Wind power and wind turbines have a long history, but it is only in recent years that wind power has gained popularity as construction costs go down and the UK searches for low-carbon answers to generating energy.
As such, much is being invested in large-scale wind production; but domestic wind turbines are a completely different proposition. Read on to find out how — or even if — this could work for your home.
While industrial wind farms can provide energy for entire villages and towns, the increase in desire for renewable energy coupled with a burgeoning DIY attitude to home renovations has led to a rise in the use of domestic wind turbines. These are turbines that can be installed at a specific property to provide that property with renewable electricity.
There are two main types of domestic wind turbines: the freestanding or pole-mounted wind turbine, and roof-mounted wind turbine.
They also come in a whole variety of shapes and sizes, from small wind turbines units that generate around 100W and charge a battery, to much bigger units that can generate between 0.6 and 50KW, which can be used to power homes and businesses.
There are three main benefits to installing a wind turbine on your property:
Free electricity - although you’ll have to pay for the installation of the turbine, the electricity after that will be freely generated.
Electricity storage - assuming your home isn’t connected to the national grid, you’ll be able to hang onto electricity you don’t use for a day without any wind.
Cut (or eliminate) your home carbon footprint - as you’re using exclusively renewable electricity, you’re not sending harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.
Determining whether a domestic wind turbine is a good choice for you is no easy matter. It will depend on everything from the location of your home and the type of turbine to whether you're on the grid.
So it's vital that you do your homework first. Here are the main issues you should be looking at:
Not surprisingly, when it comes to wind power, wind speed is everything, and whether you live in an open, hilly area or a built-up flat area will make all the difference.
The Energy Saving Trust recommends you install an anemometer, or wind gauge, in the intended location for at least three months before you consider a home wind turbine to find the average speed in your area.
The Energy Saving Trust also recommend you only install in areas with at least 5m/s of wind or more — and most homes in the UK aren't exposed to this much wind.
As you may expect, the amount of energy you can produce depends largely on the amount of wind in your area, and most wind turbines will have a minimum required level of wind before the even generate electricity.
You can also estimate the average wind speed using your grid reference in the wind speed database, or The Carbon Trust's wind yield estimation tool.
Finding the right location around your home will ultimately determine how effective your wind turbine is. The golden rule is to try and mount your turbine as high as you can, without much obstruction from other structures and trees.
This is because the advantages of wind power increase at higher altitudes. The best place for instance is on hill with minimum exposure and far from trees and houses, but that is not the only place that will be effective.
While you can use building-mounted turbines, particularly in built up urban areas where outdoor space is at a premium, studies show them to be far less effective owing to lower wind speeds.
In comparison the freestanding turbines perform much better when they've been set up correctly and are in the right location.
Whatever type of turbine you decide to go for, make sure you have the correct planning permission in place before you place any orders. Depending on where you are in the UK, there are different levels of planning permission required. England, in particular, has a number of stringent conditions that have to be met when installing a wind turbine, but residents in all British nations will usually need to apply for planning permission before starting any installation work.
Costs for wind turbines can vary widely. According to the Energy Saving Trust, the potential costs of installing a wind turbine are as follows:
Installation: A pole mounted system capable of producing 6kW can cost between £23,000 and £34,000.
Maintenance: Regular maintenance costs could be around £100 to £200 per year. You may also need to eventually replace the system’s inverter, which could cost between £1,000 and £2,000. If your system is off-grid you will also need to replace the batteries.
When you get a quote, make sure you ask the installer whether they have included fees like cabling and installation to get a complete estimate.
On the other hand, you may be able to save money by selling excess electricity generated to the national grid, in addition to the money you save from generating your own electricity anyway.
The biggest concerns for homeowners thinking about getting a home wind turbine should be:
Can I afford it?
Do I have the space to install it?
Is there anything else I could get that would be more energy efficient?
We’ve covered the first two points above, but the third is worth considering further. Is the expenditure worth it when you could get a ground source heat pump that also offers clean energy at a (probably) more consistent and efficient rate for a lower cost? Remember to evaluate all the options before you pull the trigger on a domestic wind turbine.
Wind power certainly has its merits, but it isn't the only form of sustainable low-carbon micro-generation available to households across the UK. For instance, solar power is hugely popular.
If you want to learn more you should read our dedicated guide to solar panels.