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Considering a Wind Turbine: What You Should Know

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Nov 9, 2019

When most homeowners consider switching to renewable and sustainable options, the first thing that often comes to mind is rooftop solar panelsAccording to one estimate, “as of the end of 2018, the U.S. had 64.2 GW of installed solar–enough to power 12.3 million American homes. Solar energy accounts for 1.6% of total U.S. electricity generation.” Reduced per-watt costs, government subsidies, and increased awareness of the environmental benefits of renewable energies have led to an explosion of the solar industry.

However, wind power in the United States accounts for almost four times more energy production than solar, with 5.6 percent of all energy produced coming from wind turbines scattered across the country. However, the vast majority of this renewable energy comes from massive wind turbine projects operated on an industrial level. It is still much more common to find rooftop solar panels than a small wind turbine on a household or residential level. 

Below, we offer a complete rundown on the benefits and advantages that come with opting for a residential, home-scale wind turbine. We also give you the tools to help you decide if this renewable energy option might be best for your home.

solar panels
Photo Credit: Energy Sage

Are Wind Turbines Better Than Solar Panels?

Solar panels are certainly an essential element of a sustainable home. They can play a critical role in helping homeowners move towards an all-electriccarbon zero home. However, it is also essential to recognize that most solar panels only offer efficiency ranges between 15 and 20 percent. This reduced efficiency means that solar panels can only turn about one-fifth of the sun´s energy that it captures into usable energy for our homes. Of course, solar panels cannot produce electricity for at least half the day when the sun is not shining, and cloud cover can also further reduce efficiency ratings. In a new home feature of an off-grid home, Justin Allen told us that he was considering opting for a household hydropower generator because of the lack of efficiency of his solar panel systems.

On the other hand, wind turbines have an average wind efficiency of between 35-45 percent. Wind turbines do need areas with regular amounts of steady wind to function. However, in these regions, a turbine can be 2 to 3 times more efficient than solar panels. Also, unlike solar panels, wind turbines can produce renewable energy 24 hours a day as long as it is breezy. This feature can drastically reduce the need for expensive battery storage, which is often the most costly part of an off-grid solar setup.

The manufacturing process of wind turbines is generally considered to be less energy-intensive. Solar panels come with a sizeable embodied energy footprint that stems from the high temperatures required to melt silicone for the solar cells. On the other hand, wind turbines account for less carbon dioxide emissions during manufacture, thus reducing their overall footprint.

wind mill park
Photo Credit: LoveToKnow

Is Home Wind and Solar Energy Expensive?

Today, most types of renewable energy technologies are cost-competitive with traditional fossil fuels. Payback periods will vary, but almost every homeowner can expect to recover their investment within the expected lifespan of the renewable energy system. However, on a historical level, wind power has been cheaper than solar.

A 5-kilowatt pole-mounted wind turbine should cost you between $20,000 and $30,000, including installation and other necessary equipment. In areas with frequent year-round winds, this type of turbine can generate between 9,000 and 12,000 kWh of renewable electricity per year. For a similar amount of domestic energy production, homeowners would need at least a 7 kW solar array. With the average cost of installed solar at $3.35, this would come to about $23,450.

The installed price of solar and wind power, then, is close in range. Of course, for off-grid setups, solar systems would need to invest an additional $10,000 or so for battery technology, while wind systems might be able to get by with a significantly smaller battery bank.

FAQ: What You Need to Know

Before investing tens of thousands of dollars in a residential wind turbine, the following questions can help you evaluate whether or not this renewable energy technology is right for your home.

What Size Do I Need?

In general, a 5-kilowatt system can power the energy needs of an individual family home. You can expect the blades on a wind turbine of this size to have an 18-foot diameter. In areas with less wind, homeowners might have to invest in a taller pole as wind speeds generally increase at higher elevations.

residential wind turbine
Photo Credit: Off-Grid Power Boom

How Tall Are Home Wind Turbines?

The average height of residential-scale wind turbines is about 80 feet or twice the size of a telephone pole. In some neighborhoods, there might be code restrictions, especially if you live in urban or suburban settings. These restrictions should undoubtedly be taken into consideration.

What Is the Payback Period of Home Wind Turbines?

Payback periods will depend on several factors, but in general, homeowners can expect to recover their investment anywhere between 8 and 15 years. The expected lifespan of wind turbines is comparable to that of solar panels, generally between 20 and 25 years.

How Much Do Home Wind Turbines Cost?

High-quality wind turbines should cost homeowners anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000 per kW of electricity produced. However, competition in the market is driving down prices. This 5 kW residential wind turbine only costs $5,000, though it doesn’t include the cost of pole mounting and installation.

What happens when there is no wind on my site? 

It is essential to recognize that even when you don’t feel any wind near your home, there may be wind currents above your head. Most residential wind turbines are at least 80-feet in height. Suppose you live in an area where wind currents are not relatively stable. In that case, you might consider investing in a home battery system (such as the Tesla Powerwall) to store excess energy from windier periods. You can also research the amount of wind on your site by consulting this wind map provided by the NOAA. A simple anemometer can also be used to measure the actual speed of wind at your house site.  

How much wind and land will I need? 

Most installers will recommend sites with an average wind speed of at least 12 miles per hour to justify the investment in a wind turbine. Your property will also need unobstructed access to winds. Municipal building codes will often require a minimum lot size for wind turbines, and you certainly cannot have overhead power lines that could cause problems. These zoning and code restrictions are why less than 1 percent of all small wind turbines are used in urban applications.

Do Home Wind Turbines Require Maintenance?

Once installed, wind turbines will generally operate with little external maintenance needed. Unlike solar panels, the turbine will not suffer from reduced efficiency as it ages. However, routine inspections from a professional installer usually occur on a yearly or bi-yearly basis. In some cases, the warranty that comes with the turbine might depend on this regular inspection. Newer models of wind turbines also allow for remote monitoring of their performance from a home computer.

Wind turbines are certainly not appropriate for every home, especially for those of us who live in high-density urban areas. However, in suburban and rural areas, wind turbines offer numerous advantages that can help facilitate our transition towards a renewable energy society.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-09T17:09:45+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.