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Power Science

Home Wind-Power Turbines Make Headway 163

Pickens writes "Wind turbines, once used primarily for farms and rural houses far from electrical service, are becoming more common in heavily populated residential areas as homeowners are attracted to ease of use, financial incentives and low environmental effects. Experts on renewable energy say a convergence of factors, political, technical and ecological, is causing a surge in the use of residential wind turbines, especially in the Northeast and California. "Back in the early days, off-grid electrical generation was pursued mostly by hippies and rednecks, usually in isolated, rural areas," said Joe Schwartz, editor of Home Power magazine. "Now, it's a lot more mainstream." Some of the new "plug and play" systems can be plugged directly into a circuit in the home electrical panel and homeowners can use energy from the wind turbine or the power company without taking action. Schwartz says that even with the economic benefits, it can take 20 years to pay back the installation cost. "This isn't about people putting turbines in to lower their electric bills as much as it is about people voting with their dollars to help the environment in some small way," he said."
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Home Wind-Power Turbines Make Headway

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  • How green is it? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @09:22PM (#23098754) Journal

    This isn't about people putting turbines in to lower their electric bills as much as it is about people voting with their dollars to help the environment in some small way
    Because the energy embodied in all those manufactured items is less than the equivalent high-efficiency central generation plant, or because you get the one-up the Joneses in their Prius? Never trust the words of someone who is looking to sell you something.
  • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @09:38PM (#23098866) Homepage
    There's probably a lot of other things you could do with the same money, like put in a ground-loop heating/cooling system. Of course, it wouldn't be as showy, and none of the neighbors would know you had it, so it's not the best way to show off how eco friendly you are, but would probably benefit you quite a bit more.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @10:00PM (#23099080)
    As someone who's had to go 3 days without power due to storm, not fun. Even having a little power to run a refigerator, for a little while. HUGE.

    Oh if I had it to do over again, eventually I might, I'd like to get involved with building my house early in the process. Get the heat pump. Get the right location with the right southern exposure (giant trees now) and photovoltaics, maybe solar water heat. Maybe some geothermal. Look into the feasibility of building a greenhouse into the house, and how much of a pain in the ass that would be. Collect and reuse water too. More appropriate landscaping. I'm fighting a lawn that wants to be forrest because of covanents. Roll all that shit into the financing. I like my house where I live. It's all very nice. But there are a lot of ways it could save me money, and be a lot nicer. Things that are doable at the outset but don't lend themselves to doing after the fact.
  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @10:22PM (#23099236) Journal
    That's the great thing about the cost - it's already rolled into the price (the energy costs). Power from a major generation facility also factors in the capital costs of the plant (embodied energy) and the cost of fuel, plus the cost of maintenance and upgrades. The summary indicates a 20 year payback. That's usually done without the time value of money factored in, and without maintenance costs. Once you get beyond 7-10 years, it's generally not economical from a business point of view. Also, with a 20 year payback, it means that the energy embodied in the unit is nearly as high as the total lifetime output of the unit. Solar cells (photovoltaics) are the same way, though there's always a new technology right around the corner that plans to change that, but it never seems to be commercially viable.

    Personally, I'm a practical green. I'm even willing to pay a small premium for green, provided it's equivalent to the non-green alternative. Being in the building industry, where we get greenwashing all over the place, so I tend to be skeptical. The old marketing slogan, "reduce, reuse, recycle" should have has a tag line, "in that order." I can't say I'm living it completely, but where it's practical I'm in. Wind turbines can be a positive source of energy, but they can also be an eyesore. They are also one step removed from the primary source of power - solar. Once we figure out how to efficiently capture and store even a small fraction of the 1200W/m^2 that hits the earth, we'll go a long way to solving our energy problems. It's as close to an ideal solution as can be had, though it's not without pitfalls. Still, I look forward to 40% efficient solar panels with lifetimes measured in at least years, if not decades, which can be bought for less than a penny per kilowatt hour. I'll use them to power my flying car ;-)
  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @10:28PM (#23099308) Journal
    Not at all, as long as I don't have to look at it. These systems, imho, are trying to capitalize on the "green" craze and with a 20 year payback (probably without TVM or maintenance figured in) just don't pass muster. I'm with you on the the fun, cheap stuff. Reusing old parts is excellent (remember - reduce, reuse, that order), and likely far greener than new turbines even if less efficient.

    Then again, maybe I'm just jealous because my house sits on the leeward side of a ridge, so I get very little wind. Of course, in a 40 year old house, being out of the wind in the winter is definitely a _good_ thing for reducing my overall energy consumption!
  • by wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @10:42PM (#23099406)

    Could the grid handle everyone pumping electricity back into the grid, especially with such a technology as wind, where the amount of power generated tends to be "bursty". Could this backfire a large percentage (> 25%) of homes started doing this?
    It already gives problems in areas like northern Germany and Denmark, where large quantities of wind power are installed. Wind force can drop from 4-6 bft (giving basically maximum output) to zero in a matter of minutes - that is barely enough time for conventional power production to step in, and may result in brown-outs or even black-outs. So yes we are talking about a serious issue here.

    Solar has this issue as well, but bar a total solar eclipse even when clouds come, it will take quite a while for a spread-out set of solar cells to all become darkened, and even under clouds they produce quite some electricity.

  • by Somegeek ( 624100 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @12:13AM (#23100090)
    Except that your payoff time calcs are assuming that your windmill is generating 100% power every hour (34 hours per day?) all day, every day of the year. The wind doesn't just work that hard...
  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:59AM (#23101058) Homepage

    We have created an open source hardware project that makes power. It'll cost me $300 - $400 to make something I think is cool, will pay for itself over time, help reduce my footprint on the planet in an almost measurable way and let me do something creative.
    You got a problem with that?

    Yeah, I do. Because "building a cheap windmill" != "reducing your footprint", especially if you are making your blades out of materials that are energy intensive to produce (fiberglass), which also produces toxic waste to boot. Your windmill will be rusted junk long before it replaces the energy needed to create its components.

    It has nothing to do with buying things. It has nothing to do with keeping up with the neighbors.

    You're right - it's about none of those things. Nor is it about actually reducing your footprint. It's all about being kewl and open source and giving you a warm fuzzy feeling that you are Doing Something.
    You want to reduce your footprint measurably? Don't build a windmill - instead, reduce your consumption of electricity to match that the amount the windmill would have provided.
  • by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:20AM (#23101428)
    I'm unfamiliar with the nuclear power plants in Scotland, but I have to disagree with your statement that they go off-line unpredictably and for long periods (your case excluded). I surfed around the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission [ []] website for half an hour, and the only failure of a reactor in the US was Three Mile Island [ []]. Other than that, most reactors in the US hum away day and night, some for over 20 years. Nuclear is a low-carbon power source, and it's not that dangerous if handled properly. Unfortunately, renewables aren't going to be able to supply 100% of our power (at least here in the US), so luckily we can fall back on nuclear to provide our base load reliably.
  • by samael ( 12612 ) * <> on Thursday April 17, 2008 @05:27AM (#23101704) Homepage
    Solar's down to a 5 year payback in some areas. It's vastly more efficient than it used to be.
  • by Burz ( 138833 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @08:36AM (#23102678) Homepage Journal
    Whoa there... Since when does the market cost of the embodied energy of a product have anything to do with the cost to the environment (which is typically much more severe though less noticeable to the consumer)? We are in this climate change mess because the market cannot measure ecological value.

    If the manufacturer can prove they use renewable energy for most materials and components in the windmill, then I'd buy the eco-friendly argument. Otherwise, the case still has to be made for the green properties of small-scale windmills.
  • by OhPlz ( 168413 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @08:56AM (#23102896)
    Same here. I'm usually hovering between 48 and 50 mpg with mine. I live in NH, we don't have super densely populated anything. I love the vehicle, but I'm not terribly fond of the people that go to great lengths to explain how it's "wrong". It's a car. It gets ~50 mpg if you don't drive it like you stole it. Learn to cope.

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