Alternative energy, Part 4–Wind power

Alternative energy, Part 4–Wind power

By Dan Slattery

Wind power is not for everyone, everywhere. It is very “site specific.” Effectiveness depends greatly upon whether you’re in the city, in an open rural area, your specific terrain, buildings, trees, etc. The height of a wind turbine generator is important, too–wind speeds are generally greater at 100 feet than they are at ground level. Also important are your average monthly and average annual wind speeds, in miles per hour (mph) and meters per second (m/s). This is how performance of wind generators is gauged.

You can approach this in different ways. Efficiency in the technology of wind generators has improved greatly over the years. For example, the “Air 403” by Southwest Wind power has an output of 400 watts at 28 mph or 12.5 m/s, a total rotor diameter of only 46 inches, weighs only 13 lbs., has a selectable output of 12, 24 or 48 VDC (volts, direct current), automatic internal regulation, can be installed in only a couple of hours, has only two moving parts, requires no maintenance, and has a list price of only $595.

This unit, or one like it, would be ideal for a small- to medium-size backup home power system; a “hybrid”system fed by a wind generator, solar panel array, with batter backup, and an inverter. We’ll look at system design and installation later in this series.

It is also an ideal unit for boats or RVs, to charge your batteries, run your lights and accessories, or even pump your home water from a well. No specific wind information is necessary for such a simple unit and simple approach. Forty years ago, there was a TV antenna on every rooftop. Why not a small wind generator? Aesthetically, it looks much like a weather vane, only slightly larger.

On the other hand, you can get real serious about this real quick. If you want to be completely electrically independent (“off the grid”) and/or sell the excess power you generate back to your local utility company (where applicable), there are wind generators available at power levels as high as 10,000 watts (10 KW). Two of these, and you’ll be flying high, literally.

Your home uses appliances that operate at 120 VAC (volts, alternating current). The average home has 100 amp service from the utility company–sometimes more, sometimes less. Herein lies the supply and demand factor. To determine your energy needs, do the math–multiply the current draw (in amperes or amps) of the appliance by 120 volts. This gives you its power consumption (in wattage, or watts).

Example—supply (your home) 120V X 100A = 12,000 watts (12 KW)

Example—demand (refrigerator) 120V X 4.5A = 540 watts (.54 KW).

Get the picture? Obviously, no one runs every appliance in their home 24 hours a day. Your energy needs will vary according to your lifestyle. The more frugal you are, the less costly the energy.

The problems with this approach are the up-front costs. Generally, these kinds of systems, all things included (controller electronics, towers, wiring, etc.) can run anywhere from $10,000 to $35,000.

But say, just as an example, you live in the same home for 10 years. Your average electrical bill is $100 monthly. $100 X 12 months X 10 years = $12,000. You’ve already spent $12,000, you don’t own the equipment, you’re not generating any excess power to sell back to anyone, and you’re subject to shortages, brownouts and blackouts. The up-front cost is problematic, but you can start on a smaller, less costly scale, and still experience immediate energy savings.

Putting up a tower in the city can be problematic, too. Winnebago County, however, is less restrictive about rural areas. They simply require that a 100-foot tower be placed on a minimal 2-1/2 acre lot, the base being no less than 110 feet from each lot line in any direction.

The city of Rockford, however, is a little more stringent. According to Joe Zimmer, architect for the City of Rockford Building Department, the following criteria must be met:

1. Check city building code information that applies. You may have to file for “adopted code” if necessary. Also check on Illinois state building codes.

2. Talk to your neighbors. If they’re cool, check your zoning ordinance. Apply for a zoning variance if necessary.

3. Tower and system installation must comply with U.S. national electrical code as of 1996 as well as international mechanical code as of 1996.

4. Tower should be OK’d by an architect or a structural engineer.

5. Complete structure must be able to withstand “established basic wind speed” of 80 mph.

Piece of cake, right? Sure! (as if). But remember, you don’t have to put up a 100-foot tower to enjoy the energy savings of wind power. You can start small and build from there through time. Chances are, no one will bat an eye at that “weather vane” on your roof.

For more information on wind power products, system design, installation and accessories, you can contact the following organizations:

Bergey Windpower Co., 1-405-364-4212

Ecology Services/Emerald Energy, LLC, 1-262-646-4664

Energy Outfitters, Ltd., 1-800-467-6527

Innovative Power Systems, Inc., 1-612-623-3246

Southwest Windpower, 1-520-779-9463

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