According to the American Wind Energy Association, America’s small wind turbine industry saw substantial growth in 2010, highlighted by a 26 percent expansion in the market for small wind systems with 25.6 megawatts (MW) of capacity added, as well as a robust increase in sales revenue. Nearly 8,000 small wind units were sold last year, reported the AWEA, totaling $139 million in sales.
With electricity producing wind power from wind turbines fast being viewed as smart investments by landowners of home, farms and business, the benefits of wind energy are becoming more evident and rightly so. Wind energy is clean, renewable and predictable. It’s also efficient, lowers overhead costs and has major federal government incentives.
The simplicity of their designs is nothing short of a modern marvel. Modern wind turbines generate electricity through two basic designs: vertical-axis or “egg-beater” style or horizontal-axis (propeller-style) machines. Horizontal-axis wind turbines are most common today, constituting nearly all of the “utility-scale” (100 kilowatts (kW) and larger) turbines on the global market. Their wind turbine towers are also quite sturdy and generally made out of tubular steel. The blades and nacelle (generator housing) are made of fiberglass-reinforced polyester or wood-epoxy.
In terms of their size, utility-scale wind turbines for land-based wind farms have rotor diameters ranging from about 50 meters to about 90 meters, and with towers of roughly the same size. A 90-meter machine would have a total height from the tower base to the tip of the rotor of approximately 135 meters (442 feet). Offshore turbine designs generally have larger rotors—with some of the largest having a 110-meter rotor diameter—because it is easier to transport large rotor blades by ship than by land. Small wind turbines intended for residential or small business use are much smaller. Most have rotor diameters of eight meters or less, and they would be mounted on towers of 40 meters in height or less.
The science behind wind turbine functionality is equally impressive and easy to understand. A wind energy system transforms the kinetic energy of wind into what’s called “mechanical or electrical energy” that can be harnessed for practical use. Mechanical energy is most commonly used for pumping water in rural or remote locations – the “farm windmill” still seen in many rural areas of the U.S. is usually a mechanical wind-powered pump, but it can also be used for other purposes such as grinding grain, sawing or pushing a sailboat.
The first step to any successful wind turbine project is to understand all the options available. It should begin with a full feasibility study and analysis, detailing the wind speed potential at your specific site. Like with most large equipment purchases, financing plays an important role. What lenders like most about wind turbine financing is that the cash flow they produce can pay all or most of the turbine payment. Additionally, wind turbines have a long proven useful life of 20 years and they maintain a high residual value, even at the end of their initial useful life.
Through education and knowledge, you can learn how to best use wind energy to help control and predict your future costs while setting the green energy standard in your community. Go green!