February 7, 2020
We’ve all seen them—those massive white 3-pronged pinwheel towers that line the freeway roads of rural America. These larger-than-life wind turbines stand hundreds of feet tall, unsuspecting, yet teeming with futuristic potential. Although oscillating slowly, these turbines are rapidly changing the modern landscape of renewable, natural energy.
Industrial wind turbines are responsible for a remarkable 6.5% of America’s electricity, so it’s no wonder why so many homeowners are looking for clever ways to capture the green benefits of wind energy. Small wind turbines take all of the natural magic of wind power and transform it into a residential-scale electricity machine. Serving as an eco-friendly gateway to clean, cost-effective, renewable energy, these scaled-down power-generation solutions are leading the way toward a more eco-conscious future.
But how exactly does wind power work and can a small wind turbine power your home? What are the benefits and what are the challenges? We’ll explore these questions and more below.
How do residential turbines work?
Small wind turbines, also known as residential wind turbines, have all the functionality of industrial-grade wind turbines. All wind turbines convert the kinetic energy created by the wind into mechanical power. c Their propellors are architecturally engineered to capture the highest amount of energy from the wind. When the captured wind power is converted to electricity, it can provide power to your household lights, electric heating, appliances, and more. Depending on the size of your small wind turbine and your geographical location, you could generate enough power to completely eliminate your energy bill.
How can small wind turbines power my home?
Looking at a simple small-scale wind turbine, you might be surprised it could support or even supplement your electricity demands, but residential wind turbines can produce anywhere from 400 watts to 100 kW. The average wind speed in your area determines how much wind energy can be converted.
Did you know the wind-generated electricity can power the following household items:
- Appliances (washer, dryer, dishwasher, etc.)
- Air conditioning and heating systems
- Water heaters
- Household lights
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the best measure of wind turbine performance is the annual energy output. You may be unaware, but there is a distinct difference between power and energy. Power, which is measured in kilowatts (kW), is the rate at which electricity is consumed. Energy, which is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh), is the total quantity consumed. When shopping for the perfect small wind turbine for your residence, find out the turbine’s estimated kWh/year to determine whether a wind turbine can produce enough electricity to meet your demands.
Why choose wind power?
There’s a reason why eco-conscious homeowners are flocking to green electricity alternatives to reduce their dependence on the grid and on fossil fuels. With the ever-imposing reality of climate change demanding real, effective change, renewable energy sources have become more attractive than ever. While solar power has gained momentous popularity on both industrial and residential fronts, wind energy trails closely behind.
The history of humans harnessing wind power dates back as early as 5,000 BCE, windmills have come a long way since their 1850 invention—today stand over 200 feet tall and are capable of producing enough renewable energy to power the equivalent of 32 million American homes. Wind energy is growing so quickly across the globe. That the U.S. Department of Energy aims to replace 20% of the nation’s electricity with wind-produced power by 2030.
The potential for wind power has been made abundantly clear, but as an individual homeowner, it may be difficult to understand how you can effectively use this power in your home. The benefits can be broken down into three key factors; wind power is 100% eco-friendly, free to generate, and 100% renewable.
As long as the Earth keeps spinning, disparate atmospheric pressures will continue to create wind, which can then be converted into electricity on a ceaseless loop. Homeowners are solely responsible for the installation costs of their small wind turbine—the energy generated thereafter comes at no cost. And because wind power is completely dependent on natural atmospheric phenomena, no harmful gasses, oils, or toxins are involved with the conversion process. So, whether you’re looking to reduce your energy bills or your carbon footprint, choosing wind power allows you to capture both benefits in one fell swoop.
What types of residential turbines are there?
Small wind turbines exist in two dominant forms: rooftop and standalone towers. Among these two types, residential turbines can be either horizontal-axis turbines or vertical-axis turbines.
- Horizontal-axis turbines: Horizontal-axis wind turbines are the most common type of small wind turbines. They typically feature three propeller blades that oscillate upwind, forcing the blades into the wind to maximize capture capacity. Though they’re typically heavier than their vertical-axis siblings, horizontal-axis wind turbines are better engineered for higher energy generation.
- Vertical-axis turbines: Vertical-axis wind turbines use a rotational axis that is fixed perpendicular to the ground. These turbines are more typically reserved for residential applications but are becoming increasingly popular on an industrial scale. Vertical-axis wind turbines are designed to capture wind blowing at all angles, which makes them the more attractive option to those living in stormier climates.
What are the advantages of small wind turbines?
- Eco-friendly energy alternative
Unlike energy produced by fossil fuels, wind energy is completely clean and eco-friendly. You won’t have to worry about polluting the environment with destructive emissions or dangerous long-term effects as you would with coal or oil-based energy generation. When you upgrade your home to a small wind turbine, you effectively reduce your dependence on conventional energy sources and join the ranks of eco-conscious homeowners carving out a greener tomorrow.
Not only is wind power free to harness, but it’s also 100% renewable. Environmental air will always converge at different pressure rates, which means the wind will always exist in the geographical areas that lend themselves to air disparities. In essence, you’ll never have to worry about drained supply.
- Financing availability
While one of the drawbacks to installing a residential wind turbine is the initial upfront costs, there are a number of specialized financing routes homeowners can use to reap the benefits of wind power. Property Assessed Clean Energy, also known as PACE financing is an easy installment-based plan for homeowners interested in financing their installation through special tax levies on their property.
What are the challenges of small wind turbines?
- Weather dependency
One of the largest setbacks to wind power is that the energy generated is completely dependent on geographical location and weather consistency. This means that wind energy can be both unpredictable and inconsistent, making it near impossible to predict total monthly savings. In most geographical cases, the wind does not blow continuously, so the savings you’ll earn are bound to fluctuate.
- Noise level
Wind turbines can emit sounds as loud as 50 to 60 decibels which can be incredibly noisy for otherwise tranquil neighborhoods. If you live in a rural area and have the benefit of being nearly neighborless, loud, whirring sounds would only be a nuisance to you, however, those in populated areas may not be as lucky.
- Zoning regulations
Along with the struggle of dealing with considerably high noise level accommodation, the process of installing a small wind turbine becomes even more difficult with local laws, HOAs, and zoning regulations that may forbid the installation altogether.
If you’re unsure of your area’s zoning laws, regulations, and restrictions, you can contact your local building inspector, planning board, or board of supervisors to gain the knowledge you need for your project’s eligibility.
Wind energy is on the rise and shows no signs of slowing. Homeowners looking to reduce their carbon footprint and slash their monthly energy bills are sure to reap the benefits of both the instant their small wind turbine is installed. Although the upfront cost can be steep, it’s a smart way to take advantage of an infinitely abundant resource.