Evaluate Wind Power

Wind Turbine Rainbow Before considering wind power as a viable, cost effective means of reducing your electric bill, one must must first answer these two questions:

1. What is the average wind speed at my home?

2. What is my average electricity cost in cents per kilowatt-hour?

The right answer needs to be at least 10 and 10 to warrant further evaluation.   A ten mile per hour average wind speed and ten cents per kilowatt-hour rate are considered to be a minimum for achieving a reasonable cost effective wind turbine installation at one's residence.  Higher numbers are fine as they will accelerate pay back.

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Wind maps are a good place to start when searching for the answer to Question #1.  Wind speeds are shown in meters per second (MPS).   If miles per hour (MPH) is a more meaningful unit of measure to you simply use the following conversion formula:

1 MPH = 2.23 MPS

The wind map shows average wind speeds at 80 meters (250 ft.) above the ground which reflects the height of large commercial wind farms.  It also notes 6.5 MPS (14.5 MPH) is the threshold for reasonable capacity.  Residential wind turbines typically operate from towers that range from 50 to 100 feet in height where winds speeds are slightly less.

Given the lower cost, smaller size and lighter weight of the turbine rotor residential units can generate wind power cost effectively at these lower wind speeds.  In viewing the wind map, 6.5 MPS (14.5 MPH) at 80 meters will generally produce at least 5.0 MPS (11 MPH) winds at the 100 foot level.  This means that any area on the map that is not in a shade of green, ie. yellow and above, may be a viable location for wind power.

If your home resides "outside of the green" the next step is to verify the actual wind speed with an anemometer, preferably with a data logger.   Although it may not be possible to get a measurement at 100 feet above the ground without a tower, try to get measurements from a high, unobstructed location such as a hilltop or the roof of a multi-story building.  Remember, placing a wind turbine in a location with air flow obstructions is like putting a solar array in the shade.  Be sure to choose your location carefully.

As for the answer to Question #2, check your electric bill or the rate section of your utility's web site.  If the rates are tiered or time-of-use simply divide total dollars by total kilowatt-hours to get a reasonable estimate.  If your kilowatt-hour rate is slightly below 10 cents wind power may still work provided your average wind speed is equally above 10 MPH.

Be sure to check into your utility's pricing policy regarding the credit or purchase of excess kilowatt-hours your wind power generation sends back on the grid.  Some utilities will have a specific tariff that outlines this pricing policy.  Others may not.

If not, schedule a meeting with a distributed generation representative at your local utility, review your project plans and ask them to confirm any buy-back credits or pricing in writing. You don't want to find out that after you have invested thousands of dollars in your wind generation system you can sell it back to the grid for only a third or quarter of what you pay for it.

What is considered reasonable pay back?  This is a personal choice dependent upon on how you choose to invest your money.  According to the American Wind Energy Association the 10/10 numbers will deliver a pay back of less than fifteen years on a device with a 20 year service life.  If your wind speed and/or utility rates are higher the pay back period can be shorter, as short as six years in some cases.

Here's a quick way to shorten that pay back period by 30 percent...

According to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) various alternative energy sources are eligible for an investment tax credit.  In this case, small wind turbines placed into service after December 31, 2008 and before December 31, 2016 are eligible for a 30% tax credit.  This credit is not capped and applies to the eligible property cost of wind turbines up to 100 KW in capacity.   Installations done prior to January 1, 2009 are subject to a $4,000 cap.

Although difficult to quantify, your contribution to a cleaner environment may carry more intrinsic value to you personally than have direct economic benefit.   Again, this a personal choice that you make as you fully evaluate a wind power project for your home.

If your analysis shows you can meet the 10/10 hurdle, you have a firm kilowatt-hour buy back price from your utility and your project can qualify for the 30% federal tax credit and any additional state incentives it is time to move forward.  Start by strengthening your understanding of wind turbine operation.

Proceed with sizing the system to match your needs and budget.  Complete the project by adding an independent means to measure the wind power your system will generate.  For further in-depth reading please check out Wind Energy Books.

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