Residential Wind Power: Catch the Wind at Home

Generate electricity in your own backyard using free power from the wind.

| January/February 2008


Curt and Christine Mann paid $15,000 for a 1.8 kilowatt Skystream wind turbine for their Atlanta home. They estimate the system will cut their utility bills by 15 to 20 percent.

Photo By Jim Hackler

Curt and Christine Mann of Atlanta wanted to do more than just conserve energy—they wanted to produce power as well. Shade from a beautiful old oak ruled out installing solar panels on their bungalow’s roof, so the couple decided to try residential wind power. Wind power is one of the world’s fastest growing forms of electricity generation, and residential-scale wind turbines like the Manns’ are seeing solid sales increases.

Typically, “small wind” turbines have three blades, about 15 feet in diameter, which are mounted on a 40- to 100-foot-tall tower and attached to a generator, which converts the wind power into electricity. This new generation of backyard wind turbines is quiet (less noisy than a refrigerator), durable (lasts 20 to 30 years with minimal maintenance) and is often designed to connect to a home’s electric power grid (some of them even transmit live data to your home computer).

Setting up a freestanding tower with a wind turbine is relatively quick and easy. Southern Energy Solutions in Marietta, Georgia, was able to get the Manns’ unit up in a day, president Roger Cone says. The couple chose the Skystream 3.7, created by Arizona-based Southwest Windpower in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). “Everything is built in,” Curt says. “All we had to do was create the foundation, hoist up the tower and run a few wires from the turbine into the meter.”

Smaller wind turbines can be placed on top of a house or garage, though many variables factor into their location. Homeowners should be careful with rooftop installation, regardless of the turbine’s make or model, says Ron Stimmel, small wind advocate for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). “Such an installation is possible, but it’s difficult and risky,” he says. Some buildings can’t structurally support a wind turbine, and turbulent air patterns could prevent the turbine from operating properly.

Checking velocity

The first step to getting your own turbine is finding out if your property gets enough wind. At a minimum, you want an average speed of more than 10 miles per hour. Check the Wind Energy Resource Atlas for detailed information on which areas of the country have enough wind.

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