Fredericksburg SHINES

Leading the Way in Sustainability

Investigating Wind Energy for the Home or Small Business

“As yet, the wind is an untamed and unharnessed force, and quite possibly one of the greatest discoveries hereafter to be made, will be the taming, and harnessing of it.”

"” Abraham Lincoln

Lecture ‘Discoveries and Inventions’ (1860) in Discoveries and Inventions (1915)

Traditional windmill

For centuries, people have harnessed the power of the wind — to a limited degree — in order to turn rotary devices that eased the burden of mechanical work. These windmills pumped water, cut lumber and ground stone. In more recent decades, windmills have been redesigned and repurposed into wind turbines which convert the mechanical energy into electricity. You’ve no doubt seen the massive blades trucked down the highway on their way to a wind farm. Have you ever thought about harnessing the power of the wind at home? A much smaller version of what you see rolling down Interstate 10 can be installed at your home or small business to create free and renewable energy.
  

Honeywell wind turbine mounted on a pole

Basic wind energy creation
Most wind turbines create electricity by using the wind’s energy to turn blades, which turn gears and then elements that convert the mechanical energy into electricity. The latest version of turbines place stationary elements on the outside of the blades, eliminating the need for gears, and  therefore losing less energy through mechanical transitions. Either way, the energy created can go one of three places. In extremely simplified terms, that energy can be directed straight into the attached  building, into a battery for later use, or sent to the power company’s lines for others to use (in essence selling the energy back to the power company).

A few basics of electricity
If you are going to create, measure and use your own electricity, there are a few basics you will want to know.

  1. Electricity is measured in Watts (e.g. 60W light bulb).
  2. Wattage is a rate (joules per second) that tells you how quickly energy is being used/created at one moment in time. (Think speed: your vehicle’s speedometer doesn’t tell you how much ground you’ve covered, only the rate of speed you are going at that moment.)
  3. A Watt is a very small unit, so when measuring large-scale usage, such as an entire home, kiloWatts are typically used (1,000 Watts = 1 kiloWatt).
  4. Watt-hours is the measure of the quantity of energy used. [Watt (rate) x hours (time) = Watt-hours (quantity). A 50W bulb uses 50W in 1 hour and 100W in 2 hours.]
  5. ‘The Grid’ is the network by which energy is measured and transferred between the power company and consumers.
  6. When creating your own energy, you have options. You can be off-grid and totally non-dependent on the power company. For this, you will need a regular wind, and batteries in which to store the energy for later use. You can be on-grid, where you use the energy you create first, and fill any gaps with energy purchased from the power company. Or you can be on-grid with a battery backup.
  7. If you decide to install any form of electricity producing machine, be sure to check with your power company first. Both PEC and CTEC are set up for you to tie into their grids, but you still must speak with them about it before taking any action.
  8. Before you do anything with electricity, make sure you have all the proper permits. Whoever installs your wind turbine, can help you with this.
  9. Always seek the help of a professional before attempting any work with electricity.

Basic wind energy cons
There can be a few cons to wind turbines, but most are non-issues here in the Texas Hill Country.

  • One complaint wind turbines receive is regarding the noise. True, some larger, more traditional turbines do make some noise. However, many have come to love the sound of the old windmills; the same might just happen with wind turbines. The Honeywell turbine, available at Biedermann’s Ace Hardware in Fredericksburg, has almost eliminated the issue of noise all together, though. The noise created is literally as soft as a whisper.
  • Animal lovers have often argued the fact that turbines are a hazard to birds and bats. While this can be an issue with large wind farms, it is not as much of an issue with one personal wind turbine. The new wave in turbines is to put an outer rim around the blades, such as Honeywell did. This was done for functional reasons, but has the added benefit of being visible to flying creatures.
  • Because small wind turbines are often placed atop homes and buildings, some owners have received complaints from neighbors saying the turbines are visually unpleasant. To be frank, beauty is subjective; many would argue pollution is far more visually unpleasant than a turbine. However, the argument is really a mute point here in the Hill Country. Most neighborhood and city locations are too low and/or too crowded to receive enough wind. The best candidates for creating their own energy via a wind turbine will live outside the city limits on an acre or more of land. If you are thinking of placing a turbine in view of neighbors, I do suggest talking with them about it first.
  • Wind energy may not cover all your energy needs. This can be true.

    Traditional wind turbine (this one is manufactured by Bergey)

    The average Fredericksburg home uses about 14,400 kiloWatt-hours per year, according to the Department of Energy. Each home and each wind turbine will be different. In general though, the Honeywell turbine, which produces about 2,800 kWh/year, will fit the needs of the average homeowner looking for relatively inexpensive ways to reduce his energy costs and carbon footprint. For those homeowners with unlimited funds, looking to remove themselves completely from the power grid, a traditional turbine, such as those available at http://www.bergey.com that can produce an average of 13,000 kWh/year, might be the better option. Before making an investment, though, I will be happy to come to your home or business to conduct an individualized energy and site evaluation to determine how best to create your own electricity as well as reduce and offset your energy consumption.

Basic wind energy pros

  • Wind energy is eco-friendly "“ natural, unlimited and non-polluting.
  • A home wind turbine can help you save money. The more electricity of your own you create, the less of your money goes to the power company.
  • You can be paid to install a wind turbine at your home. The government does offer some rebates for using green energy. Plus, if your turbine creates more energy than you can use, the power company will purchase it from you.
  • With a wind turbine, your electricity can always be on. When the power goes out, energy stored in batteries can still be used and even shared with neighbors.

Is wind energy for you?
Wind energy can be very comparable to other forms of renewable energy. However, location is a big factor when dealing with weather-dependent resources. A location assessment is always recommended.

It has been 150 years since Lincoln made the statement about harnessing the wind. While advancements have been made, we are only starting to see the immense possibilities burgeon before our eyes. Shouldn’t you get in on the ground floor?

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contributed by  Aden Holasek    6/21/2010 and updated by John Watson on 6/17/2013

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