Not every property is suitable for solar panels. However, that does not mean that you won’t be able to generate clean energy on your property. One renewable energy technology that’s becoming an increasingly popular alternative for homeowners looking to generate their own clean electricity is small wind turbines.
An overview of small wind turbines
Small wind turbines, sometimes referred to as home wind turbines, are much smaller than the turbines you see on wind farms. While larger wind turbines can have a blade diameter that spans the length of a football field, small wind turbines typically have a diameter up to 10 meters wide. Because of the smaller blades, these wind turbines have a much smaller power output than large turbines. That makes small wind turbines perfect for projects with smaller electricity needs, such as residential, portable, or off-grid applications.
The best locations for small wind turbines are places that experience frequent, high wind speeds. Generally speaking, the taller the turbine, the windier the environment and the more electricity it’s capable of generating. Most of the best spots for small wind turbines are on rural properties, as they tend to have a lot of space and few obstructions that would impact wind speeds. In certain instances, a small wind turbine has the potential to offset 100 percent of a home’s electricity bill.
Buying small wind turbines
When it comes to buying a small wind turbine for your home, it’s important to compare different products and how they vary in regards to price, design, power capacity, and equipment offerings.
The table below shows how small wind turbines vary in price across different power capacities. Among similarly-sized wind turbines, price differences are largely due to additional components included in the purchase such as charge controllers, poles/towers, batteries, or cables. The additional components you need to purchase depends on the setup of your wind turbine. For instance, off-grid systems require a battery to store electricity, and a charge controller to protect the battery from overcharging.
Small wind turbine products
|Product||Power capacity (W)||Cost ($)||Cost per watt ($/W)||Number of blades||Pole/tower included?||Battery included?||Charge controller included?|
|Missouri General Freedom II Wind Turbine||2000 W||$749.00||$0.37/W||11||No||No||No|
|Happybuy Wind Turbine (24 V)||400 W||$194.98||$0.49/W||5||No||No||Yes|
|EOLO Small Vertical Axis Wind Turbine||3000 W||$4,000.00||$1.33/W||6||No||No||No|
|SHZOND Wind Generator||400 W||$159.99||$0.39/W||3||No||No||Yes|
|Tumo-Int Wind Turbine||5000 W||$4,999.00||$1.00/W||3||No||No||Yes|
Most of the products above cannot produce enough electricity to power an average home but can be useful in offsetting a small portion of an electricity bill. Wind turbines that are smaller than 500 watts are referred to as micro wind turbines. They can be particularly useful for small, off-grid energy applications, like boats, RVs, and more.
Sizing a small wind turbine for your property
The first step to determining the right size for your wind turbine is knowing how much electricity you want to generate. If you’re looking to meet most or all of your electricity needs with a small wind turbine, you can determine your electricity usage by looking at past electricity bills. Alternatively, if you’re looking to offset only certain appliances with wind power, the Department of Energy’s Appliance Energy Calculator is a good place to start to calculate the electricity demands of specific appliances.
Once you know your electricity needs, find a wind turbine and site location that will meet that need. Many wind turbine manufacturers will report an estimated annual electricity output for their product using certain height and average wind speed assumptions. Without this, the calculation for estimating the realistic power output of a wind turbine can be complicated, as it’s dependent on weather patterns, air density, the efficiency of the equipment, the length of the blades, and more. However, you can come up with a rough estimate of a wind turbine’s energy production without complicated calculations by using an estimated capacity factor.
Capacity factor is a useful metric to estimate the amount of electricity a power generator can produce across the course of the year. For wind, the capacity factor is calculated by dividing the total electricity produced by a turbine over the total amount of electricity it would have produced over the year if it were to output its maximum power year round. According to the Department of Energy’s 2018 Distributed Wind Market Report, small wind turbines have an average capacity factor of 17 percent, but their data set included a range from as small as 2 percent to as high as 36 percent.
Using a capacity factor estimate, you can calculate a rough annual electricity production estimate with the following formula:
Kilowatt-hours per year = 8,760 hours in the year x power rating (kW) x capacity factor (%)
Given the average capacity factor for small wind turbines, a 10 kW turbine will produce roughly 14,892 kWh per year.
How to choose where to place your residential wind turbine system
There are a couple of things to consider when choosing a location for your residential wind turbine system: the amount of wind a certain location receives, and the distance to what you’re trying to power.
Unless your property is on land that is completely isolated and flat, it is important to analyze how much wind each potential installation site may get. For example, if you place your system on the top of a hill, there will likely be more wind than if you placed it on the non-windy side of a barrier like a shed or tree. A good rule of thumb is that your system should be sited upwind of any obstructions, and 30 feet above anything that exists within 300 feet of it.
Equally as important to wind access is the distance between your system and what you’re trying to power. This is because a substantial amount of electricity can be lost if the wire running from your system is too long. The closer your residential wind turbine system is to the load you are trying to power, the more efficient your system will be.
Cost of small wind turbines
The cost of installing a small wind turbine can vary depending on the size of the system, the height of the tower, and the equipment you buy. In most cases, the larger and taller the wind turbine is, the more expensive it will be.
According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), small wind turbines cost between $3,000 to $5,000 for every kilowatt of power capacity. Most homeowners using a wind turbine as their primary source of electricity install between 5 to 15 kW of wind power capacity, meaning they can expect to pay between $15,000 and $75,000 for their small wind turbine project. These numbers do not include any federal or state incentives.
Should I install a small wind turbine for my home?
Small wind turbines can be a cost-effective way to generate renewable electricity for your home. However, many residential properties are not suitable for wind turbines for a few reasons.
For one, to generate enough electricity to make the upfront investment worthwhile, wind turbines need to be in a windy location. While that may seem kind of obvious, it’s not enough to just experience high wind speeds during storms or specific seasons: you want consistent wind patterns capable of spinning the wind turbine all year long to make the upfront investment worthwhile.
As a general rule of thumb, if the average annual wind speed on your property is less than 5 meters per second, it’s likely not a suitable location for a small wind turbine. If you’re unsure of wind speeds at your property, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has wind maps that display average wind speeds throughout the country on a month by month basis. Your nearby airport may also have a record of wind speeds if you’re looking for a basic estimate for your region.
Additionally, small wind turbines need to have a certain amount of space and reach a certain height to achieve significant electricity savings. Your jurisdiction may have zoning ordinances that limit the height of a structure you can install on your property, thus limiting how much electricity your wind turbine is capable of producing. You also need enough open ground space on your property to lower the small wind turbine for maintenance purposes – many installers recommend having at least one acre of clear land.
However, you live in a windy, remote, off-grid location, a small wind turbine can be more affordable than connecting your home to the electrical grid. Additionally, micro wind turbines can be useful for other off-grid, portable applications, such as charging batteries for RVs and sailboats.
Installation and maintenance
Once you determine if a residential wind turbine is right for you and where it can be placed on your property, your next step is installation. In most cases (unless you are able to pour cement, properly wire your system, and place it where it needs to go) a residential wind turbine system needs to be installed professionally. Contact your system’s manufacturer to learn more about your installation options and costs.
Once your residential wind turbine has been installed, maintenance requirements might include repairing electrical connections and wiring and replacing any corroded parts. For example, small wind turbine blades last about 10 years. If the whole system is properly maintained and installed, you should expect it to have a lifetime of about 20 years.
Compare all your options before making a decision
As you’re looking for ways to generate your own electricity, it’s always a good idea to compare multiple options before making a final decision. By signing up on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can receive up to seven custom quotes for installing solar on your property. These quotes include cost information and savings estimates that you can compare the economic benefits of solar with small wind turbine offers. If you’re looking to start out with ballpark numbers before receiving quotes, check out our Solar Calculator.