U.S. wind energy market is soaring

Consumer Reports News: August 16, 2012 05:03 PM

The wind energy market took off in 2011 amounting to one-third of all new electric capacity in the nation, according to a new report from the Department of Energy. The wind industry accounted for $14 billion in new investment and nearly 70 percent of the equipment installed at U.S. wind farms came from domestic manufacturers. We don't want to deflate all that good news, but in Consumer Reports' 15-month-long test of one residential turbine, we found that catching the wind is not a simple matter.

Harnessing wind on a wind farm is a lot different than mounting a turbine on your roof or on a pole in your yard. For starters, you might not get enough wind or the turbine may be obstructed by other buildings. Then there are local zoning laws and other concerns. Right now the Honeywell WT6500 wind turbine is spinning on the roof of our headquarters in Yonkers, N.Y. One of the few turbines that can be mounted on a roof, the Honeywell from WindTronics is quieter than most. But in the 15 months since the turbine was installed, it has delivered less than 4 kilowatt hours—enough only to power a 12,000 btu window air conditioner for one afternoon.

Clearly, if you're considering a wind installation you should do your homework first. The DOE has a guide for residential wind installations on its website. A grid-connected wind turbine can reduce your consumption of utility-supplied electricity. If the turbine can't deliver the amount of energy you need, the utility makes up the difference. When the wind system produces more electricity than you need, the excess can be sold to the utility. Here is some guidance from the DOE:

Considerations for a stand-alone system

  • You live in an area with average annual wind speeds of at least 4.0 meters per second (9 miles per hour).
  • A grid connection is not available or can only be made through an expensive extension. The cost of running a power line to a remote site to connect with the utility grid can be prohibitive, ranging from $15,000 to more than $50,000 per mile, depending on terrain.
  • You have an interest in gaining energy independence from the utility.
  • You would like to reduce the environmental impact of electricity production.
  • You acknowledge the variable nature of wind power and have a strategy for using variable resources to meet your power needs.

Considerations if you're connecting to the grid

  • You live in an area with average annual wind speeds of at least 4.5 meters per second (10 miles per hour).
  • Utility-supplied electricity is expensive in your area (about 10 to 15 cents per kilowatt-hour).
  • The utility's requirements for connecting your system to its grid are not prohibitively expensive.
  • Local building codes or covenants allow you to legally erect a wind turbine on your property.
  • You are comfortable with long-term investments.

You can read the full wind market report on the DOE's website.

Mary H.J. Farrell

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