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U.S. Small Turbine Wind Market Soars

6/29/2009 12:00:00 AM

Tags: wind energy, wind turbines, alternative energy, renewable energy

Well, blow us away. Despite the economy, wind energy soared in 2008. The U.S. market for small wind turbines (with capacities of 100 kilowatts or less) grew by 78 percent—17.3 megawatts of new capacity—in 2008, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The group expects to produce 1,700 megawatts by 2013. 

The small wind turbine market has blossomed since the implementation of  President Barack Obama’s federal stimulus plan, which gives homeowners a 30 percent tax break (with no cap!) for installing the wind turbine before December 31, 2016. 

Wind energy
The U.S. market for wind energy is growing. Photo By Diogo Martins/Courtesy Flickr. 

The United States sold almost half of the small wind turbines installed worldwide last year, netting $77 million of the $156 million made globally. Of the 219 companies that manufacture small wind systems worldwide, 35 percent are based in the United States. Many of them predict that the U.S. market will grow 30- fold in as little as five years. 

This fall, Honeywell will up the ante with its EarthTronics’ Honeywell Wind Turbine, which could make residential wind power more practical—and affordable. The $4,500 turbine, a 2009 New Product Launch Spotlight Award and 2008 Green Product Innovation Award winner, uses magnets on the edges of the fan to generate a current instead of using gears. The 95 pound fan-like turbine, which can be mounted on a rooftop, generates 2,000 kWh per year—15 to 20 percent of an average American family’s electricity usage. It will be available at Ace Hardware stores in October. 

Tempted? Wind may be a sweet solution to our dependence on coal and oil, but we urge you to do your homework. This new technology isn’t a slam dunk. Just a few pros and cons: 

The good news 

• According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a wind turbine can lower your electric bill by 50 to 90 percent. (Curt and Christine Mann, owners of a wind turbine in Atlanta, estimated they’re saving 15 to 20 percent.)

• A wind turbine operates automatically and has a 20-year lifespan.

• A residential wind turbine can counterbalance about 1.2 tons of air pollutants and 200 tons of greenhouse gases over its lifetime.

• A wind turbine pays for itself in 6 to 15 years, depending on the quantity of wind in your region and how much you use your other power source. 

The bad news 

• Wind can be turbulent, and the smaller, residential wind turbines lose performance ability in greater turbulence. Also, in greater turbulence, more stress is put on the gears, creating vibrations that make it noisier.

• The Warwick Wind Trials Project found that wind turbines were often shut off because residents were irritated by the noise.

• Wind turbines often work below their rated capacities, according to a study by Environmental Building News (EBN). A 12-foot Windside turbine in Indiana was rated at 10 kWh, but, according to a test by EBN senior engineer David Toso, it produced only 33 kWh in four months—approximately a quarter kWh per day.

• Residential wind turbines are much less cost effective than larger, free-standing turbines. They cost between $6,000 to $22,000 installed, according to AWEA.

Whether or not wind is the answer to our energy needs remains to be seen. What’s exciting right now is that we’re debating options that aren’t coal and oil. Let’s hope the conversation keeps moving in that direction.

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