Do you hate looking at your bill from the power company every month? Is power self-sufficiency one of the weak areas in your preparedness plans? Do you have a penchant for doing things using old technologies? Well, if any of these are you, then using wind power should be right up your alley. Evolving from ancient windmills to modern hightech wind turbines, wind power technology has a solution that can fit practically any need or location.
Pre-dated only by the use of water as a source of power in the third century B.C., wind power was first used by the Greeks in the first century A.D. when windmills were used to power simple machinery. Those early wind-driven machines evolved over the centuries into the windmills we now think of populating the Dutch countryside, as well as mill grains and even to move water and run sawmills. This evolution has produced a variety of large and small wind turbines that people in the twenty-first century A.D. use to generate electricity, this century’s favored source of power for machinery.
DOES WIND POWER MAKE SENSE FOR YOU?
Wind power is attractive to the modern homeowner and businessperson for a variety of reasons. Wind power is a renewable, free source of energy, so once you put your system in place, you do not have any recurring “fuel” costs to worry about. Since you don’t burn any fuel, it is, along with solar power, one of the greenest of energy sources. It is an easy way to lower your electric bill each month and if you live in an area with an above average wind speed, you can even make money by either selling the power back to the electric utility or getting a credit on your future electric bills.
“MOST STATES AND PROVINCES HAVE INCENTIVES OF SOME FORM FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO PURCHASE ALTERNATIVE POWER SYSTEMS.”
It is also a very flexible source of power as you can apply it directly to your electrical appliances by running the DC from the wind turbine through a power inverter or storing it in batteries, whichever makes the most sense for your needs. If you do not have access to the local electrical grid or if running power lines to your location is cost prohibitive, then wind power may be your best (and only) option for getting electricity to your site. It also has a lower installation cost than solar power.
Now that we have looked at why wind power can be a good choice for you, let’s look at some constraints that may make it a bad choice for you. Unlike water flowing in a river or the sun shining every day, the wind blowing and the speed at which it blows are not constants. Some days it may blow strong all day and others it may not blow at all. For these reasons, if you are looking for a constant source of power, you might want to look at other options like solar or natural gas for generating heat and electricity.
Zoning can also be a problem, although variances are often granted. Depending on the type of wind turbine you and your contractor decide to install, you may need a large amount of space for the tower and its supporting cables. Also, wind turbines are not silent and the larger ones will make more noise than smaller ones. General Electric recommends setting up larger turbine towers at least 300 yards from any neighbors to avoid complaints about noise, although other sources recommend as near as 100 yards. Of course, if you don’t need the power that a large turbine will give you, the location can be much closer, as in a residential lot. And lastly, there may not be enough wind at your site to make it worth your while to install a wind turbine system.
HORIZONTAL OR VERTICAL
There are two basic styles of wind turbines in use today, horizontal axis wind turbines (HAWTs) and vertical axis wind turbines (VAWTs). The orientation of the axis that the turbine spins on gives each their name. HAWTs are like the windmills we think of on cattle ranches for pumping water from a well and the tall white wind turbines we see out in the desert with those giant propellers. VAWTs are like the anemometers the weatherman uses to determine wind speed where the parts that catch the air spin around like a top on a vertically oriented axis. Each design has its place and purpose, its own strengths and weaknesses.
HAWTs are best where you need to catch the wind high up and have plenty of lateral room around them for the long blades to spin. They are used for most applications, and they are the most common wind turbine on the market. Their popularity is due in large part to the lack of turbulence that their design produces, which makes them more efficient.
VAWTs are not as effective as HAWTs because their design is less aerodynamic, but they are better suited to more confined spaces, such as in close residential neighborhoods or in urban environments. They can be set closer houses since they do not need the lateral space for its blades to move like the HAWT does. VAWTs also are independent of the direction from which the wind blows, since it spins on its vertical axis regardless of the direction. They are also ideal for installation on the rooftops of very stable building like apartment complexes or steel and concrete buildings in the inner city.
HOW BEST TO IMPLEMENT WIND POWER
There are a variety of ways to implement a wind-generated power source. For a home or facility that has access to the electric utility grid, it can be used to augment what is purchased from the utility. Wind-generated electricity goes into a power inverter and from there into the home or business’ electric service panel right along with the electricity from the electric utility. When windgenerated power is created, the draw on the utility is reduced and you use your wind power electricity. In some states, if more wind-generated power is created than is needed in the house, it can be sold back to the utility as a credit.
Since the wind does not blow all of the time and not as strongly all the time, its best use is as part of a blended or hybrid system that combines wind, solar, and even water to generate electricity. In a system like this, the electricity may be used as it is generated or it can be placed into a storage battery. When batteries are used to store the electricity, it is often best to have everything run off of the batteries with a power inverter in place to transform the direct current provided by the battery into the alternating current needed to run the household’s machinery and lights.
WHERE DO YOU GO FROM HERE?
So, it all comes down to balancing your pros and cons. Many people will be able to benefit from wind power, especially if they are on large lots or if they do not need their wind system to provide all of their power.
If you want or need wind power to provide all of your electricity, then you will need a large turbine, mounted high enough to get to the stronger winds that are above any obstacles around your house. That will require significant space for clearance of the blades, as it will have to be placed further from any structures on your property and those of your neighbors’. And, of course, the cost will be higher.
If you want wind power to only augment your power supply, because you are connected to the electrical grid, or are using wind as part of a hybrid system that includes other sources like solar or natural gas, then you can get by with less space, less initial costs, and will have more flexibility in how you set up your system.
INCENTIVES TO GO WITH WIND POWER
Most states and provinces have incentives of some form for people who want to purchase alternative power systems. Do a Google search for energy incentives in your state, check with your state and county Department of Energy to see what they can tell you about using alternative forms of energy in their jurisdictions and what is involved. They may also be able to point you to some good vendors or information. Also, check out the information on the DESIRE (Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency) website at Dsireusa.org.
Editors Note: A version of this article first appeared in the January 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.