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If you’re looking for a green energy alternative to supplement your home’s supply of electricity, heed the immortal words of Bob Dylan: “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.” You may be surprised to learn that for most do-it-yourselfers, generating wind power on a small scale is well within reach. But don’t do it merely because it’s possible. First things first: Before you get started, determine whether harnessing wind energy is a cost-effective choice for you.
Simply put, certain areas of the country are windier than others. To justify a project like this, your home should experience a minimum average wind speed of 10 miles per hour, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. How do you find out the average wind speed where you live? Local weather agencies often record this information, plus there are wind resource maps available at Wind Powering America, a valuable site for anyone researching DIY wind power.
In addition to wind speed, you must also take into account the size of your property. A wind-generating tower does not require acres and acres of land, but it’s only prudent to make sure that you have enough space to accommodate one. Also, review the local zoning; some municipalities prohibit turbines.
Consider, in addition, how much electricity you wish to generate through wind. The larger the system you build, the greater the cost to build it. Fortunately, some state and federal programs offer incentives for energy-efficient home improvements; check to see if your project would be eligible for a government rebate.
The key components of a home wind-power system include:
• Rotor: The rotor attaches to the turbine blades and captures wind energy.
• Generator (or an alternator mounted on a frame): The generator produces electricity from the spinning motion of the rotor.
• Mounting tower: The mounting tower raises the rotor and blades to a height above other structures in order to expose them to maximum wind speeds.
An optional component is a means of channeling the energy you harvest into the power grid. In many areas of the country, you can sell your surplus back to the local utility company. However, any small-scale setup is unlikely to produce enough electricity to power the household, let alone generate a surplus.
The cost of building a wind-power system ranges from several hundred dollars to $35,000 or more, depending on size. Small-scale, or micro, wind turbines are able to continuously output anywhere from 1 to 10 kilowatts. But with U.S. homes typically using about 960 kilowatt hours per month, only the largest of home turbines can fully satisfy the electricity demands of the average residence.
At most home improvement centers, you can find myriad useful materials and turbine kits. Doing the whole job by yourself may not be an option, though. Building codes in some areas call for an electrician to install the connection between the turbine and the grid. Likewise, an inspector must confirm that the work is in compliance with regulations.
So, do your research, and when the wind is blowing leaves around your yard this fall, consider harnessing some of that energy for your home.