Wind Electric

Wind Electric

For nearly 30 years Lake Michigan Wind & Sun, Ltd. has been a leader in the wind energy industry. The firm’s experience has been primarily with smaller residential wind turbines, but includes commercial wind resource assessment and turbine service.  At this time, LMW&S is assisting only special demonstration projects and wind turbine enthusiasts who can install and maintain their own equipment.

Wind energy is classified as small and large. Small wind is often defined as turbines up through 100kW. The average household located in a good wind resource would require a 10kW wind turbine. Small farms and small industries would require larger. Large wind turbines are defined as turbines of greater capacity of 100 kW with the typical commercial turbine in the 1.5 – 3 MW size.

Wind energy is well suited for many places. Almost everyone can benefit from the generation of electricity by commercial wind turbines. One large commercial wind generator can provide enough energy for 500 houses.

The decision to own one’s own residential sized wind turbine must consider several important factors. Small wind systems may be best suited for the home mechanic or facilities with adequate maintenance personnel, as wind turbines are machines that need regular service. If this service is not locally available then service calls from a distant provider can be very expensive.

Compared to other renewable energy systems, such as solar electric and solar thermal, a wind turbine has the potential of producing energy 24 hours a day.  Solar electric and solar thermal, of course, produce energy only during daylight hours.

When considering wind energy one needs to include the expense for service and maintenance required over the life of the machine. Small wind turbines have a life expectancy of 10-30 years if properly maintained. Wind turbines that are not spinning due to mechanical or electrical failure are not producing electricity. And, just because a wind turbine is spinning does not mean it is producing electricity.

There are many excellent residential wind turbines and turbine manufacturers. The renewable energy consumer’s goal is to evaluate the available equipment and its suitability for their project. As the interest in wind energy increases many new manufacturers are joining the effort. It is imperative that one evaluate new equipment for reliability and performance. Wind turbines without proven track records are not for the weak at heart.

Wind energy is for almost everyone, but owning one’s own wind turbine is for the few who are willing to invest their time and resources over the life of the project. If one can’t service a turbine or doesn’t have service people close at hand, then the renewable energy enthusiast needs to think seriously about how practical wind energy is for his/her particular situation. (By the way, solar panels don’t have any moving parts; the environmentally conscious home or business owner might wish to consider a photovoltaic installation instead of a wind turbine.)

Here is a checklist of important issues when considering a wind turbine installation:

            Is the owner handy?  (Or is there a windsmith in the neighborhood?)

            Is the location in a high and open area?

            Is the average wind speed at least 10 miles per hour?

Dispelling misconceptions about wind turbine installations:

Rooftops are very poor wind turbine sites.  The wind resource is usually bad due to turbulence resulting from the building itself and from other obstructions.  Unless the building is very tall, the wind resource would be less than optimal.  The closer to the ground the turbine is installed, the less wind it interfaces with and thus the less power it can produce.  Most wind turbines should be installed at 80 feet or more.  There can also be issues with structural integration and harmonics as a roof-mounted wind turbine becomes a part of the building and can affect the occupants' comfort with vibrations that can be heard and/or felt.

Vertical axis wind turbines are still in the development stages and have not yet proven themselves in performance and field reliability.  In any case, they would still need to be located at an adequate height. 

Urban locations typically do not have optimal wind resources due to obstructions of the built environment.  The height required for reasonable energy production may pose zoning and set-back issues for the towers.