When I think of wind technology, an image comes to mind of a towering fleet of turbines. Although I've never seen a wind farm up close, I've heard from several people that it's an awe-inspiring sight. I may not have the chance to see a large-scale wind farm anytime soon, but I have had the opportunity to examine a small wind energy system—an alternative source of energy that can fully or partially provide power for the home.
This small wind turbine at the U.S. Botanic Garden provides up to 2,000 kilowatt hours per year. Courtesy of the U.S Botanic Garden.
During a recent visit to the U.S Botanic Gardens (USBG) in Washington, D.C., I noticed a vertical wind turbine on display. This single turbine, relatively small in stature, provides up to 2,000 kilowatt hours per year for the USBG. The Garden's horizontal wind turbine provide an additional 2,500 kW hours per year. Although D.C. is not an ideal windy city, the USBG estimates that these turbines generate enough electricity to light its annual holiday show and power its electric utility vehicle.
In the same way, a small wind energy system can provide a significant amount of clean, renewable energy for your home. Wind turbines work by converting the kinetic energy of wind into electricity. The blades of the wind turbine are aero-dynamically designed to capture the maximum energy from the wind. The wind turns the blades, which spin a shaft connected to a generator that in turn produces electricity. Check out our Energy 101 video series to learn more about wind energy basics.
Consider these factors to determine if a wind energy system may be a viable option for you:
- Your property has a good wind resource
- Your home or business is located on at least one acre of land
- Your local zoning codes or covenants allow wind turbines
- You can determine how much electricity you need or want to produce
- It works for you economically, and you're comfortable with long-term investments
- Your average electricity bills are $150 per month or more
- Your property is in a remote location that does not have easy access to utility lines.
Although stand-alone systems are an option, most small wind energy systems are connected to the larger power grid. This allows you to take electricity from the grid when your system cannot supply all your power needs.
A small wind energy system has about a 20-year lifetime, but with routine maintenance, some systems have successfully operated for 50 to 60 years. Depending on tax incentives, local wind resources, and the retail price of electricity from your local utility—a wind energy system can pay for itself in roughly 10 to 20 years.
Erin Pierce is a Federal Career Intern who collaborates with the corporate communications team at EERE.