New and Improved Wind Power

Advances in residential turbines make wind power more affordable and easier to use than ever.

| June/July 2007

Skystream Wind Turbine

The Skystream 3.7 has an improved design that allows it to perform at lower wind speeds.


For many, home energy costs recently have increased by 50 percent (or more), motivating a growing number of people to look for alternatives. The proliferation of net metering laws, in about 40 states, as well as a growing number of state residential wind incentive programs, has given a strong boost to the small-scale wind turbine industry.

What’s more, recent technical developments have reduced blade noise and improved both turbine efficiency and longevity. There now are a number of new home-scale wind turbines with advanced technology, and there’s the promise of more to come in the near future.

For many years, residential wind turbines have been most popular in rural locations where zoning laws tend to be less restrictive and neighbors less likely to object to them (mainly on aesthetic grounds). That may be about to change. Many in the small-scale wind turbine industry think residential wind power is about to enter suburbia with simpler, less expensive systems that perform more like household appliances than complicated renewable energy systems. And the potential is enormous; it’s estimated there are at least 15 million homes with the resources necessary to make a wind installation cost effective.

But does it really make sense to install a wind turbine in your back yard? Maybe, maybe not. A wind power system that works well in one location may not work in another. There are many variables to consider: the size of your lot, zoning restrictions, wind speeds in your area, the cost and amount of electricity you use, whether your utility offers net metering, and the availability of state rebates and incentives. 

Wind Power Picks Up Speed

Harvesting the wind to generate electricity is not a new idea. In 1888, Charles F. Brush of Cleveland created a wind turbine for this purpose. Early turbines could supply enough energy for a house or two. Today, large commercial-scale turbines can produce about 3 megawatts or more, enough to power about 750 U.S. homes. The recent growth of this industry in the United States has been dramatic. Wind power capacity increased by 27 percent in 2006 and is expected to increase an additional 26 percent this year, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Enthusiasm for small-scale wind also is on the rise, with sales for residential systems at $17 million in 2005, up 62 percent from 2004, according to the association.

Residential wind turbines were first commercialized in the United States in the 1920s and were fairly popular until the Rural Electrification Administration extended electric lines to many remote areas in the 1930s and ’40s. The oil crises of the 1970s spurred a flurry of renewed interest in residential wind power until the tax credits and other government incentives that supported the industry ended in the 1980s.

7/31/2013 3:58:37 AM

Thanks for highlighting the best way to generate more wind energy. With many people exploring options to reduce their monthly energy bills, the improved wind power generators will be popular among many homeowners.

12/26/2008 6:26:28 AM

Its good to see Southwest improve their performance in slower speed wind. Kudos. Having said that you need "straight" and consistent wind for any small HAWT to work and this limits most wind sites to 100 foot towers which are NOT allowed where most people live in urban and sub-urban areas. If you are looking for small wind power solutions in urban areas, really the only choice are Vertical Axis Wind Turbines with CURVED blades which support any direction of attack and a vertical angle of attack from +25 to -25 degrees for turbulent, twisting and tumbling wind at low and medium wind speeds.. Helical blades also reduce vibration as well as noise. Even then, if you go for an urban VAWT you need to convince city government officials to let you operate such VAWTS, and it does not make sense unless there is a Feed Law (see Getting local government permission to erect a VAWT can take along time. You need to pick one that is quiet as well, under 60 decibels from 5 meters (just like HVAC units on a roof). HAWTS hunt in such winds, and when they do, their power output drops by as much as 35% to 65% when hunting (in light and medium winds in urban or suburban areas this can be 65%+ of the time of operation). I would suggest anyone to check out for more information on this hunting phenomena. There are some good videos there that show just how poorly HAWTS operate in urban areas. What this means is the annual yield from the small HAWT will be 35% to 65% less than advertised in urban and suburban areas, even on a 100 foot tower,, so the location of your site (no nearby trees or buildings for 1/4 mile in prevailing wind direction) and the height of the site (100 foot tower) is very important to getting close to vendor advertised power outputs. To really reach a goal of off grid self dependency you will need to employ solar as well as use clean storage like air compression (

6/23/2008 5:14:22 AM

WInd power has always fascinated me, but check out this new wind turbine that is coming to market in New York: It seems to offer a very high efficiency and is low impact to wildlife and humans that live near one.

12/16/2007 7:35:29 PM

Alexcis: You need to check your site directly. It is important to look at solar and wind maps that show what class your area is in, but it is more important to look at the site yourself because terrain differences cause differences in microclimates and sun exposure. For instance, if your land is on the north side of a mountain, the mountain may block sun for much of the day. The same goes for large trees in a heavily forested area. And so on. Wind is much more variable and much more affected by differences in terrain causing unique micro-climates. You simply have to be onsite checking the wind patterns over a space of a year to get an idea of what wind patterns and speeds will be like on your land. Not only that, but individual spots on your property may have much more wind on average than the rest of the land. I live in central Spain, and this area gets good sun most of the year. Because of the large number of mountain ranges, there are many areas within Spain that also get good wind. I get a fair amount of wind. In my opinion, it is always best to go with a hybrid system if you are off-grid (I have a 1kW Bergey wind turbine and 600W PV system that supplies all my house electrical needs; of course, I have a small house, all my electrical appliances are ultra energy-efficient, and my energy-consumption habits and lifestyle are conservative.) The sun-wind combo compliments each other. Often when it is not sunny, it is windy. And you often get wind at night when there is no sun. As a matter of fact, taking advantage of as many energy sources as possible is best. I plan to put a micro-hydro turbine in my seasonal creek in future because the times of the year when I get both little wind and little sun are those times when my creek is exploding with flowing water energy. The trick is determining the balance. If you get lots of sun all year round, and the wind is strong on occasion, go with a bigger PV array and smaller wind generator and vic

11/25/2007 8:25:30 PM

looking for info, residential wind power, chandler texas, thank you

11/25/2007 3:37:45 PM

I enjoyed your article on Windpower. I just installed a 10KW Bergey on a 100' Lattice tower. I have also just become a Dealer for Bergey and hope to get very involved in Wind Energy. I have been happy with my production so far. I havae produced 1050 KWH in the first 23 days and we have had less wind than usual for November.There were no problems with installation or start up and have been no glitches since commissioning on November 2, 2007. I also must give credit to Ameren Power for their quick response to my request for inter connect to the grid. They were quite helpful and cooperative to work with. I had anticipated a less than enthusiastic response but was pleasantly surprised. I'm looking for a 8 year pay back on my system with the 50% funding from the State of Illinois and the recently passed net metering act which takes place April 1st of next year. Hope this is useful info for somebody and would be glad to answer any inquires at the E-mail address.. Thanks Dan

7/10/2007 4:26:28 PM

thank you john for your comment. you are so right.

6/25/2007 9:53:00 PM

Sheryl: Actually, the wind map does open but the map is awfully small. I did some rough scaling and it looks like you are out of luck as you are in class 1; you would need to be further west (like Canton) just to get into a class 2 area. Alexcis: We are building north of Sparks, NV which is somewhere between a class 2 and 3. Wind power has a terrific capital cost and we are not going to use it; we will use solar for electric and water heating. But I am not going to invest in batteries, the grid will provide the off-solar power. Do some back issue reading of Home Power as they are very thorough about costs and even systemics of all systems. But start with knowing your site's solar potential and wind power class, how much do you want to spend and how much you want/need to be off the grid. Getting off the grid will require both solar and wind generation. Here in Tucson, solar water heating saves so much electric power for a small investment(built it my- self from a kit) with a 2 year payback. Electric is a long term payback,I figure it will take 10 years in Nevada. Hope this helps. Lee Olson

6/20/2007 2:09:38 AM

Hello! My family is currently building two houses on our ranch property in Mora, NM. We live in San Diego, CA and are doing much of our business via email/phone correspondence. Right now we are currently debating whether to go with solar or wind energy for our houses. Could you please explain the benefit of choosing to go solar over wind or vice versa? Any and all help would be greatly appreciated. -Alexcis Melendez

6/10/2007 9:30:25 AM

The problem with solar and wind is in the fails assumption that net metering actually works, if it did, the power companies would not need a LAW mandating it. Imagine a scientist came up with a magic black box that put out no power 2/3 the time, then of 1/3 of the time it put out too little power with surges of way too much power. In the real world, that is an interseting novelty, but hardly useful. That is solar and wind. They put out random amounts of power most of the time. To be useful, you have to match the power with the load. The average house uses 1.5 kw/hr, but try running the average house on a 1.5 KW generator. You can't. By the time you turn on a microwave and the refrigerator, you are way over 1.5 KW and you've burned up the generator. You need a power source that can rise and fall, that can match the demand. To run a house, you need surges of 10KW down to .5KW. The magic of the grid is its ability to do this seamingly impossible task. That is the science of LOAD MANAGEMENT. The more random power generators that get plugged into the grid by legal mandates of NET METERING, the more difficult load management will be. Consider, every time the wind surges, the windmill pumps power into the grid. Perhaps enough to run two houses. The wind dies. Now your house and the other house start drawing power from the grid under NET METERING. To the load manager, he has the effect of 2 homes suddenly jumping onto the grid out of nowhere. The missing link is the same problem electric cars have, The battery. To store in the megawatt range is difficult and expensive to do. To make windmills really work, you have to store power in the TERAwatt range. The challenge of that dwarfs the challenges of the Manhatton Project. Sorry, it ain't ready. Not yet.

5/31/2007 4:04:40 PM

Is Wind Power Cost-effective for You? The link to the wind map in this article does not work. How can I find out whether Hawkins TX 75765 is an effective place to build a windmill?

5/29/2007 5:25:52 PM

Genrally speaking I find only about 5%-10% of any publication useful. Therefore, I peruse many of them. While I'm not cancelling my subscription to MEN, it never ceases to amaze me at some of the things I read in your magazine. Apparently you feel that somewhere between $15,000 and $80,000 for a wind power system is affordable. While in the large picture (the business or financial picture) it might be cost effective, it's not particularly useful to the average person. Unfortunately, there is a very low percentage of people that have more than enough money and a very high percentage of people who don't have enough. If it's going to cost me $15,000 plus to save the world, then the world is going to die. Because I, and the majority of people, can't afford this. Since it's really up to the majority of people (you know....the ones without alot of money....) it would be more effective to present articles that us poor people can find useful.

5/21/2007 2:31:13 PM

ABOUT !!June/July 2007 New and Improved Wind Power By Greg Pahl I would like to see a comprehensive article about the onslaught of our rural countryside's by mega corporations driven by greed and subsidized to the teeth by our government.All this crap about wind power is nothing but another way to factory farm our resources.This is insanity at its best, and without an end in sight. Gov. Spitzer, following Pataki's previous administrations agenda,and what's around the corner??? the threat of eminent domain down our throats, driven by lobbyists foreign corporations. Sound familiar??? take a look at some of these websites if you need some heart wrenching testimony and FACTS about these wind farms and Americas increasing loss of civil rights. You spout off about saving the land for future generations? This is another HUGE scam, FREE CHEESE!!! come and get it, the casualties of war( tax payers) will sit and watch, do nothing as usual.

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