What Is It and How Does It Work?

Small wind electric systems harness the wind to generate emissions-free electric power for residential homes and farms. They are categorized as “small” because they have a rated capacity of 100 kW or less. There are three main components involved in constructing a wind system: a turbine, a tower, and the balance-of-system components (such as a controller, an inverters, and/or storage batteries). When the wind spins the turbine’s blades, a rotor captures the kinetic energy of the wind and converts it into rotary motion to drive the generator and produce electricity.

Why Should I Consider It?

You should consider installing a wind turbine if:

What Are the Options?

Small wind systems are designed so that their electricity output either charges batteries or feeds a grid-synchronous inverter.

How Is It Installed?

Contact a wind manufacturer/dealer to help you choose the right turbine. They can also install your wind electric system, but many people elect to install the system themselves. Before attempting to install your wind turbine, make sure that you can do the following steps on your own.

  1. 1. You know how to pour a proper cement foundation.
  2. 2. You have access to a lift or a way to erect the tower safely.
  3. 3. You know the difference between alternating current and direct current wiring.
  4. 4. You know enough about electricity to safely wire the turbine.
  5. 5. You know how to safely handle and install batteries.

A credible installer may provide additional services, such as permitting. Find out if the installer is a licensed electrician, and ask for and check references. Check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure the installer you are considering is in good standing.

You can also contact the Small Wind Certification Council for third-party verification and to learn more about your options.

What Are the Potential Benefits?

Installing a small wind electric system can help lower your overall electricity bills by 50 to 90 percent, although the length of the payback period on the total cost of the system depends on the system you choose, the wind resouce on your site, electrcity costs in your area, and how you use your wind system.

Are There Health and Safety Concerns?

Most turbines have automatic overspeed-governing systems to keep the rotor from spinning out of control in very high winds. The manufacturer can provide information on the maximum wind speed at which the turbine is designed to operate safely.

Turbines with a manual shutdown mechanism allow you to stop the blades in high wind conditions or whenever necessary, such as when you don't need to generate power or want to perform maintenance.

How Much Does It Cost?

Wind systems are typically developed for large-scale energy production, but financial incentives have made small wind electric systems realistic for residential buildings. One available federal tax credit offers 30 percent of the cost through 2016.

The Department of Energy estimates that a small turbine can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000, depending on its size, application, and the service agreement purchased from the manufacturer. The American Wind Energy Association says that a typical home wind system costs approximately $32,000 and supplies 10 kW of power, but this includes the cost of a battery for energy storage.  Installation costs vary greatly depending on local zoning, permitting, and utility interconnection costs.

In general, the price of the turbine itself may only be 10 to 40 percent of the total costs associated with installing an approved wind system, including the components needed to generate the electricity and store it (in batteries).

What Else Should I Know?

Although small wind turbines are typically sturdy and reliable machines, they do require annual maintenance. If you do not have the experience to maintain the system yourself, your installer may provide a service and maintenance program.

Where Do I Start?

Do your homework! Determine whether your property is suitable for a small wind system, which design and size of turbine is best for your needs, and all the costs that are associated with its installation and maintenance. Find out about the financial incentives available to you in your state and from the federal government. This information will allow you to calculate your cost savings and the payback period as you shop for the system that is best for you.

Where Can I Get More Information?

The U.S. Small Wind Guide
U.S. Department of Energy: Small Wind Electric Systems
Small Wind Certification Council