Wind is one of the trickiest renewable resources to assess and capture. Although small wind turbines make economic sense in many locations, they’re not for everyone. Here are some of the factors that can help you figure out whether a wind turbine is right for you, and other options to consider if you decide it’s not.
It is important to remember that trees and buildings create a huge amount of turbulence, which slows winds down and lowers the output of a wind system. Turbulence is to wind turbines what potholes are to cars. To generate a significant amount of energy, a turbine must be mounted on a tall tower above turbulence — typically 80 to 120 feet. This places the turbine in the smoothest and strongest winds, dramatically increasing its output. Residential turbines on short towers may look good, but in my opinion, they usually don’t produce enough energy to make them worth the investment. While the building department may permit a turbine on a short tower (less than 35 feet) in an urban or suburban neighborhood, they are not likely to permit a turbine on a tall tower, which is what you would need to make your investment worthwhile. (Some neighbors may not take kindly to a tall wind tower in your yard, either.)