Mother Earth News Blogs > Ask Our Experts

Ask Our Experts

Answers to your questions about gardening, energy, homesteading and other sustainable living topics.

Is a Wind Turbine Right for Me?

By Dan Chiras 

Tags: wind turbine, wind, renewable energy,

Is a Wind Turbine Right for Me?I’d really like a wind turbine, but I have friends who claim our location isn’t windy enough. I’m not sure I buy that, because here in the Midwest, it gets pretty windy! How can I find out whether my property is right for a wind turbine?  

Wind is one of the trickiest renewable resources to assess and capture. Although small wind turbines make economic sense in many locations, they’re not for everyone. Here are some of the factors that can help you figure out whether a wind turbine is right for you, and other options to consider if you decide it’s not.

First, you’ll need at least a couple of acres of land for a wind turbine. That’s because turbines and towers need to be situated far enough away from buildings, property lines and utility poles to avoid damage should the tower come crashing down (a rare occurrence).

It’s important to remember that trees and buildings create a huge amount of turbulence, which slows winds down and lowers the output of a wind system. Turbulence is to wind turbines what potholes are to cars. To generate a significant amount of energy, a turbine must be mounted on a tall tower above turbulence — typically 80 to 120 feet. This places the turbine in the smoothest and strongest winds, dramatically increasing its output. Residential turbines on short towers may look good, but in my opinion, they usually don’t produce enough energy to make them worth the investment. While the building department may permit a turbine on a short tower (less than 35 feet) in an urban or suburban neighborhood, they are not likely to permit a turbine on a tall tower, which is what you would need to make your investment worthwhile. (Some neighbors may not take kindly to a tall wind tower in your yard, either.)

To produce a lot of energy from your wind turbine, you’ll also need an adequate wind resource — at least a 12-mph average annual wind speed at 100 feet. Before you take the plunge, do a thorough site assessment to determine the average wind speed at your site and the best location for a turbine. You can get an initial read on the wind in your area by visiting NASA’s Surface Meteorology and Solar Energy. However, this website gives the average wind speed over a large area, so if you live in a valley or on a ridge, your average wind speed might be significantly lower or higher than these figures indicate. For a thorough assessment, hire a professional wind site assessor. This will cost you about $300 to $500, but it’s well worth the money. You can find a list of certified wind assessors at the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. If you decide wind energy isn’t for you, consider a solar-electric system. Another option: If you want to support renewable energy but aren’t in a position to install your own system, consider buying green power from a utility. Find more information about green power options where you live at visit the U.S. Department of Energy.

Dan Chiras, contributing editor 

Above: The best sites for a home wind turbine will have an average wind speed of at least 12 mph at 100 feet. Photo by Dusty Boots Photography. 

t brandt
12/10/2011 12:30:36 PM

Alternative energy costs at least twice what "grid" juice costs- not to mention the additional small burden of maintence activities. When the oil, coal, gas & uranium run out, then we'll all be forced into using wind & solar-- but there's no sense or advantage in using it now if you don't have to....As far as residential use of wind--- zoning laws usually prevent you from erecting a tower that can fall across yur property line, so unless you have an acre or more, you probably can't put up an adequately hgh tower, thus limiting the number of houses qualified to use wind.

jason anderson
12/10/2011 5:27:02 AM

It should be of the highest priority of every household to be as self sufficient as possible. This ideal should be carried out from the location where you live, to the design and layout of your home. The boy scouts motto is "always be prepared". This is really common sense. If you had to live on your property without leaving for 30 days.. could you?

jason anderson
12/10/2011 5:21:53 AM

I have done a lot of research and found that installing a wind meter (anemometer) on a pole is often the best way to go for researching a residential wind average.If you are going to spend a few thousand on a wind gen.. then why not get a year or two of data to make choosing the right wind gen. easy and effecient. You dont have to buy batteries, most electric companies can deduct the amount you generate from your total bill if you are grid tied. As for the cost, I have seen hundreds of designs that take a few weekends to build and install with the help of friends and neighbors. The bottom line is unless we all get involved and start buying these natural renewable energy type of products, no one is going to make residential use a priority. It's like the Model T, we are just getting started here. Industry will make it work if we create the demand and stop letting corporations monopolize how we use energy. Either do what it takes to be free and independent, or accept the cost and consequences of being a silent victim.

j.russell bailey
12/10/2011 3:44:49 AM

John L.....friend, there's NOTHING 'cheap' anymore about either electric heat/lights, or Nat. Gas heat.........and in my book, 'cheap' is anything that is $50 a month or LESS to heat/light the home.......I'm for Wind and Solar, but ONLY under the right conditions....but I'm AGAINST Obama's so called green energy plan that seems to benefit ONLY his political cronies and contributors, but leaves the American taxpayer to foot the bill.........wind and solar can really make a difference and with the latest tech can actually make a person some money when On Grid.....I'll be moving (Lord willing) to Off Grid sooner rather than later.....after some shark tooth hunting in Florida.......Cheers from Windy Wyoming.

john & virginia ledoux
12/6/2011 4:15:32 AM

Initial installation costs, maintenance costs, finding repairmen, lack of wind, storage (batteries) replacement costs, act of God destruction....... Not for me. Give me cheap, dependable and clean electric coal.

3/18/2011 1:20:09 PM

I installed a whisper 3000 in 1999 and have had nothing but trouble with it. It was struck by lighting and fried the charge controller. Then the electric company was supplying over 130V and the inverter got hosed. The bearings in the turbine failed. The wind as reported by the sites you listed said I did not have enough wind to produce electricity but it sure was enough to tear this Whisper on a 70' tower to pieces in a very short time period.

2/22/2011 3:06:21 PM

The link provided in the article gets an error-Server not found. Another link available?