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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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  • Wind Turbines (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eric76 ( 679787 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @09:40PM (#23098888)
    I've been wanting to do this on the family farm for years. My concern is not really about reducing power usage as it is about having power during the power failures that are not all that uncommon.

    There is also a big push to put the big corporate wind turbines on the local farms. Those could easily make the difference between making a profit or losing money on a farming operation.

    I spent yesterday afternoon and this morning at a local wind turbine construction site where they are putting up approximately 75 turbines this year. The owner of the land said he had been working for seven years just to get to the point where they are putting them in.
  • Re:How green is it? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Skynyrd ( 25155 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @09:57PM (#23099052) Homepage
    I am involved with a group of people building windmills. It has nothing to do with buying things. It has nothing to do with keeping up with the neighbors. None of us drive Priuses (most of think they are a scam unless you live in a super-densely populated place).

    We're buying used motors on eBay. Some of us are making our own blades from fiberglass (and some are buying them).

    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?
  • Buying One Myself (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ferretman ( 224859 ) <ferretman@g[ ]ai.com ['ame' in gap]> on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @10:08PM (#23099148) Homepage
    This is a great topic and I'm glad to see it pop up here. I'll be buying a wind turbine for the new house I'm building here in a couple of months.

    The reason has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with "being green" or "sticking it to the man". I'm greener than your average bear and have found that "sticking it to the man" rarely works as well as one might have hoped.

    Quite simply, I'll be five miles back from the nearest power line. I poked around and considered solar, but the idea of getting power production 24/7 rather than 5 or 6 hours per day closed the deal for me. My property is in an excellent wind zone (Cat 4 thru Cat 6, depending on which map you look at) and I'll be able to provide 120% of my power needs--excellent. Being able to provide all of my own needs and not be dependent on an ever-more-fragile grid is just a bonus that appeals mightily to the geek in me.

    Turbines overall are great, though I've become convinced the industry is still at the "hand-built and tuned" phase the automotive industry was once in. It'll need more standardization before it can go mainstream in any significant fashion.

    Great technology though.

  • Re:How green is it? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by flaming error ( 1041742 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @10:23PM (#23099248) Journal
    It sounds like you are saying that:

      1) A wind turbine won't generate enough electricity over its lifetime
            to offset grid usage and the manufacture of itself

    That could be true in some situations. Depends on the turbine and the location. When pursuing sustainable energy, it's vital to pick the sort of generator that best fits the local environment. Sometimes that's not wind. Sometimes it is.

      2) Wind turbine purchases are just conspicuous consumption of a green flavor

    Showing off may be the motive for some people, but all the turbine owners I know sincerely are trying to live sustainably (and are often entertained by the logical contortions HEMI fanboys utilize to claim green equality/superiority).

      3) Wind turbine owners are suckered by slick salesmen

    The owners I know did extensive research, and almost all of them built their own from kits or scratch.

    So you can definitely do wind wrong and lose on carbon. You can also do it right. And there are many benefits to wind power. Even if your electricity is more expensive than the grid's, some people are willing to pay more for what they consider a higher quality product. Fossil-fuel electricity can't stay artificially cheap forever. Distributed generation can be more robust than centralized plants (like TCP/IP).

    Plus you get free poultry delivered to your backyard.
  • bigger is better (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @10:33PM (#23099348)
    With bigger wind turbines, the amount of electricity one can produce grows faster than the cost. As a greedy bastard, I'd rather split one big one between many neighbors than get a small one for myself.
  • by oneedge ( 1026096 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @10:53PM (#23099516)
    As a NERC certified generation dispatcher, I can tell you for certain that in most cases you will not make a profit putting power back to the US grid, and there's a chance that you may never actually get an investment fully recouped without a state and/or federal rebate or some other program. This doesn't mean that it's a bad idea - just do it for the right reason.

    Some issues that a small "Qualified Facility" has to address:

    How do you measure the power you're putting to the grid? The standard issue power meters only flow in one direction - they don't spin backwards when you're generating more than you're using. They usually require you to install a special meter that requires routine calibration by a licensed professional.

    There's a morass of legal requirements that must be met before you can get paid. Additionally, states have the ability to (and usually do) regulate the profit out of small home renewable energy sources below a certain output level, such as small wind, solar, geothermal, micro-hydro, etc... And above a certain output and you become classified as an "Independent Power Producer" - which opens up a larger can of legal worms. The issues go on and on...

    Bottom line - if you're looking at this as a "get rich quick" scheme, I'm afraid you're going to be sadly disappointed. However, it DOES help by taking the some of the burden off of the greenhouse-gas-spewing power plants, and offsetting your own personal load on an already overloaded grid. Make sure you do your homework for your state and take full advantage of any rebate programs or tax incentives offered.
  • by drphilngood ( 827006 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @10:57PM (#23099540)
    Heres an interesting project that I have always wanted to try: http://www.otherpower.com/wardmil.html [otherpower.com]
  • by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @11:33PM (#23099790)
    That's why you use nuclear for base load and wind/solar for peak load and other tasks. Example: In the midwest of the US, we've been pumping fossil aquifers dry over the last 100 years (fossil aquifers don't replenish themselves like other aquifers do). During the day, huge windfarms covering the midwest should pump power into the grid of standard use, and at night they should pump power in the grid to charge electric vehicles. Unused power should be used to condense water from the air and pumped underground to replenish these aquifers we're pumping dry).

    Renewable energy rule: Always have a dump load that has a purpose. Don't burn that valuable energy off as heat.

  • Re:Wind Turbines (Score:3, Interesting)

    by flyingfsck ( 986395 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @11:35PM (#23099808)
    Household chargers can gen up to a kilowatt, if the mast is a few meters above the top of the roof
  • by RobinH ( 124750 ) on Wednesday April 16, 2008 @11:41PM (#23099844) Homepage
    Rather than generating more power a home, it's a lot easier to just use less. If you setup a rather simple energy monitoring system in your house (like $100 worth of equipment, etc.) you should be able to reduce your energy usage by 5% just through targetting. That includes using less water, gas, and electricity. Throw gasoline in there and you're really going to save money (and lower your carbon footprint).

    If you really want to make a difference, spearhead an energy monitoring and targetting campaign at work. Disclaimer: I am in the business. Typical savings for industrial sites are in the 5 to 15% range, and for commercial sites are up to 25% savings. Find out how much your company spends on energy/utilities and you'll realize that's a big payoff. It's much bigger than installing some 0.5 m^2 swept area windmill that generates maybe 100W 30% of the time, and 500W 5% of the time, and needs an expensive inverter and lead acid batteries with limited life span.

    If you are really stuck on doing something at home and you have air conditioning, you can get reasonably inexpensive 800W solar panels (they might generate 500W peak on a sunny day in northern climes) and then you could hook it directly to an old 12V marine air conditioner, with only a single 12V battery to balance the load. Then during really hot days you can generate electricity and use it immediately to cool your house, so you don't have the expense of storing the energy for later, and the expense (and maintenance and inefficiency) of an inverter to get back to 120 or 240VAC.
  • Re:How green is it? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by willy_me ( 212994 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:45AM (#23100698)
    Try going here [otherpower.com].
  • Re:How green is it? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17, 2008 @07:06AM (#23102080)

    The old marketing slogan, "reduce, reuse, recycle" should have has a tag line, "in that order."
    I always thought that was kinda obvious, myself.

    One thing I will comment on, though - when I first visited the US back in 2000, I was absolutely astounded to discover that there was such a thing as a 200w standard light globe. And the apartment I was in was full of them. Usually housed in an almost completely opaque lampshade, that absorbed about 80% plus of the light emitted.

    Here in Oz, I think the house I grew up in had, oh, maybe one 100w globe? And that was to light the entire lounge (yes, with one globe). Most of the light globes we used were either 40- or 60-watters. Except for the fluorescent tubes in the kitchen, of course.

    It just seems to be a different mindset. My postgrad supervisor, an American, thought nothing of a $150 per month electricity bill. We thought $60 was over the top, and tried to figure out where we'd used so much power. Fifteen years later, we average about $45-$50, and that's likely to drop significantly since we installed a solar hot water system.

    But electricity is cheap here in Queensland. Lots of high-quality black coal to be dug. Which means electricity here is also "dirty", in terms of CO2 emissions, which is a damn good reason to go solar. Especially living in a city that gets an annual average of nearly 8 hours of sunshine per day... :-)

    (heh. The Captcha was "daylight"... :-)
  • by Soldarith ( 1274714 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @09:13AM (#23103090)

    Also important to note, here in the US, is that many states (such as PA) have laws that require electric companies to comply with residential renewable energy metering (aka "backward metering"). This backward metering comes at NO cost to the residential owner to ensure that the meters on their home are capable of accurately recording power sent back on-grid. There are also laws in place that state the electric company must pay the residential owner for the power they generate back to the grid (by subtracting it from their electric bill, etc).

    Also, please, please, please look at your state incentives, rebates, offers, etc before you make a decision on renewable energy for your home. Go to http://www.dsireusa.org/ [dsireusa.org] to learn more about your state's assistance and laws.

    The downfall of solar power generation back to the grid that many consumers do not take notice of, until it is too late, is that the price per KW they generate during the day is substantially cheaper than evening power costs. What does this mean? It means that the electric company will pay you an (almost) absolutely ridiculously low price for KW you generate and return to the grid during the day. Why? Because during the height of your power production with solar (middle of the day), the power draw from the grid is not at it highest, therefore they have surplus. In the end, you will still be paying for grid power in the evenings. Any alternatives? Yes. Obtain a battery bank and store/use your energy when you need it and keep the extra energy your system generates for yourself. Because the chances are that selling it back to the electric companies will not save you any more than you storing/using it yourself in the evening.
  • by Damvan ( 824570 ) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:43PM (#23107770)
    "The standard issue power meters only flow in one direction - they don't spin backwards when you're generating more than you're using. They usually require you to install a special meter that requires routine calibration by a licensed professional."

    Question for you. Southern California Edison installed the bidirectional meter to measure the electricity that I am using and sending back into the grid (3.2 kw netmetered PV system). This meter does spin backwards. They specifically had to remove my one direction meter to install this bidirectional meter. You are saying that this meter should require routine calibration? I should be bugging Edison to routinely calibrate my meter? No criticism, I would just like to know if they should calibrating it regularly or not. I don't seem to remember them ever calibrating a meter once is was installed.

God help those who do not help themselves. -- Wilson Mizner