Frequently Asked Questions on Small Distributed Wind Systems

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Distributed wind systems are used in residential, commercial, and industrial applications to self-generate power for offsetting all or a portion of onsite demand. Small wind turbine technology (<100 kilowatts) is the size most commonly used at homes and smaller farms and at commercial and industrial facilities. Below are frequently asked questions related to using a small wind energy system to power your site. The frequently asked questions below will help you begin to explore whether a small wind energy system is practical for your needs.

If you have the right set of circumstances, a well-designed wind energy system can provide you with many years of cost-effective, clean, and reliable electricity. You can reduce pollution and reduce your exposure to future fuel shortages and price increases. Deciding whether to purchase and install a wind system, however, is complicated; there are many factors that need to be addressed. You should consider contacting a distributed wind installer in your area to help work through these and determine whether a small wind system makes sense for you.

What are the potential benefits of small wind systems?

Wind energy systems can provide a cushion against electricity price increases. Wind energy systems reduce U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, and they don't use water or emit air pollution. If you are building a home in a remote location, a small wind energy system can help you avoid the high costs of extending utility power lines to your site.

Although wind energy systems involve a significant initial investment, they can be competitive with conventional energy sources when you account for incentives that may be available as well as a lifetime of reduced or altogether avoided utility costs. The length of the payback period—the time before the savings resulting from your system equal the system cost—depends on the system you choose, the wind resource in your site, electric utility rates in your area, and how you use your wind system. Wind turbine leasing may also be an option in your area.

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Is wind power practical for me?

Small wind energy systems can be used in connection with the utility owned electricity distribution system (called grid-connected systems), or in stand-alone applications that are not connected to the utility grid. A grid-connected wind turbine can reduce your consumption of utility-supplied electricity for lighting, appliances, and electric heat. If the turbine cannot deliver the amount of energy you need, the utility makes up the difference. When the wind system produces more electricity than the household requires, the excess can be credited by the utility (also known as net metering). With the interconnections available today, switching takes place automatically. Stand-alone wind energy systems can be appropriate for homes, farms, or even entire communities (a co-housing project, for example) that are far from the nearest utility lines. Either type of system can be practical if the following conditions exist.

Typical conditions for stand-alone systems:

  • You live on at least 1 acre of land in an area with average annual wind speeds of at least 4.0 meters per second (9 miles per hour)
  • A grid connection is not available or can only be made through an expensive extension. The cost of running a power line to a remote site to connect with the utility grid can be prohibitive, ranging from $15,000 to more than $50,000 per mile, depending on terrain
  • You have an interest in producing your own power and are willing to make a long-term investment in doing so
  • You would like to reduce the environmental impact of electricity production
  • You have a strategy for managing wind’s variability in meeting your power needs (e.g. storage or a wind and solar hybrid electric system).

Typical conditions for grid-connected systems:

  • You live on at least 1 acre of land in an area with average annual wind speeds of at least 4.5 meters per second (10 miles per hour)
  • Utility-supplied electricity is expensive in your area (about 10 to 15 cents per kilowatt-hour)
  • The utility's requirements for connecting your system to its grid are not prohibitively expensive
  • Local building codes and ordinances allow you to erect a wind turbine on your property without undue burden
  • You are comfortable with long-term investments.

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Is my site right for small wind?

To get a general idea if your region has good wind resources, look at the WINDExchange Wind Resources page, which has state wind maps, or the NREL WIND Toolkit Distributed Wind Resource layer. The maps will show you if wind speeds in your area are strong enough to further investigate the wind resource. Of course, the maps are just a starting point—the actual wind resource on your site will vary depending on topography and structure interference. And a localized site with good winds, such as a ridge top, may not show up on the maps. If you suspect there is a viable wind resource on your site and you would like to proceed with evaluating the feasibility of installing a distributed wind system, we encourage you to contact a distributed wind project developer in your area to conduct site and resource assessments. 

You can have varied wind resources within the same property. If you live in complex terrain, a distributed wind developer will assist you in selecting the most productive installation site. If you site your wind turbine on the top or on the windy side of a hill, for example, you will have more access to prevailing wind than in a gully or on the leeward (sheltered) side of a hill on the same property. Your developer will assist you in considering existing obstacles and planning for future obstructions, including trees and buildings, which could block the wind.

For more information, please consult WINDExchange's Small Wind Guidebook or contact the Distributed Wind Energy Association to find a small wind installer in your area.

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What other factors should I consider when installing a small distributed wind system?

In addition to reviewing your site and particular situation and goals, your local distributed wind project development professional should also guide you through: 

  • The importance of selecting small wind turbine design that has been tested and certified to national performance and safety standards
  • Potential legal and environmental obstacles
  • Cost and performance information from manufacturers
  • A complete economic analysis that accounts for a multitude of factors
  • The basics of a small wind system, and
  • Possibilities for combining your system with other energy sources, backups, and energy efficiency improvements.

For more information, please consult WINDExchange's Small Wind Guidebook or contact the Distributed Wind Energy Association to find a small wind installer in your area.

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What equipment does a small wind system typically include?

All wind systems consist of a wind turbine, a tower, wiring, and the "balance of system" components: controllers, inverters, and/or batteries. Hybrid systems use additional equipment, like photovoltaic panels and diesel generators to ensure electricity is available at all times. DOE strongly recommends that consumers purchase turbines that have been certified for safety, performance and reliability to nationally-recognized standards. The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) maintains an up-to-date list of certified small wind turbines.

For more information, please consult WINDExchange's Small Wind Guidebook or contact the Distributed Wind Energy Association to find a small wind installer in your area.

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Can I put a wind turbine on my roof?

While there have been instances of wind turbines mounted on rooftops, it should be noted that all wind turbines vibrate and transmit the vibration to the structure on which they are mounted. This can lead to noise problems within the building. Also, the wind resource on the rooftop is in an area of increased turbulence, which can shorten the life of the turbine and reduce energy production. Additional costs related to mitigating these concerns, combined with the fact that they produce less power, make rooftop-mounted wind turbines less cost-effective than small wind systems that are installed on a tower connected to the ground. For more information, see Deployment of Wind Turbines in the Built Environment: Risks, Lessons, and Recommended Practices.

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Where can I learn more information about small wind systems?