By the 1930's and
1940's, hundreds of
thousands of wind electric turbines had been built in the U.S.
and were typically used to provide electricity to farms far beyond the reach of power lines. These
machines were in the 200 to 3,000 watt range and were configured to charge storage batteries which
operated radio receivers and a few light bulbs.
By the early 1950's,
Electrification Administration (REA) had extended the utility grid to
the majority of American households and the availability of low cost electricity eliminated the market
for these machines.
The energy woes of the
resurrect the small wind turbine industry. Fueled in large part
by tax credits and the federal PURPA act, over 4500 small grid-tied wind systems were installed
between 1976 and 1985.
In 1985 oil prices dropped, the tax credits expired and the small wind industry was in limbo once again.
Today, the high cost
of energy and the
specter of another energy crisis is helping to increase public
awareness of and demand for renewable energy solutions. The small wind industry is back!
Small Wind Electric Turbines
The wind turbine converts
the wind's kinetic energy into electricity.
Most modern small wind turbines use a permanent magnet alternator or induction generator
to accomplish this. Once the electricity leaves the turbine via the "down tower wiring,"
where it goes next is determined by the type of system it's connected to.
For turbines used in off-grid homes
the electricity flows to a controller, where it's converted to DC
regulated and used to charge batteries. These batteries are used to power one or more inverters, which in
turn provide standard 120/ 240 volt AC current for the home's appliances.
For a more in-depth explanation of how off-grid systems work, please visit our Backup Power Page.
Turbines used for water
Although wind electric water pumping systems are in use all over the world, we have not found them
to be cost-effective for most agricultural applications in NY and PA. The wind in our region is at it's lowest
when you need the water most, just the opposite of solar energy.
New York is notorious for turbulent wind sites that will chew up and spit out poorly designed wind
turbines. Those of you that know me, know I tend to be a bit intense on this subject, so I'll try to
keep it short!
* Not all turbines are created equal! They are man made and have moving parts…buyer beware!
* Do your homework!! Just as you would if buying a car or home appliance
*Heavy metal is a good thing! A heavy machine will typically outlast it’s lightweight counterparts
*Slow is also a good thing! Low RPM machines have significantly less maintenance and longer life
than low cost/ high rpm turbines. 175-500 rpm good…500+ not so good (and noisy too!)
*You get what you pay for! Low cost turbines are great for small cabins and hobbyists. What do you
want... expensive lawn art or a reliable, cost-effective, long term investment?
* Low maintenance does not mean no maintenance
* Inspection (and possibly maintenance) every 1-2 years. Inspection includes mechanical and
electrical connections, checking for corrosion, guy wire tensionioning, inspect blades/replace
leading-edge tape, etc.
* Beyond 10 years blade or bearing replacement may be needed
* Typical annual maintenance costs are typically 1% to 2% of installed cost
* Lifetimes of 10 to 20 years and more with the appropriate turbine, proper installation and regular maintenance
“A wind turbine may see as many operating hours in one year as an automobile will in 200,000 miles!”