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Musings of an Energy Nerd

Backyard Wind Turbines

Good sites for small wind generators are rare

How steady are your winds? Many rural homeowners, attracted by the idea of carbon-neutral electricity, dream of owning a backyard wind turbine. Before you begin shopping for a turbine, however, be sure you have an appropriate wind site.
Image Credit: Kansas Wind

Manufacturers of small wind turbines are enjoying a boom. Fascinated by the idea of generating their own electricity, many rural homeowners have invested thousands of dollars — sometimes tens of thousands of dollars — in a backyard wind generator.

Devotees of wind energy face several hurdles, however. A good site for a wind turbine — generally a large, rural lot with an average wind speed of at least 10 miles per hour — is rare. Moreover, many communities are reluctant to grant a permit for a wind tower, which may need to be from 80 to 120 feet tall. It’s not unusual for wind tower plans to run afoul of zoning regulations or neighbors’ aesthetic judgments.

Although the market for small wind turbines is growing, many energy experts remain skeptical of the devices’ usefulness. If you are lucky enough to own a great wind site, and if you don’t mind troubleshooting occasional glitches with mechanical and electrical equipment, a backyard wind turbine might make sense for you. Many purchasers of small wind turbines end up disappointed, however, so it’s important to do your homework before you shop for a wind machine.

Decades of wind turbine history

While photovoltaic (PV) systems are now the dominant technology for on-site renewable electricity generation, wind came first. From the late 1920s through the 1940s, off-grid homeowners installed thousands of wind turbines to power DC lights and radios.

In the late 1940s, however, as the wires strung by the Rural Electrification Administration reached more and more farms, the market for small wind turbines began to dry up. When offered the chance, most rural residents jumped at the opportunity to hook up to the grid.

Three decades later, the Arab oil embargo sparked a small-wind revival. During the 1970s, hundreds of back-to-the-land hippies began restoring abandoned Jacobs wind turbines and…

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  1. Tom williams | | #1

    wind motor
    I have tried a lot of turbines and the more reasonable product do not cost that much. wind generators wind turbines from Hurricanewindpower cost a lot less much less 7000$ for a tower? are you serious?

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Why have you tried a lot of turbines?
    Was there something wrong with the first two or three turbines you tried?

    You get what you pay for. If you buy a $1,000 turbine, don't expect it to produce anywhere near the electrical production of a $40,000 turbine.

    A small, cheap turbine produces even less electricity than a more expensive, more productive turbine.
    But small turbines are likely to be less cost-effective, not more cost-effective, than a larger turbine. In general, the larger the turbine, the more likely it is to be cost-effective. That's why utility-scale turbines make much more sense than backyard turbines.

  3. Tom williams | | #3

    I just know you have a skystream pictured for your article....southwest wind there an efficient unit.....hahaha....who in the world has a 40000$ turbine in their back yard? The point is the 2 kw turbine from hurricane knocked the crap out of my power bill and cost a fraction of what you are speaking of

  4. Kim Noble | | #4

    wind turbines & birds
    Are wind turbines a hazard to birds? I like the idea ,but am in an area with lots of birds

  5. Steve Szilvagyi | | #5

    wind turbines & birds
    We've been in our home for over a year and have yet to see any birds approach the whirling blades of our Skystream; during that time, we've had 4 birds die by running into our windows. I think birds are smart enough to stay away from rapidly moving blades they can see, but haven't figured a way to learn about reflected sky in windows.

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