|Is a Wind Turbine Right for Me?
By Dan Chiras
Iíd really like a wind turbine, but I have friends who claim our
location isnít windy enough. Iím not sure I buy that, because here in
the Midwest, it gets pretty windy! How can I find out whether my
property is right for a wind turbine?
Wind is one of the trickiest renewable resources to assess and
capture. Although small wind turbines make economic sense in many
locations, theyíre not for everyone. Here are some of the factors that
can help you figure out whether a wind turbine is right for you, and
other options to consider if you decide itís not.
First, youíll need at least a couple of acres of land for a
wind turbine. Thatís because turbines and towers need to be situated far
enough away from buildings, property lines and utility poles to avoid
damage should the tower come crashing down (a rare occurrence).
Itís important to remember that trees and buildings create a
huge amount of turbulence, which slows winds down and lowers the output
of a wind system. Turbulence is to wind turbines what potholes are to
cars. To generate a significant amount of energy, a turbine must be
mounted on a tall tower above turbulence ó typically 80 to 120 feet.
This places the turbine in the smoothest and strongest winds,
dramatically increasing its output. Residential turbines on short towers
may look good, but in my opinion, they usually donít produce enough
energy to make them worth the investment. While the building department
may permit a turbine on a short tower (less than 35 feet) in an urban or
suburban neighborhood, they are not likely to permit a turbine on a
tall tower, which is what you would need to make your investment
worthwhile. (Some neighbors may not take kindly to a tall wind tower in
your yard, either.)
To produce a lot of energy from your wind turbine, youíll also
need an adequate wind resource ó at least a 12-mph average annual wind
speed at 100 feet. Before you take the plunge, do a thorough site
assessment to determine the average wind speed at your site and the best
location for a turbine. You can get an initial read on the wind in your
area by visiting NASAís Surface Meteorology and Solar Energy.
However, this website gives the average wind speed over a large area,
so if you live in a valley or on a ridge, your average wind speed might
be significantly lower or higher than these figures indicate. For a
thorough assessment, hire a professional wind site assessor. This will
cost you about $300 to $500, but itís well worth the money. You can find
a list of certified wind assessors at the Midwest Renewable Energy Association.
If you decide wind energy isnít for you, consider a solar-electric
system. Another option: If you want to support renewable energy but
arenít in a position to install your own system, consider buying green
power from a utility. Find more information about green power options
where you live at visit the U.S. Department of Energy.
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