Is My Home Ready for a Small Wind Energy System?

Pick up any newspaper these days and I will bet you a dollar to a donut you will find at least one article about energy. Of specific interest lately is wind energy.

SkyStream 3.7 Small Wind Energy System, Manistee, Michigan, COPYRIGHT © 2009 Mary McGraw-Bigelow All Rights Reserved Why? Wind is clean energy. And it’s totally renewable—just wait for the next breeze. As a wind energy installer, it is a very powerful feeling leaving a home knowing the homeowner is producing their own energy. They have their own private power plant.

With so much information and so many points of view whirling around, I hear a lot of confusion over the variety of wind energy systems available specifically to homeowners.

There are basically two different types of residential wind generator systems:

1. Off Grid – These systems require some type of battery storage for the energy created. They are not tied to the energy company.

2. Grid Tied - The majority of small wind energy systems feed the energy produced to the power company. These are required to have an automatic shut off when the grid is down. Otherwise, you could produce energy and feed it back to the grid while some poor line worker is trying to restore power to your neighbors. The poor line worker would get a heck of a shock!

The majority of wind energy systems we install are Grid Tied. For most households the best source of backup power is the electric company’s grid! Why? There will be times when the wind doesn’t blow so you won’t create any energy and for the average household the draw will normally be more than their wind generator can produce. So that back up from the energy company is still necessary.

Now the conversation moves toward, "So then I can sell the extra I make to the electric company?" Well…that is another deep subject (sorry, I had to say it!) and depends on the number of KiloWatts per month or year your home uses. So I ask.

With that you would think I asked a question about the periodic table of elements. It’s unfortunate but most people simply don’t know how much electricity they use.

I must confess, I never knew until getting into this field and that’s ok. Now I know. Awareness is half the battle! And now our family can take action to cut down on wasting electricity.

So how many average KiloWatts does your household use in a year? There are a couple ways to find out:

1. Many utility companies now have a web site where you can check your history. You will need to register and will need your bill handy because you will need your account number and some other personal information. I have found this to be the simplest way.

2. If you don’t have access to the internet you can go through your records of paper bills (uggh!), add the KiloWatt hours you have used over "x" number of months, divide by "x" number of months and voila, you have an average. The KiloWatt hours on my bill are listed in the upper right hand corner. Each utility will vary where KiloWatt hours are placed on the bill.

3. If you can’t access the internet or paper billing records you will have to call your utility company (double uggh!) and have them send it to you. This is always last resort!

In climates like the Midwest it is good to get a 12-month average since you have extreme swings in temperature throughout the year. Most air conditioning is used in the summer, which is powered by electricity. Most of our homes are heated with some type of gas or fuel oil so the electric utility is normally lower during winter months.

In warmer climates with less extreme temperature swings can go with a 6-month average, selecting every other month.

For those of you who pay utilities on a "budget" program, there are several reasons to reconsider. Unfortunately people tend to look at the dollar amount of their bill and not the KiloWatt hours used. If the bill stays the same for 10 months out of the year most people are unaware of times when they are using more energy. This causes less conservation again due to unawareness and leads to higher utility bills.

Once we know how much energy the home requires we can determine the best turbine for our situation. Check back for part II where we discuss the various wind energy system makes the most sense for your home.

Mary McGraw-Bigelow is a renewable energy sales representative for Contractors Building Supply . Mary is facilitator of her local LEED for Homes Member Circle and has worked with clients from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast.

COPYRIGHT © 2009 Mary McGraw-Bigelow All Rights Reserved

Photo: SkyStream 3.7 Small Wind Energy System, Manistee, Michigan

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