How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint With Small Wind Turbines

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint With Small Wind Turbines

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint With Small Wind Turbines

Installing a small wind turbine at your home or business can significantly reduce your carbon footprint by generating clean, renewable electricity. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to utilize small wind turbines to lower your environmental impact.

What are Small Wind Turbines?

Small wind turbines, sometimes called micro wind turbines, are wind energy conversion systems that convert kinetic energy from the wind into electricity. They are designed for on-site power generation in residential, farm, institutional, commercial and industrial applications.

Small wind turbines have rotor diameters up to 40 meters and power ratings from 400 watts to 100 kilowatts. In contrast, utility-scale wind turbines often have diameters over 40 meters and generate megawatts of power.

Key Benefits of Small Wind Turbines

  • Generate clean, renewable electricity on-site where it is needed. This avoids transmission losses associated with utility-scale wind farms.

  • Provide a hedge against rising electricity prices as there is no fuel cost with wind energy.

  • Allow homes and businesses to become more energy independent and resilient.

  • Significantly reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuel-based electricity.

How Do Small Wind Turbines Work?

Small wind turbines work on the same principle as larger utility-scale wind turbines. The kinetic energy of the wind turns two or three propeller-like blades around a rotor. The rotor is connected to the shaft of a generator, which converts the mechanical power into electricity.

The electricity is fed into a battery bank or grid-tie inverter to condition it for use or to feed into the grid. A controller regulates the turbine speed, voltage and power output.

Key Components

  • Rotor blades – Capture the wind energy. Most have two or three blades.

  • Generator – Converts mechanical power into electrical power. Permanent magnet alternators are common.

  • Gearbox – Increases rotor speed to match generator requirements (not always present).

  • Controller – Regulates turbine operation and electrical output.

  • Battery bank – Stores energy for off-grid systems. Allows use of power when wind is not blowing.

  • Inverter – Converts power into quality alternating current for use or grid connection.

  • Tower – Raises the turbine above obstructions to access stronger wind.

What Size Wind Turbine Do I Need?

Choosing the right size small wind turbine depends on your location’s wind speeds, energy needs and available space. Follow these steps:

  1. Estimate your energy usage – Review utility bills to determine monthly and annual electricity consumption.

  2. Evaluate your site’s wind resource – Use the Department of Energy’s WindExchange to estimate your wind speeds. Tower height is also important.

  3. Match turbine size to energy needs – Use manufacturer sizing guidelines to choose a turbine and tower height combination to meet your needs.

As a rule of thumb, you need average annual wind speeds of at least 4 meters/second (9 mph) at an installed height of 9 meters (30 feet) to economically justify a small wind turbine. Higher wind speeds and tower heights allow smaller, less expensive turbines to be used.

Top 5 Tips for Getting the Most from Small Wind Turbines

  1. Choose a turbine rated for your average wind speed – This maximizes production. Undersizing can drastically reduce output.

  2. Install on the highest tower feasible – Power increases substantially with height as wind speeds are higher.

  3. Select a top-quality turbine – Upfront cost is usually worth long-term reliability and performance. Check reviews and certifications.

  4. Properly site away from obstructions – Clearance from buildings, trees and other obstructions is critical for good wind flows.

  5. Have a load bank strategy – For off-grid systems, have a way to utilize excess power when batteries are full to avoid wasting it.

Financial Incentives and Permitting

Installing a small wind turbine represents a significant investment. However, there are options to help improve the return on investment:

  • State/utility incentives – Many provide rebates or production-based incentives. Find programs on DSIRE.

  • Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) – Provides a 26% tax credit for installed costs through 2023.

  • Net metering/feed-in tariffs – These compensate you for power fed into the grid. Check your state’s policies.

  • Permitting – Most areas require permitting for wind turbines. Work with your local zoning office early in the process. Permits ensure safety and prevent nuisance issues.

Conclusion

Installing a properly-sized and sited small wind turbine can allow you to generate your own renewable electricity, reduce your carbon footprint, and hedge against rising energy costs. While representing an investment, incentives improve the economics. With a good wind resource and attention to system design, small wind turbines can be a smart green energy solution.