem can be addressed in one of several unsatisfactory ways:

  • Use a small blade area so that the short blades can spin at high rpm. This means that you cannot catch much wind, and even so, you will need a high wind speed to get the necessary rpm. It will also take a lot of wind to produce high enough power to excite the magnetic field and actually have energy to spare.
  • Use gearing to increase the rpm. This involves extra cost, extra losses, extra unreliability, and overall ugly and clumsy engineering.
  • Rewind the coils to work at lower speed. This means more turns of thinner wire in each coil. This reduces the cut-in rpm, but also increases the losses in the coils themselves, limiting the power output and further reducing the already low efficiency.

A car alternator’s rotor needs to be powered to excite the magnetic field. The field has to be at a maximum to get output at the lowest speed. This represents a constant power loss of 30 to 40 watts during operation. You will also have to remove and bypass the internal regulator. The internal regulator in the alternator is not suitable for charging a deep-cycle battery via a long wire run.

While it is cheap and attractive at first look, the car alternator is more trouble than it is worth. It is better to build a purpose-built alternator for a wind turbine.

Hugh Piggott • Scoraig Wind Electric

Comments (2)

hhanafi's picture

Hi, I think if you use a verical turbine you may avoid the bearing problem. The rpm problem may be solved by using a 1:2 or more belt assembly. Again this is only a rough thought that needs more research.


Ian Woofenden's picture

Vertical-axis wind turbines (VAWTs) have not shown themselves to be reliable in the marketplace or in the wind. Many uninformed people seem to think they are an answer to wind energy problems, but generations of real-world wind energy designers and users know otherwise. VAWTs' successes are generally for venture capital seekers and salespeople, not for the end users who want clean and reliable energy.

There's a grain of truth in the comment above, since VAWTs tend to run at lower rpm. But they also have significantly lower efficiency and reliability, so are not a good tradeoff if your interest is in reliable energy generation.

Ian Woofenden, Home Power senior editor

Show or Hide All Comments


You may login with either your assigned username or your e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.