News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Rooftop Wind Power for Your Home? New Web Tool Can Help

Small wind turbines at big box store in Palmdale, California | Photo: Walmart Stores/Flickr/Creative Commons License

There's been a lot of discussion over the differences between utility-scale big solar and the rooftop kind in the past few years, but you'd be hard pressed to find similar discussions about wind. For a number of reasons, wind power doesn't scale down to single-family size nearly as effectively as photovoltaic panels do.

But that doesn't mean you can't supplement your household energy budget with an appropriate small turbine in some cases. A single small turbine can provide you with 2 kilowatts of power generating capacity -- five times the capacity of many typical rooftop solar installations. And now, with the help of a new online tool, you can see whether a small turbine might be right for your property.

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The Distributed Wind Policy Comparison Tool, a joint venture of eFormative Options, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the North Carolina Solar Center, and Keyes, Fox & Wiedman LLP -- with financial help from the Department of Energy -- allows you to select a number of settings, turbine types and tower heights to project how much power you might be able to generate using micro wind, and how much that power will cost you per kilowatt-hour. The tool helps you find potential incentives depending on which state you're in, calculates amortization cost of equipment, and allows you to choose from a range of "wind resource" areas depending on whether you're in the blustery desert or a relatively calmer area.

You can also experiment to see how tower heights might affect your energy output, and enter your actual annual electricity consumption to zero in on how long it'll take your investment in micro wind to zero out.

Micro wind isn't a panacea. Many manufacturers imply that you can mount small turbines on poles that aren't much taller than a streetlamp, but in order to get really good output, most turbines will need to be on poles significantly taller: 50 feet or so, as compared to a typical 15- or 20-foot light pole. Zoning boards aren't nearly as accustomed to micro wind installations as they have become with rooftop solar, and anecdotal evidence suggests that even the smaller turbines may pose some risk to wildlife -- though there are certainly designs that help to minimize this risk with the smaller turbines.

But in our current all-of-the-above approach to renewables, it's surprising that distributed wind generation hasn't gotten more attention, and the Distributed Wind Policy Comparison Tool is definitely a helpful tool for those of us who might be able to put micro wind to good use.

A hat tip to Forbes' Ucilia Wang for alerting ReWire to the tool.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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