The greenest Bay Area homes boast solar panels, batteries, energy-efficient windows, appliances and doors.
Wind power? Nope.
Several companies offer small turbines, including a new Mountain View startup, and wind power is sweeping to record levels across the country.
But there’s a reason small turbines are absent from Bay Area homes and businesses — in suburban environments, they don’t produce much power. They’re expensive, can be wobbly and work best perched above roof lines and trees. Do-it-yourself repairs are limited, unless you’re comfortable working outdoors, about eight stories off the ground.
Experts say wind turbines can have a place in a green personal energy system, but homeowners should expect to go big and tall. There’s a lot to know about where wind works and where it fails.
“The bigger you can go, the better,” said Ian Woofenden, a renewable energy consultant and author of Wind Power for Dummies. “People aren’t putting up towers for the look.”
Industrial wind power is booming across the country, providing about four times more energy than solar power last year, according to federal statistics. Through the end of last year, 82,000 megawatts of wind capacity operated in the U.S., enough to power 24 million homes, according to the American Wind Energy Association, or AWEA.
California ranks fourth nationally for installed wind capacity with 5,656 megawatts. The state has almost 8,400 wind turbines. Last year, wind generated almost 7 percent of the state’s electricity needs, enough to power 1.3 million homes, according to the AWEA.
The state has six major wind generation areas, including Altamont and Solano wind resource areas in northern California.
Woofenden, based in Washington state, typically advises homeowners against installing small turbines. In most cases, solar power provides better, cheaper and lower-maintenance power for a homeowner, he said.
Wind is difficult to harness, and turbines — to generate significant power — are subjected to extreme conditions. Atop a 100 foot tower, he said, “it’s a severe environment.”
Woofenden advises wind power for three types of clients: homeowners going completely off the grid, homes with little sun but plenty of wind, and people who simply demand it.
Several companies offer small turbines, and a handful of dedicated contractors in California offer installation.
Michael Soriano, director of sales for small turbine manufacturer Bergey Windpower, said it’s important for homeowners to evaluate their property and potential wind resources. He suggested a minimum lot size of 2 acres for a tower that reaches 80 feet or higher.
Local zoning ordinances may limit tower height, he added.
“You don’t want it landing on your neighbor’s property,” Soriano said. “That’ll cause problems.”
The company also has its own software model that estimates wind resources for specific addresses and elevations.
Bergey, based in Oklahoma, is a leading maker of small turbines with more than 30 years experience. The company notes on its website that windmills were a high-tech invention — along with barbed wire — in the late 19th century and hastened western expansion.
Soriano said the company’s typical customers are residential farms, ranches and small businesses that can take advantage of tax incentives and deductions. Some installations also are eligible for federal and state tax rebates. Like solar, wind generators can sell unused power back to utilities in some states.
The desire for clean energy drove the founders of Semtive, a small turbine startup based at Moffett Field.
Semtive began taking reservations for a small turbine with vertical blades designed to be mounted on a deck or rooftop. The starting price for the Nemoi M model is $4,695.
CEO Ignacio Juarez said the turbine is designed to be portable and generate power at a lower wind speed than similar devices. Juarez believes the market for household wind generators will grow with the demand for cleaner power. The key, he said, is to produce “affordable, clean energy.”
The startup, backed by $1 million from Latin American investors, has installed the product in Argentina, and was just introduced to the United States.
Bruce Hatchett, CEO of Energy Options in Southern California, has been installing turbines and solar energy systems since 1982. “Solar’s the better deal,” he said, noting that California property tax regulations are more favorable for photovoltaic systems than wind energy.
But wind does have some advantages, he said. Solar cells degrade and become less efficient. New wind turbines can easily last 30 years with proper maintenance, he said.
A combination of wind and solar will better charge batteries, allowing for energy generation in the evening and on cloudy days, he said.
Hatchett said some vineyards ordered small turbines and towers because they look good. The owners don’t expect to power their farm operations with the occasional gusty days, he said.
“Some people,” he said, “just like the looks of them.”
CATCHING THE WIND
Wind power can make sense for some homeowners and businesses seeking a low-carbon footprint. Here are a few resources:
DSIREUSA.org is a database of state incentives for renewable energy and efficient products. The comprehensive website, run by North Carolina State University and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, list more than 200 tax credits, rebates and incentives for California residents.
Homepower.com follows renewable energy for homes and cabins, including small wind, solar and hydro-electric. Experts contribute a range of articles about the basics of wind turbine systems.
More basic information is found on theDepartment of Energywebsite, including tips on planning and setting up a tower and turbine.
Published at Thu, 15 Jun 2017 14:00:18 +0000