Wind energy has a lot going for it, but it’s not suitable for everyone – or every home. If you’re thinking about installing a wind turbine, there are a few questions to ask yourself first, before you decide to go ahead – and the answers to many of them can be found below.
What Do I Need and How Does it Work?
Wind turbines themselves are rather like large dynamos – the wind rushing through the blades driving the mechanism and generating an electrical current which can be used either directly on-site, stored in batteries for later use, or exported to the grid if enough surplus is produced.
Is My Home Suitable for Wind Energy?
The amount of electricity that a wind turbine generates depends on the speed of the wind – and how consistently it blows over the year. Generally speaking if your site is open and enjoys fast and fairly constant winds – an average of 6 metres-per-second over the year being about ideal – then it should be suitable.
Since installing a turbine is a big commitment, most experts recommend getting a thorough professional assessment of the precise intended location, rather than relying on more general local wind speed information, before finally deciding to go ahead.
Aren’t Wind Turbines Awfully Noisy?
Some of the older types of turbines were, certainly, but the latest designs have been purpose built to reduce the amount of noise they create – though this doesn’t make them silent, especially in high wind speeds. The amount of noticeable sound does vary between devices, so if noise is an issue for you, it pays to do your research – ideally involving listening to a few different types of turbine in action for yourself.
How Much Will It Cost?
Costs are very site specific, but in general terms, small systems – around 1kW – will cost around £1,500 to £2,000 to install; larger systems of up to 5 or 6kW would be around ten times more expensive to fit.
How Much Energy Will I Save?
A 2.5kW turbine can generate between 2,500 and 5,000kWh annually, depending on wind conditions. Currently, reliable and certified figures for smaller turbines are hard to come by – but a number of interested bodies are working on this at the moment, so the information should be available in the near future.
What About When the Wind Doesn’t Blow?
Obviously when the wind doesn’t blow, your wind turbine won’t be generating any electricity, so you’ll need an alternative supply to keep everything running properly. “Conventional” electricity from the grid is one option, but if your site doesn’t have a grid connection, or you want to stay with renewable energy, you might want to consider either a battery system to store the energy your turbine makes and possibly also installing a solar photovoltaic (PV) system.
Unfortunately PV systems can work out very costly, so some people combine their wind installation with a diesel generator to provide electricity on still days; it may not be the greenest solution, but it’s better than having to run a generator every time you want power at a remote site.
Do I Need Planning Permission for a Turbine?
Although since April 2008 the need for planning permission no longer applies to most micro-generation technologies in England, currently you will almost certainly have to approach your local authority to get permission to install a wind turbine.
The law on this is being reviewed and it is probable that under certain circumstances some turbines will be allowed without planning permission in the future – though most people think it unlikely that the rules will be as relaxed for this kind of installation as they have become for most other renewable technologies.
The bottom line is, talk to your local council; they can often be far more sympathetic and helpful than you might fear!