Assess Your Site for Home Wind Power

If you’re considering wind-electric generation, take a moment to assess potential sites for a wind turbine on your property.

| August/September 2018

  • wind-power
    Left to right: An upwind HAWT, the most common turbine design; a downwind HAWT, an unusual but effective design; and two common VAWT designs.
    Photo by James Provost
  • swept-area
    Power increases proportionally with swept area; under the same conditions, a turbine with twice the swept area of another will produce twice the power, too.
    Photo by James Provost
  • wind-speed-chart
    Power increases cubically with velocity, so doubling the wind speed increases the available energy eightfold.
    Photo by James Provost
  • turbine-swept-area
    The turbine's swept area is shaded blue.
    Photo by James Provost
  • wind-turbine
    Even a single wind turbine can produce significant amounts of energy, given the right conditions.
    Photo by Getty Images/lucentius
  • wind-turbine
    In areas where solar energy is less reliable, wind power may be a profitable choice for homeowners.
    Photo by Getty Images/Javier Vuelta
  • windmill
    Texas style westernmill windmill at sunset, Argentina.
    Photo by Getty Images/iStockphoto

  • wind-power
  • swept-area
  • wind-speed-chart
  • turbine-swept-area
  • wind-turbine
  • wind-turbine
  • windmill

Wind power in the form of windmills has been around for a long time. Relatively short towers once hosted large rotors with many blades to produce the power and torque needed for tasks such as grinding grains and running machinery. During the 1930s, wind-electric generators made their way into rural areas lacking electric power lines. These low-voltage machines were primarily used to charge batteries that powered low-voltage direct current (DC) home appliances. Some were dedicated to pumping water.

Today, a handful of manufacturers produce wind-electric turbines for both grid-tied systems and off-grid battery-charging applications. “Turbine” generally refers to the combination of blade set and generator assembly, while “generator” refers specifically to the electricity-producing unit.

Modern wind machines use high-efficiency generators or alternators and highly refined blade designs and materials for maximum efficiency. Other wind-electric devices range from small rooftop wind machines to vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT) designs. While there is encouraging research on these new designs, current best practices for harvesting wind energy highlight the traditional horizontal axis wind turbine (HAWT). I’ll follow suit and focus on how wind fundamentals apply to HAWT.

Using Home Wind Energy

Wind turbines generate electricity by capturing the wind’s energy as it rotates two or three propeller-like blades attached to a generator that produces electricity when it spins. The turbines are mounted on towers 100 feet tall or taller to take advantage of the faster, stronger, and less turbulent wind at that height.



Many locations have some potential for capturing wind energy, but the resource varies widely with location, season, and time of day. Elevation, exposure, terrain, and trees or other obstructions all affect available wind energy.

Most small wind turbines employ an “upwind” configuration, meaning the rotor spins in front of the tower, oriented into the wind by a tail vane downwind of the rotor. Kingspan wind products are the notable exception; they’re downwind and don’t have a tail. Downwind turbines look unconventional, but they can perform just as well as their upwind counterparts.






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