How Practical Is a Backyard Wind Turbine?

small-scale wind turbines

April 11, 2017

Power companies in places like Germany and Denmark use wind turbines on an industrial scale. Wind power is likewise catching on in the United States and China, with energy firms rushing to invest in wind farms so they can cash in on this renewable energy source.

Can wind also work on a smaller scale? The improvement of solar panel technology means that individual homeowners can now benefit from solar power.

Is the same thing happening with turbines? Residential wind power is slightly more complicated than solar. It is a practical energy option, but only in the right conditions. Like solar power systems, wind turbines can take advantage of net metering. This means a turbine can connect to the traditional power grid and provide energy for a home – with any excess power fed back to the grid.

On those occasions when the wind is not blowing, the home can get its electricity from the grid. Because the wind never blows continuously (no matter where you live), a net metering setup is usually the most practical option for turbine-powered properties.

Smaller rooftop turbines, which are better suited for suburbs and cities, are not connected to the grid. Usually, these systems charge batteries, which in turn provide power to the home. These smaller units are usually not strong enough to supply a home’s entire electricity needs. Instead, these systems are meant to be supplementary power sources to help lower reliance on traditional electricity (which will mean lower utility bills for the homeowner).

Ideal Conditions for a Residential Wind Turbines

Less than one percent of all small (residential or private use) wind turbines are in cities. This is because of zoning restrictions and a lack of both steady wind and sufficient space. To provide power for an average home, a turbine’s rotor should be at least 18 feet in diameter, according to the Wind Energy Foundation. In addition, the wind cannot be blocked by trees, taller buildings, or other obstructions. Therefore, rural properties are the best setting for wind turbines that are large enough to provide all the power for a home.

Smaller, rooftop turbines that produce supplementary power are better for most suburban and urban dwellers. Some companies specialize in these miniature off-grid systems.

Why is Wind Power a Good Idea?

Both net metering and off-grid wind power have several important advantages. First off, wind power is environmentally friendly; it causes absolutely no pollution. Secondly, wind energy is essentially free. Aside from the initial cost of installing the turbine (plus any maintenance costs), homeowners will have a ready supply of wind-generated electricity for decades. Even a small, rooftop turbine can significantly lower home electricity bills. Technology is developing quickly – especially for small, residential applications – making wind power more accessible to the average homeowner.

Clean energy and special financing options such as those offered through property assessed clean energy (PACE) programs make turbines of all sizes more practical. PACE enables homeowners to finance their wind power upgrade through a special tax levied on their property. Over time, homeowners repay the amount financed as a line item on their annual tax bill. Therefore, the money saved on energy costs over time can be used to pay for the turbine itself.

Are There Any Major Disadvantages?

The biggest drawback for wind power is that it is not consistent. Even if an installer chooses the best location, the wind will not blow at the same speed continuously. This is why, especially in a residential setting, wind turbines are either supplemental energy sources or are connected to the main power grid in a net metering arrangement. The other drawbacks are harder to foresee. Wind turbines can be noisy, which is not a common problem in a rural setting, but in residential areas, this may be an issue. Noise from wind turbines is generally the main complaint by residents who live near large utility-owned wind farms.

Smaller wind turbines, including rooftop models, may still be subject to zoning restrictions. Rules vary by city, so it is important to research local ordinances before deciding whether wind power is a viable option.

How big does a backyard turbine need to be? It depends. A general guideline is that the turbine needs to be 30 feet higher than any object, including trees, within a 300-foot radius. Depending on wind patterns and landscapes, that could be between 60 and 120 feet high. Farms have the ideal landscape for residential turbines, while people with less than an acre of land might not have enough space for anything but a rooftop model.

Will You Save Money?

Despite the potential drawbacks, you can save money with wind power, especially if you qualify for green energy tax credits. One thing to remember, especially with full-size turbines, is that there will be maintenance costs. Because larger residential models are at the top of tall towers, a do-it-yourself repair is impossible. It is extremely important, therefore, to double and triple-check warranties before you sign on with an installation company. Inspections and annual oiling and tightening maintenance should be figured in as part of the ongoing cost of having a wind system.

Which Models Are the Most Practical Option For Most Homeowners?

Smaller wind turbines, designed to fit on a roof or garage, are the best option for most homeowners – especially for those in suburban and urban areas. These units are not designed to provide 100 percent of a home’s power; they are simply not big enough. However, they are relatively inexpensive, and they can significantly decrease electricity bills. These rooftop turbines may still be subject to zoning restrictions, but some manufacturers have solved the problem of noise pollution.

One Swedish-made option is “completely silent,” reports Treehugger, and a 30-foot mini-tower turbine can barely be heard beyond 40 feet. Depending on the setup, these small turbines can provide 25 to 50 percent of a home’s power. With initial costs and installation, it should take only a few years to recover the cost of the upgrade with the money saved on energy bills.

Best When Used in Combination With Other Power Sources

Small, quiet rooftop turbines are the ideal option for most homeowners. People who want to benefit from the wind, however, will still need another power source. One option is to combine wind with another type of renewable energy: solar. The “partnering” of rooftop panels and a turbine can lead to significant energy savings. Furthermore, both of these improvements may qualify for PACE financing, so that homeowners can get solar and wind installed for little-to-no upfront cost and use the money they save on their energy bills to pay for both of the upgrades over time.

Wind power can be a good idea under the right circumstances. Homeowners need to find the right turbine for their specific situation and understand that, for most homes, wind is a supplementary source of power that will not provide all the electricity they need – but it can certainly help lower power bills.

Interested in solar? PACE can help you finance your system and enjoy the advantages of clean, renewable energy. Contact Ygrene to learn more: (855) 901-3999;