How To Start – Home Wind Power

As you spend time learning about wind energy, you will soon find that there is a difference between home wind power, or “small wind”, and

wind and solar power are often used together

wind and solar power are often used together

commercial wind farms or “large wind”.  Small wind is what you might be interested in and involves installing one or more smaller wind turbines for the home, either to fully provide energy or to supplement your energy supply.  Home wind turbines need to be of sufficient size that they produce more energy than they consume, but they do not have to be huge.

So where do you start?  Who do you talk to?

  • First establish whether you have sufficient wind in your area to make an installation viable.  You will need specialist tools to gauge this  accurately and you may choose to hire someone to do this for you.
  • Look on local wind websites for information on wind patterns
  • Speak to your local authority to check if there are any special planning permits required
  • Find out how much energy you currently use so you know what size turbine to consider.  Your current energy provider can help you interpret your energy bill.
  • Do a basic energy audit and see if you can insulate your home better to reduce energy consumption.
  • Decide whether you want to use a commercial supplier or build your own windmill or home wind turbine
  • Check out ready made kits and find out about separate installation costs
  • It will certainly be cheaper to build your own turbine but it will require effort and some skill.  Larger turbines are not usually suitable for an inexperienced handyman
  • It is still worthwhile doing some research into home wind turbines even if you employ a commercial supplier to educate yourself as to the suitability of the products that may be recommended.
  • Wind turbines only produce energy when the wind blows, and are often used in conjunction with solar panels to give continual energy supply
  • Home wind turbines also require a specialized battery to store energy
  • Do not shop on price alone.  Be aware of noise requirements for your area – certain models are much quieter than others

for information on Australian wind conditions

Useful information about American wind

DIY Wind Turbine Demo

This video shows a working wind turbine at ground level, where wind speeds would generally be low.  The demonstration is really about the 180V Leeson generator, which is being used with a small blade – it has sufficient power to use with larger blades for higher energy production.  This second hand motor only costs around $30.

Solar Storage Batteries

There is considerable research being undertaken into large scale liquid batteries that store excess solar and wind energy during dark or low wind periods.  MIT and a Fraunhofer consortium are among those investigating the issue.  This has been one of the challenges for effective green energy storage to create a stable supply.  Obviously under certain conditions solar and wind can not produce sufficient power, especially an issue if you are not connected to grid power for backup.

Liquid batteries are being touted as superior because they are cheaper to create, last longer, and their electrodes allow the liquid to absorb large quantities of energy quickly.

Small domestic installation use a bank of batteries, often in series, to provide backup, as this video shows.

The European aim is to build handball size storage facilities, to store sufficient power for up to 2000 households overnight.

For more information about giant batteries read here.

Wind Turbine Installation

Dommelvalley Green Power installation of a 1.8kW Skystream Wind Turbine in Utopia, Ontario, Canada. This shows how a wind turbine is installed, from pouring a concrete footing to digging a trench for the cables. The turbine is then hoisted into position.

Small Wind Energy on the Rise in U.S.


The cost of energy has encouraged Dr Fernandez to move to windmills to generate power to become more self sufficient, and here he discusses his use of small wind turbines. In fact he shows how he has halved his grid energy use.
Interest in small wind energy is on the rise in the US, as people are looking for ways to seize control of their own energy supply. The real interest is in finding small wind turbines that produce the most energy at low wind levels.

Getting it Right for your Home Wind Turbine

Where you place your home wind turbine is vital for the success or failure of your project.  You need to do extensive investigation on the amount of wind available and the speed of that wind. If your site is among trees or surrounded by steep hills, it is unlikely to be useful for wind power.  It is best if your site is flat or with hills that are far away from trees and other obstacles.

Towers to support your home wind turbine are a major consideration and should be as tall as possible. Don’t skimp in terms of quality of pipe either. For a small turbine an absolute minimum tower height of 20 feet should be observed. For homemade wind turbine projects, tubular steel pipe or scaffold is a good choice. At a height over 20 feet the tower should definitely be stayed. Never mount a tower on a roof. Because you are dealing with wind and likely strong wind, wind turbines need to be sturdy and well secured. If you are constructing your own tower, I would check with a builder and engineer- there is no point in investing in an expensive turbine, only to have the motor blown off its housings or have the entire tower collapse in a gale.

If you are on a large property you will have choices as to where you place your turbine.  Make sure to keep as much distance as you can from neighbors, to reduce the like

green energy house - wind and solar

green energy house - wind and solar

lihood of objections.

In terms of payback time domestic wind turbine installations and in particular DIY installations, offer better payback times than say, solar. BUT, take into account that with very active moving parts and towers dependent on, and subjected to the harshest of wind conditions, the maintenance cost factor will be far greater.

Wind turbines arrived in the wake of the introduction of electricity and  they represent the latest and most exciting use of wind power.  As small–scale wind systems for home use have developed, the interest in the DIY potential of such systems has also increased.

Home Wind Turbine: Where, how big; how much energy to expect

This wind turbine charges a 12 V battery to ru...
Image via Wikipedia

In principle, home wind turbines of an appropriate size can, or at least should be allowed to be installed anywhere; at the home, on the farm, in your rural garden, by your caravan, on your boat. In reality, of course the story is different! Restrictions do apply in some sense to all of these and other applications.  You may be allowed to install a 5 – 10 Kw turbine on a farm, but certainly not in you back garden. In fact if your back garden is in a housing estate, you will probably be allowed no more than a mini turbine – at a push. So DIY wind power is not always as simple as it sounds as sometimes the application mechanism and associated ‘red tape’ can be more exhausting than the installation.

Further, as is the case in some countries, you may not be allowed to install a larger wind turbine on a DIY basis. You will be required to have an officially accredited supplier and installer. Also most governments want to have some control over our energy supply; and to take any credit for going renewable. Thus, we have the incredible escalation in the development of wind farms. The truth is that whilst on the surface, officialdom won’t be publically seen to discredit your quest for clean energy it still does not want you to be independent of the ‘system’. The national grid wants you tied to it! Yes, the apparent story behind the restrictions is often more than the real story behind the restrictions.

So what size turbine are we likely to be allowed to put, where, and how much is it likely to cost? One or more Bergey XL.1, 1 kilowatt turbines is a good choice for a DIY wind power project on a farm, to supply outhouses, barns etc with power. The turbine will cost about $3,000 inc. controller. Then of course you have the additional costs for your tower, batteries and ancillary equipment, which could almost double your outlay, especially if a quality inverter is involved.

Wind turbines are most at home in rural areas and that is where they are needed most. Residential areas are not really suitable.  A ‘residential’ wind turbine of any useful size will be seen as invasive and in the unlikely event of your being allowed to have one your neighbours are unlikely to accept it.  In any case this is the niche that the ‘rooftop solar’ companies are addressing and this make more sense – if it wasn’t for the fact that they are trying to tie you to the grid in doing so!

If you want to power a country home, again a minimum requirement would probably be a pair of Bergey XL.1 turbines working in tandem. But remember that certain technical / economic restrictions still apply. For example, for cost-effectiveness home heating should be provided by another source. Equally standard air-conditioning units should be counted out; and to further enhance you cost effectiveness, cooking ideally should be done by gas. So, carefully evaluating your needs, and working towards optimum energy efficiency is directly related to keeping you system cost down, and you sense of satisfaction up.

But then what about the days when the wind doesn’t blow?

My own favourite system is at a medium sized farm house, one that I had some involvement in, in Ireland. Cooking is done with gas, heating by two wood and peat fired stoves, (in turn feeding four radiators) and ‘air conditioning’ provided by open windows and the occasional use of fans.

So, all lighting, refrigeration, small workshop appliances (occasional use) radio/music system, TV/DVD (2-3 times a week), some kitchen appliances, ironing (1 hour per week) etc. is covered by a DIY wind power system, incorporating three ‘Air Breeze’ wind turbines rated at 500 watts total, backed by a solar array of 500 watts. So, the owners have a potential rated output of just 1 kilowatt, which generally gives them 2-3 kilowatt hours per day – more than enough to cover their requirements, and incidental needs that may crop up.

The system was easy to install and works perfectly!

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Wind Turbine Options

Icon of Wind Turbines
Image via Wikipedia

It is not unusual for a homemade wind turbine system to have more than one wind turbine involved. Two small to medium-sized turbines are a common sight. There is good reasoning behind this. Having two or three turbines allows the use of turbines of a more manageable size and weight; the bigger the turbine the greater the weight, rotor diameter etc. – and therefore the logistics of installation. The biggest consideration in having multiple turbines is, of course that you always have a standby if one turbine fails or needs inspection. An added incentive is that ‘economy of scale’ losses, in wind turbine cost factors are not excessive.

Average manageable size turbines for home installation would be in the 100 – 1000 watt range. At the low end of the scale the ‘Air-Breeze’ is one of the most popular and efficient small turbines on the market to-day. First versions of it were produced in the early nineties and it has developed and progressed to become the most often sighted small turbine on land and sea. With a rotor diameter of four feet, it is rated at 160 watts at 28 mph, with an impressive start up speed of just 6 mph. It is an ideal start-up turbine for the small home and lends itself well to ‘modularity’ in that one or two others may be added with ease as need, time and funds allow. It is also an ideal turbine to combine with solar.

Marlec’s FM1803 turbine is also a good turbine example at the lower end of the scale. This six foot rotor diameter turbine is designed for small home and farm use. It’s a powerful machine for its size, well able for winter storms and like the ‘Air Breeze’ offers relative ease of installation in your own homemade wind turbine project. All in all, this wind turbine is a powerful battery charger and is perfect for small off-grid homes and the like.  Power production ranges from 250W to 340W at and above 22 mph and with its ‘state of the art’ three bladed design it is smooth and silent.

At the high end of the same scale we have the ‘Bergey XL.1, from a well established and highly experienced wind turbine manufacturer. With a rotor diameter of eight feet it is rated at 1,000 watts at a design speed of around 25 miles per hour. Weighing in at 104 pounds, assembly and installation is manageable but more manpower input and care is required .

All these turbines have a maximum design (survival) wind speed capability of 100-120 mph. This makes them ideal for a homemade wind turbine project.

All the above example turbines are in production for many years by very experienced specialist companies and without doubt their product reinforces the view that such turbines are in a class of their own and far outweigh their DIY rivals in terms of power, self protection and their ability to withstand very high maximum wind speeds

Turbines is this range all make noise in one form or another, be it a ‘swishing’ or a ‘slapping’ sound, especially at and above their design wind speed. If the turbines are installed a proper distance from a residence, this should not present any real problem.

Nonetheless all these turbines lend themselves perfectly to any homemade wind turbine project and installed in compliance with the manufacturers recommendations will give many years of consistent power output in all weathers.

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Home Wind Energy

Having studied the site location issues and being satisfied that your site is favourable for a home wind energy project, we can proceed to the selection of components. At this point much depends on how far you intend to go on the DIY front.

There is always a lot of DIY involved, even in preparation

There is always a lot of DIY involved, even in preparation

effectiveness.

A host of websites give the impression that ‘almost anyone’ can build a wind turbine, many of them with their ‘buy my plans’ and similar sales agendas. I disagree. I recommend that very serious consideration be given to this issue before ‘jumping in’. I have seen many a ‘hopeful’ attempt to build a turbine  only to face exasperation in doing so and/or total disappointment with the finished result; be it poor output, failed performance or the unfortunate unit falling victim to the elements within weeks. How often I read: ”just nip on down to your local scrap yard and pick up your parts………!” Sounds so easy? For most of us, there is more than enough DIY work on the tower, the careful assembly of the purchased turbine, putting it all with together with care; and then successfully erecting it.

Almost all wind turbines aimed at the home wind energy market are configured for 12 or 24 volt DC battery bank charging. Bigger turbines may also offer a 48 volt DC option. An inverter is then used to convert the stored energy to 110 or 220 volts AC for household supply.

So let’s look at acquiring quality components for the overall project. There is no need to consider ‘kits’ for the general component requirements for your home wind energy system, and no real cost saving in doing so, except perhaps at micro turbine level. The most important item is the tower. It must be strong and sturdy. Galvanised steel pipe or scaffolding is the accepted ideal, with a diameter ranging from 2 to 6 inches depending on the turbine make, size and weight. These are readily available at building supply outlets. Do not buy old, well used or partially rusted tube just because it’s cheap. You may well regret it.

Next comes the decidedly important steel guy wires for tower support and for this I would ideally head to a boat yard and source premium quality stranded wire used for masts. Failing that a construction yard serving utility and telephone companies is also likely to have sound quality, (if thicker) stranded wire. Again don’t shortcut. Have the yard make up the approximate wire lengths you require, complete with professionally crimped eyelets at one end for shackling to sleeve anchor points on the tower. Good quality wire bulldog grips (2-3 at each end) may then be used at the ground anchor ends to allow for adjustment, particularly if a tilt-up gin pole is to be used. The ground anchors should be well embedded in adequate concrete footings.

Hardware stores can be a great source for fittings, fixings, wiring, fusing, multi-meters and tooling etc. for your home wind energy project. But obviously more specialist suppliers are best for control systems, quality DC breakers etc.

The question often arises as to whether there are distinct power output differences between a reputable commercial turbine and DIY turbines. In my opinion, yes there are! The commercially produced turbine will almost always outclass the DIY turbine, even if only on its weather proofing features.

The question of noise also arises often. Larger turbines can be noisy, particularly at high speeds. Smaller and mini turbines make more of a non-invasive ‘whirring’ sound. Then there is acoustic and vibration noise. This can be bothersome and is one reason why I would never install a larger turbine on a house roof.

Finally, the question of the aesthetics of wind turbines is often raised. My answer is straight and to the point. I am opposed to commercial wind-farms for many reasons, but mainly for their negative impact and visual pollution of our commonly owned landscapes and seascapes. On the other hand I find the privately owned small home wind energy turbine both aesthetically pleasing and very comforting.

Wind Turbine Facts – getting started

Whilst the use of wind power has provided man with energy and power in some form or other throughout the ages, to day there are three main categories of wind machine in use to serve our needs.

your own wind turbine

your own wind turbine

  • Windmill : used for milling grain (often used as a general wind term)
  • Wind Pump: for water pumping – played big role in land development
  • Wind turbine: correct term for wind machines producing electricity

Wind turbines arrived in the wake of the introduction of electricity. To day they represent the latest and most exciting use of wind power – and as small–scale wind systems for home use developed, interest in homemade wind turbine potential went hand in hand with it.

In pursuit of this interest, the enthusiast soon learned that there was more involved than simply erecting a wind turbine. As with solar, important site considerations have to be considered; the most important being the site’s exposure to the wind. If your site is among trees and/or surrounded by steep hills, it is unlikely to be useful for wind power. A flat or elevated open area is best with trees and other obstacles being well away from the turbine.

As with most technologies for the home what one is prepared to invest will decide how successful the project is likely to be. Towers are a major consideration. As a rule of thumb the taller the better, but obviously a happy compromise should be met. For a small turbine an absolute minimum tower height of 20 feet should be observed. For homemade wind turbine projects, tubular steel pipe or scaffold is a good choice. At a height over 20 feet the tower should definitely be stayed. I would never consider a roof mounting, but a tower fixed to the side of a barn with sound U bolts is not a bad idea. Noise can be a factor, so proximity to the home should be considered.

Local authorities are often on ‘unsure ground’ on the subject of domestic wind turbines. You are likely to get mixed views from different officials and in the writers experience your will rarely get the same answers from the different local authority offices you call on. If objections are raised they are most likely to relate to visual and noise considerations, so if the turbine is sited too close to a neighbour, bear in mind the possibility of a complaint to the local authority from that quarter.

Being exposed to, and harnessing the power of the wind, installation sturdiness needs to be given serious consideration. Strong gales must be allowed for. The writer has seen DIY wind turbines disintegrate – and in one case, an entire turbine head catapulted 200 feet from a freestanding tower. So, think sturdy and strong for your homemade wind turbine system. Doing it yourself is by and large just that. Professional consultants are a rare breed for the DIY type. Those that are available will almost always be working for a manufacturing outlet.

In terms of payback time domestic wind turbine installations and in particular DIY installations, offer better payback times than say, solar. BUT, take into account that with very active moving parts and towers dependent on, and subjected to the harshest of wind conditions, the maintenance cost factor will be far greater.