Home Wind Energy: Will it Survive Your Own Cost-Benefit Analysis?
Thinking about installing a wind energy system, but not sure if the payback period on your investment meets your financial needs? I began thinking about this question last week when our old friend (and my real old friend) bobbyb sent me an article about a couple who’d installed a wind turbine at their home in Great Britain. He noted that the numbers provided in the article (a £20,000 initial outlay for £500/year energy savings) didn’t make financial sense: “That’s a forty-year payback period!”
He’s right… that kind of cost-benefit analysis doesn’t really work. If you’re going to put up tens of thousands of dollars for a wind system (or a solar energy system), you probably want to see a return on that investment in years, rather than in decades. I got so interested in the topic that I wrote a post about things you should consider before putting your money down on a renewable energy system at SUNfiltered. Wind energy systems have their own requirements, so here are a few of the things you’ll want to take into consideration.
Will wind energy work on my property?
As with any renewable resource, some areas are better than others for home wind energy. Some of the questions you’ll need answers for include
Am I located in an area with ample wind resources? Just as solar will be a better deal in the Southwest than the Northwest, certain parts of the country have better wind resources. As you can see on the US Department of Energy’s Wind Resource Maps, the central corridor and offshore locations have the best wind availability; the Southeast generally has the worst. You can also use tools like 3Tier’s FirstLook, or Renewable Solutions’ Modern Energy Plan to find specific information on wind resources for your property.
Is my property suited to harvesting wind? In order to adequately harvest wind, you have to be able to build a tall tower that will rise above treelines and buildings surrounding your property. I’d guess that’s why the turbine built by the British family above wasn’t generating significant energy savings: it was only 40 ft. tall. According to the Mick Sagrillo, an expert who answers small wind harvesting questions on the American Wind Energy Association’s web site,
Installing your wind system on a tower shorter than the area’s tree line, or, worse yet, on top of your roof, is akin to floating in a sheltered cove of a river: you may occasionally bob a bit but there will be little forward progress. There is simply little energy in low winds that you can convert into usable electricity. Do you want kinetic yard art or a wind electric generator?
If building a tower with sufficient height isn’t an option, you probably want to consider investing your money in something other than a wind system.
Are there financial incentives and options available for wind energy?
Wind systems are expensive, so unless you’re sitting on a pile of money burning a hole in your pocket, you’ll likely want to check into incentives and financing options. These can include:
- Local, state, and federal tax incentives: You may be able to write off a portion of the money you spend on a wind turbine — check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) for information on incentives for which you’re eligible.
- Net metering: Is net metering available in your location? Probably: 42 states and the District of Columbia have laws on the books that allow renewable energy producers to sell excess power back to their local utility at the retail rates. DSIRE is the best source of this information, also.
- Financing options: Traditionally, you’d look at a source like home equity to finance a wind power system, but other instruments such as energy improvement mortgages or property tax financing may be available to you (though many of the latter programs seem to focus more on solar energy systems).
Is wind energy right for you?
We definitely need more people acting on their environmental concerns, so if you’re serious about installing a wind turbine, that’s commendable. Just make wind energy works not only for meeting your environmental goals, but also fits your family’s financial needs… you don’t want to set yourself up for disappointment when the energy savings aren’t as high as you expected.
For more information, check out:
- The American Wind Energy Association’s Small Wind page
- The US Department of Energy’s Small Wind Electric Systems page