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Is Backyard Wind Power Worth It? 475

Posted by Cliff
from the a-mini-holland-without-dikes dept.
eldavojohn wonders: "In the October IEEE Spectrum magazine, I read an article on backyard windmills and their growing feasibility. With the lowest model's price tag, it's about $9,000 and lasts for around 100,000 kilowatt-hours (20 year life), which results in 9 cents per kilowatt-hour. Now, the article mentions that if the market takes off, that price will drop. However, I was wondering what price range the windmills would have to fall to (or the energy rates have to rise to) before I could consider this? Well, the price of the windmills in the article are out of my price range right now. I don't imagine many Americans have $8k-$11k laying around and the current month's rates for energy in my neighborhood are 2.2 cents/kWh for the first 800 kWh and 1.2 cents/kWh after. I was wondering what are your thoughts on being an early adopter of wind energy? Do you think that if enough people bought these windmills, the price per kWh could compete with the local power grid's? Will it ever?"
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Is Backyard Wind Power Worth It?

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  • by Channard (693317) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @01:28PM (#16308317) Journal
    Because some communities tend to be rather picky about what you put up. Even if it's only slightly visible, some drama queen or snooty neighbour may kick up a fuss about it.
    • by networkBoy (774728) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @01:40PM (#16308567) Homepage Journal
      You are so right.
      Over here someone went to repaint their house as the CCNRs mandated (in all fairness the paint was looking tired).
      Once the painters were out a neighbor threw a fit that the color was too brigt to be allowed. Whole thing ended up on the local news and in court!

      The real kicker? The painters were painting the house the exact same friggin shade of color. They color matched to some of the paint under the eves where it was not yet sun-fadded.
      There's nothing like putting your foot in a drama queens ass in court, especially when they are the ones pressing charges and the judge holds them down for said foot insertion :-)

      Needless to say the home owner won, but they did not get to counter-sue for court costs (so their insurance paid) and their home-owners quietly dropped them after the renewal period the following year was over.
      -nB
      • by dgatwood (11270) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @01:49PM (#16308717) Journal

        This is why we need law changes to prevent homeowners' associations from having so much power over individual properties. It's okay for them to require you to pay into a communal pool for maintenance of shared resources, but beyond that, your home is your castle, and no one should have the right to tell you what you can and cannot do to it, public health and safety laws notwithstanding.

        • by CastrTroy (595695) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @01:59PM (#16308871) Homepage
          I think the problem stems from the fact that too many people view their now not only as a home, but also as a financial investment. They're worried that if you paint your garage door flourescent green, then you will bring down the value of their house. I can see their point of view, but a house should not be there just to make money. Buy a house that you like, not one that you think will gain the most value in 3 years so you can sell it and upgrade.
        • by spun (1352) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {yranoituloverevol}> on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @02:07PM (#16309023) Journal
          Then don't buy a home where there is a homeowner's association. Sell your home if one gets voted in. Why should the desires of the one automatically outweigh the desires of the many? Especially when the one can simply refuse to play by selling and moving. That's the beauty of the free market: people are free to set up socialist systems such as homeowner's associations within it and you are free to buy into them or not. But you don't have the right to limit the free market by saying people can't do that. Property rights are a deal mutually enforced by property owners, and if other property owners want to say that you have to jump through a flaming hoop into a pile of dog doo before they will honor you property claims, well, what can you do except defend your property yourself.? You want the privilege of being part of a system that defends your property rights? You play by that systems rules, or leave and make your own system. What's that you say? Every place is already owned and encumbered by rules you didn't agree to? Tell that to the vast majority of humans who own no property at all, I'm sure you'll get a lot of sympathy.
          • by sumdumass (711423) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @02:34PM (#16309453) Journal
            Sure and we can use this type of thinking to our advantage too. Our home owners association already has stuff in place to keep the poor out. We have rules not particulaly faviorable to blacks unless they are the type who conform to the uncle tom versions of blackness. We have been able to keep the mexicans out and we are working on the jews and extreamly religous christians. I also think some rules are even hostile to foreigners. Of course it was hard to keep the irish and germans out because they adapt so easily but we got that covered too.

            So yea, if you don't like it, leave. And we can justify all our positions based on property values and value to potential buyers willing to spend the most money.

            Seriously, there are some things a little more important then value of investments. Other people's implied values shouldn't be used as reasoning for limiting someone elses freedoms.

            (note, that was a fictional acount but i can easily see how inocent looking rules could work that way. thats the purpose of the home owners association, keeping undesirables out and property values high.)
          • by CastrTroy (595695)
            Can they really force you to join a homeowners association after you've bought a house? I've never heard of this kind of thing, but I imagine that you could fight it in court.
            • by Heem (448667)
              No. They might try though, and if you are stupid, you'll fall for it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        That's why one of the things I looked for when buying a house was a home-owner's association- and I avoided the areas that had such stupidity.
        • I live in a community without a homeowner's association. Some of my neighbors come from cultures where the standard for maintaining a home differs significantly from typical suburban US standards.

          When my neighbor began parking his truck in his yard, began storing applicances and garbage in his lawn, installed a new concrete porch without a permit, refused to cut the grass, and ordered a portable storage unit delivered to his house where it has sat in the driveway for more than a year, what is my recourse?

          I
          • by mugnyte (203225)

              Your resourse is to encourage more and more of your neighbors to introduce themselves to such neighbor. To ask him/her why they want to keep such things, to talk though the issues. This is the heart of "neighborhood," which goes beyond just a collective location for people to live. Communication clears things up much faster than not.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            I live in a community without a homeowner's association. Some of my neighbors come from cultures where the standard for maintaining a home differs significantly from typical suburban US standards.

            And that should affect you exactly why? I didn't buy my house as an investment- I bought it to live in. What happens on the other side of the fence is none of my business.

            When my neighbor began parking his truck in his yard, began storing applicances and garbage in his lawn, installed a new concrete porch wit
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by TroyM (956558)
            I live in an area of the country (the south) where part of the culture is parking your truck in the yard and having a few appliances on the front porch or the yard. But lately we've had a bunch on Yankees move in and start creating HOAs in the new neighborhood, trying to destroy our local culture. Everything has to be painted beige and the HOAs have mailbox police to make sure every mailbox looks exactly the same.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by llefler (184847)

            When my neighbor began parking his truck in his yard, began storing applicances and garbage in his lawn, installed a new concrete porch without a permit, refused to cut the grass, and ordered a portable storage unit delivered to his house where it has sat in the driveway for more than a year, what is my recourse?

            These aren't the types of things HOAs generally address. These are regulated by zoning and ordinances. If an HOA is involved, their role is simply reporting it to the governing authority. If it's a

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by sumdumass (711423)
          My sister, when recently looking for a new home, had the realitor explain that home owners association as a plus. His words were something to the effect "you wouldn't want your neighbor to just plant a bunch of tomatoes plant along the fence line one year would you?"

          Her reply was, "I am planning on having a garden and planting tomatoes. And planting them along a fenc means you don't need to buy tomato stakes.".

          After that, the relitor purposly avoided showing homes in areas with associations. So yea, defina
          • And most association have ways to change the rules if they don't like what you are doing. It could get nasty really quick.

            Hmm- I've got to look into that. I wonder if Measure 37 in Oregon affects HOAs?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by sgt scrub (869860)
          I've always thought of ownership being something you no longer have to pay for. Giving money to a home-owner's association sounds to me like paying someone rent to live in a house you own.
    • by bunions (970377)
      Or audible. Most windmills get pretty noisy. I'd kick up a fuss if someone put one too close to me.
      • by demigod (20497)

        Most windmills get pretty noisy.

        The specs [windside.com] on these claim 0 dB Measured sound emission.

    • by Mikkeles (698461)
      Aside from the drama is that health effects of the noise, especially low frequency inaudible sounds, are not well researched. Here in Nova Scotia (Canada), a family has had to move [www.nben.ca] due to this. A reasonably well researched UK report [wind-watch.org] [PDF] also lends some credence to the problem.

      The bottom line at the moment is that no one knows.

    • 9k minimum? jeez, a little basic research before posting a fricken article: go to ebay, type: "wind generator" HEY LOOK, prices start at $300 for 200w ones!!!

      basically wind costs about $1.50 per watt rated power at the moment, not sure what that is in actual average power in average wind conditions (whatever they might be...), but it sounds pretty darn cheap to me. My house needs about 1kw average power, so $1500 * (rough guess out of my ass) 2 (rated = 1/2 average power) = 3-4k, my electric bill is over

  • Solar panels (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Yvan256 (722131) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @01:28PM (#16308319) Homepage Journal
    I'd rather go with solar panels, though I'm waiting for a breakthrough in technology (higher output, lower prices). A windmill is too big and too much of an eyesore to be installed in backyards.
    • by eric76 (679787)
      Lookout out the windows at home, there are number of large commercial windmills (1.25 megawatt capacity each) to the north, northeast, and east.

      I don't see them as an eyesore but I do think they'd look better if they were all painted different colors instead just a boring off-white.

      We have a windmill, but it is for a backup water supply, not electricity and is usually used just to water the garden.
    • Re:Solar panels (Score:5, Interesting)

      by demigod (20497) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @02:20PM (#16309249)

      A windmill is too big and too much of an eyesore to be installed in backyards.

      They don't have to be eyesores [windside.com].

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        Which looks nice in a park, but would look terrible in a backyard. Especially if every other house had one.
    • Re:Solar panels (Score:5, Interesting)

      by LordVader717 (888547) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @05:47PM (#16312455)
      I can't understand the people who complain about windmills being an eyesore. Sure, they're noticable, like just about any other structure. But they're also a reminder of our thirst for energy, and a symbol of our civilisation. They're something we should be proud of
      I have seen much mor offending things than a few windmills in the scenery

      I suppose they'd complain about these [wikimedia.org] too.
  • by UbuntuDupe (970646) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @01:31PM (#16308371) Journal
    1) No, on a purely financial basis, it probably isn't worth it. (Saves the posts of people doing a detailed analysis.)

    2) Yes, it has the non-financial benefit of being earth-friendly, which isn't necessarily captured in a financial analysis. (Saves people from lecturing others that money isn't everything.)

    3) Yes, it would probably save you money if the appropriate goods were taxed to reflect their environmental costs. What the appropriate externality compensation would be depends on your ideology, so if you wanted people to use less fuel anyway, you probably think these costs are HUGE.

    4) Yes, we know that alone, windmills won't solve all energy problems. No one thinks that.

    5) Yes, some birds are killed from these. No one cares, since tall buildings kill a lot more.

    Does that about cover it?
    • 6) Yes there are cheeper and geekier alternatives like the guy who made his own windmill/generator combo from a plywood disk, some rare earth disk magnets, magnet wire and the wheel off an old volvo.

      Can't seem to find the link ATM, but I'll keep looking...
      -nB
    • by Ignignot (782335)
      Stop being so even handed! This is a slashdot discussion, not a friendly discourse!

      Instead say, "think of the children! The environment is so much more important than a few bucks. But the things slaughter birds by the thousands, and so we're going to have to figure something else out!"
  • I think the real question is whether its "worth it" it money terms, because its not, and probably wont be for a long time.

    But is it "worth it" in terms of saving the envirionment? Maybe.

    Although I think some kind of solar power or fuel power from renewable fuels is a better option right now..
  • 1.2/2.2 c/kwh???? (Score:5, Informative)

    by bloosqr (33593) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @01:32PM (#16308415) Homepage
    Are you sure you are reading your bill correctly? Are you in canada or something? I think i pay about 13 c / kwh

    here is a list of average prices around the US

    http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/table 5_6_a.html [doe.gov] ,,

    1/2 is the distribution cost and 1/2 is the generation cost..(this is only matters if you choose a different energy provider as all you can save is the generation cost .. the distribution cost is fixed) .. if you are making energy on site you save on both since they aren't distributing that power to you...

    • My current rate here in the UK is the equivalent of 18.5 c/kWh for the first 728 kWh in each quarter and 17.5 c/kWh thereafter. In addition, there is a standing charge of 29.8 c/day.
      • Not to mention the fact that, in the UK, the national grid is required by law to buy any excess electricity you generate, so you can use it as a big battery. This is probably good for a wind generator which is likely to generate a lot of power during the night as the ground cools, while you are asleep. I think many parts of the USA have similar rules.
    • by yancey (136972)
      By that chart, I would suggest Google move its data centers [com.com] to Idaho.
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Are you sure you are reading your bill correctly? Are you in canada or something? I think i pay about 13 c / kwh

      Canada isn't as cheap as 1.2/2.c cents/kwh.

      Currently, in Ontario, you pay 5.0 cents for the first 750 kwh, and 5.8 cents for everything after that. Cheaper than your 13 cents, but (in this province at least) I pay more for 'debt reduction' than I do for actual hydro. (Our bill includes several administrative costs in it which frequently add up to more than your actual monthly consumption) If I

  • I don't imagine many Americans have $8k-$11k laying around and the current month's rates for energy in my neighborhood are 2.2 cents/kWh for the first 800 kWh and 1.2 cents/kWh after.

    Those rates are insanely low. The national average is about $0.095/kWh with some paying close to twice that. For me, $0.09/kWh is about what I pay after taxes, etc, but I would rather skip the backyard windmill.

    Sadly, I think you are probably right about most Americans lack of liquidity.

  • Did you slip a decimal point? The average cost per kilowatt hour in the US based on 2006 YTD data [doe.gov] ia 10.15 cents/KWH up sharply from 9.08 cents in 2005.

    Where I live, we are paying about 6.5 cents and get our electricity from a non-profit municipal utility. I consider us very lucky to have this low cost electricity.

    If you really have those electricity rates, then the pay back for you is pretty far down the road, but for most people, if they can afford the initial investment and have a suitable locatio
    • If you really have those electricity rates, then the pay back for you is pretty far down the road, but for most people, if they can afford the initial investment and have a suitable location, it's looking pretty good.

      Not really. Don't forget the opportunity cost of laying out that cash right away. Over a twenty-year life, you'll find that you're actually spending around three times that for the energy... if you assume a modest return of 5% on your investments.

      This of course does not include adjustments f

      • Over a twenty-year life, you'll find that you're actually spending around three times that for the energy... if you assume a modest return of 5% on your investments.

        Given stocks over the last 10 years- you'll be lucky to see a 3% return on your investments from here on out. The world itself is being mismanaged to the point that eventually stockholders are going to have to eat their mistakes.
  • by ExE122 (954104) * on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @01:34PM (#16308455) Homepage Journal
    I was wondering what are your thoughts on being an early adopter of wind energy? Do you think that if enough people bought these windmills, the price per kWh could compete with the local power grid's? Will it ever?

    With rising energy costs, global warming, and environmental concerns, I think the answer to your final question is a resounding "maybe".

    This same energy-conservation trend has shown itself in hybrid vehicles. The first hybrids were priced almost twice the cost of regular vehicles. So people doing the math and asking themselves the same questions you are about wind power. However, as popularity grew and more hybrid vehicle models became available, the prices became more competitive. Even the government has gotten involved in many areas by offering tax cuts, toll leniencies, and access to restricted lanes as incentives. While many people would argue that it still isn't cost-effective to purchase a hybrid, there have been over a million sold.

    I think there are other benefits that can be said about windmills. I remember reading a report once which showed that minor improvements to homes (new paint, adding walk-in closets, new windows) increased sale prices by way more than was invested. How much more could you get for a house when you tell a potential buyer that their electricity bill will be 20-90% less other homes because of the big fan in the backyard? I'm willing to bet it would sell for at least $10k more in most areas.

    So returning to your second question, I think the outcome of windmills will indeed be determined by their popularity. If they catch on, I think production will diversify and the government will get involved to offer incentives. However, the article itself says "the SkyStream turbine is not meant to wean you from the grid completely".

    --
    "A man is asked if he is wise or not. He replies that he is otherwise" ~Mao Zedong
    • A minor quibble to your minor improvements list: windows typically represent between 10 and 25% of the entire price of a house, at least where I live. It's very hard to recover the price of new windows. Most major improvements have a negative return, particularly bathrooms and kitchens, from what I've read, while minor improvements do have a small positive return, although it's likely that they make the house sell faster, which is in itself a (difficult-to-measure) value-added result.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Technician (215283)
      While many people would argue that it still isn't cost-effective to purchase a hybrid, there have been over a million sold.

      For those who still maintain that arguement, here are a few things to keep in mind. The initial study made some assumptions.

      1, The battery will die shortly after the 100,000 mile warrenty leaving a 5,000 repair bill every 5 years of ownership.
      2. Gas prices are $1.50 to $1.80 per gallon.
      3. You drive less than 10,000 miles per year
      4. Your car depreciates faster than a traditional car
  • The big problem with wind power is that on top of that price, you also have to invest in a huge (and very expensive) energy storage system that can supply your entire energy needs for at least a day when there is little/no wind.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      The big problem with wind power is that on top of that price, you also have to invest in a huge (and very expensive) energy storage system that can supply your entire energy needs for at least a day when there is little/no wind.

      I don't think he mentioned going off the grid, which would be a pretty bad idea. He just talked about putting in a windmill. If there is no wind, you just buy from the grid. If you generate surplus energy, you dump it on the grid (to the dismay of the power company). At least wher

      • by NerveGas (168686) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @03:58PM (#16310695)
        While power companies may be required to pay you for your excess power, most places aren't required to pay you any more than a trivial, token amount. One fellow said that his local power company charged 14 cents/kWH, but only paid him 2 cents for his power.

        Usually, folks just get set up with "net metering", where any power they dump back into the grid is deducted from how much they use. At best, you never pay for power, at worst, you only pay for what you can't generate. With a large turbine, a good, windy week could zero out your electric bill for a month or two, yet you don't have to maintain the battery banks to store that excess energy (or worry about using a "dump load" on your turbine.)

        steve
    • by pla (258480)
      The big problem with wind power is that on top of that price, you also have to invest in a huge (and very expensive) energy storage system that can supply your entire energy needs for at least a day when there is little/no wind.

      Not true - You only need that if you plan to go completely off-grid. If you just want to cut your electric bill (possibly to the point of making it negative) and do your part to help save the environment, you can throw up a windmill or two, a few solar panels, whatever, and just
    • Why? Pump the electricity you don't need back into the grid, where the electricity company will pay you for it, and then buy any excess you need from them.
  • ...is integrating it into the construction or purchase of a new home, particularly ones in a semi-rural area, or areas with larger lots and less restrictive requirements for things like wind or antenna towers. Rural areas, depending on the lay of the land, will also typically have more access to wind as well.

    This way, you can integrate the purchase price of things like a windmill, solar panels, conductive liquid heating, and things of that nature into the home itself, amortizing it along with the home.

    My wi
  • by Lumpy (12016)
    that one windmill will do squat for you. You need at least 2 in a windy area as well as a sotrage system (intertie inverter can run your meter backwards if the power company allows it)

    I have been there with wind and solar. you need far more than they say you do to make it worth screwing with. plus it is not an appliance like your fridge, you have to become an expert in it, maintain it your self and constantly monitor the stuff. Otherwise your cost per kilowatt goes up to 4-5 times what you calculated.

    if y
  • I haven't looked into windmills myself as I'm still living the apartment life, but I've a friend who has read up on the matter some and raves about the vertical axis windmill [typepad.com] and all the benifits thereof. Were I in a position to consider it, I'd start with these.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by the_povinator (936048)
      Someone was saying in comments on another Slashdot article that most vertical axis wind turbine things are scams designed to steal investors' money. So I would be cautious about this. I think the time it makes sense is when you need a simple, very small-scale device to run isolated electronic equipment. Dan
  • I don't imagine many Americans have $8k-$11k laying around and the current month's rates for energy in my neighborhood are 2.2 cents/kWh for the first 800 kWh and 1.2 cents/kWh after

    i pay 20 cents per. that makes wind power pretty attractive. hell, that makes hooking a frickin generator up to a stationary bike attractive.
  • Here in California, our power is tiered. The first chunk is at something like 7.5 cents. My most expensive electricity was over 30 cents per kWh. Compared to that, 9 cents is already much less than I'm paying.

    Of course, with my luck, it would fail right after the warranty (which is probably a year), making it cost $3.80 per kWh. :-) Devices with moving parts are a high risk unless you're buying in bulk. It's the whole MTBF problem all over again. Thanks, but I'll stick with solar.

    When the cost per

  • If you live in suburbia, your neighbors are probably going to have a problem with that big prop tower you are planning to erect. Keep in mind any large trees or buildings nearby are going to degrade the quality and reliability of your wind. Do you even have good wind where you are? If your backyard looks more like a small-scale industrial site, where you do some agriculture or fabrication or what have you, and if you are in a rural area where you have wind and can get away with it, yes, put up a p

  • Otherwise you have to figure in the opportunity cost of not investing that $9K. Even in CDs you can get about 3% on that, which means you can withdraw more than $580 a year from it for 20 years, not just $450; that works out to over $0.11 per kWh. As alternative power plant designs become more durable, this kind of calculation becomes more important: a $9,000 windmill that produces 5,000 kWh/year for infinity years instead of twenty sounds like it will produce free energy, but that "free" will really cost you more than $0.05 per kWh when you do the math.

    The electric companies factor these sorts of costs into their bill when they build a new power plant. If you don't do the same, you might think you're successfully competing with them when you're really just tricking yourself.
  • Why buy? (Score:3, Informative)

    by acidrain69 (632468) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @02:05PM (#16308987) Journal
    Just build your own, maybe a few small ones or one larger one.

    http://www.makezine.com/blog/archive/2006/06/diy_1 000_watt_wind_turbine.html [makezine.com]
  • Like solar panels, wind becomes more of an economically viable alternative when you are trying to power a remote site and the cost to bring power lines in is prohibitive.

    Co-incidentally, a remote site also means that there are fewer neighbors to complain about the installation.
  • And i think you get 30% off through grants:
    http://www.diy.com/diy/jsp/bq/nav/nav.jsp?action=d etail&fh_secondid=9330400&fh_location=%2F%2Fcatalo g01%2Fen_GB%2Fcategories%3C8530236%2Fcategories%3C 9050001&fh_eds=%C3%9F&fh_refview=lister&ts=1159984 743563 [diy.com]

    This is a bran dnew thing, saw one in the store at the weekend, looks pretty sturdy, im sure there are downsides, but you can now walk into your high st UK store and order a wind turbine. I can imagine them dropping in price big time over
  • by garyebickford (222422) <gar37bic AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @02:32PM (#16309425)
    If the grid isn't already in place, it can be very cost effective to adopt energy independence. Two scenarios in real life:

    1. Someone I know lives on 50-odd acres; his house is about 1/2 mile from the road. As I understand it, the power company quoted him $18,000 to run power poles from the road to his house. Of course, this upfront cost was just for the opportunity to send them money every month thereafter. For that same $18,000 he bought a complete power system including a bunch of special batteries, high tech electronic load and generation management and a diesel generator. I think the generator and batteries came from folks who had installed Y2K panic systems, and never used them. For several years he ran the generator once a week for a couple of hours, now he's installed two solar panels and he has gone all summer without running the diesel, though he will probably have to run it occasionaly during the winter. He has a small wind generator for testing, so far. His major electricity usage is shop tools and clothes dryer. He uses propane for hot water, and propane and wood for heat. He plans more solar panels eventually, and will then use the diesel only for emergencies.

    2. According to the World Bank [worldbank.org], small amorphous silicon solar panels are replacing kerosene lamps in rural African villages - they cost about the same as two months' worth of kerosene, provide more light than the kerosene lamps previously used, and once paid for cost nothing to run, except amortized cost of replacement every ??? years. This also offers the opportunity to radically change lifestyles in these areas. Evidently amorphous silicon panels are less efficient than the more expensive solar panels but are so much cheaper that they're a better deal. I can easily foresee several families in a village connecting their panels and batteries together, and voila! Instant community power grid, that can grow incrementally.

    For the large percentage of people who live outside areas that already have well-developed electric power and other networks, localized community-based or individualized solutions including wind, solar and small hydro can be very practical, and even life changing. This paper [resource-solutions.org] notes that:
    "Off-grid renewable energy investments are cheaper when communities and individuals can build and operate electricity generation facilities without going through regional governments and utilities. In Nepal systems under 1 MW do not need approval for off-grid development. This has played a critical role in helping local micro-hydro entrepreneurs set a tariff which is acceptable to the community being serviced as well as being profitable to the entrepreneur running the micro-hydro plant"
    • His major electricity usage is shop tools and clothes dryer.

      This alludes to an important point. If you're off the grid, total power use is often less important than a system that can handle the maximum draw. Sometimes you can be a little smarter about how you use the power and wait till the dryer stops before cutting lumber for that new deck with power tools.

  • Houston Looting and Plunder, uh, Reliant Energy (they change names several times in the last few years, maybe to escape their reputation), recently started reselling Wind power under it's 100% Renewable plan. I signed up, now my 2200 or so kwh per month are guaranteed to be replaced with 100% wind generated power. There are wind farms going in Galveston and Corpus Christy, also a tidal power project. I figure this is about 3/4 of my energy budget a month (about $300 with $100 for gasoline and natural gas
  • Early Adopter... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RexRhino (769423) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @02:36PM (#16309489)
    What happens a few years from now, when some new dramatic improvement in turbine design happens? Or 100% efficent solar panels are invented? Or heck, maybe they even invent portable fusion reactors, who knows what is coming in the future?

    If you are amortizing the cost of a windmill over 20 years, this IS a concern. 20 years is a lot of time for technology to significantly improve. Think of how much cars have changed, let alone technology like computers and information networks. Alternative energy sources are a hot thing to invest in lately, and I have a feeling there will be some serious improvements real soon. Maybe if you could amortize the cost in 5 years, it would be a reasonable risk. But 20 years? I can't see how it would be a good idea.
  • the current month's rates for energy in my neighborhood are 2.2 cents/kWh for the first 800 kWh and 1.2 cents/kWh after.

    I'd like to know where you live. Once I factor in my base customer charge, fuel factor for generation, distribution charges and miscellaneous taxes, my electric bill averages about US$0.14/kWh. The last part of the country I lived in was more like $0.09/kWh, and I thought that was cheap.

    -- Cameron
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @02:54PM (#16309727) Homepage

    Wind turbines are only useful if the average wind speed is above 10 mph. The unit illustrated doesn't even cut in until 8 mph, and achieves its rated output at a wind speed of 20 mph.

    Unless you're in an area with wind speeds like that, a wind turbine is a waste of time. Most people don't live in areas that windy; it's not comfortable. I've known people along the California coast who have useful wind turbines, but that's a special situation, where you have reliable medium-speed wind all year because of the ocean/land temperature difference. The serious California wind farms are in mountain passes or at desert/mountain boundaries, where the geography guarantees wind. Also, wind speeds are higher a few hundred feet up, which is why the really big wind machines on the high towers work even in flat terrain. A little turbine in your back yard probably is just going to sit there, stationary, most of the time.

    If you're thinking of getting a wind turbine, put up a pole with one of those little "weather station" units that has an anemometer, and log wind speeds for a year. For a few hundred dollars, you'll find out if it's going to work.

    If you can hang a wind chime outside your house and it doesn't drive you nuts with constant clanging, your location is not suitable for wind power.

  • by Spazmania (174582) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @04:42PM (#16311383) Homepage
    One thing to understand: its not 9 cents per kwh. You pay the entire $9k up front in 2006 dollars but you get the power back over a 20-year lifespan... In 2007 dollars, 2015 dollars and 2026 dollars... Which even at 5% annual inflation are worth less than half of what 2006 dollars are.

    Another: almost nothing with moving parts runs 20 years without maintenance. What will the maintenance on your windmill cost in terms of both dollars and time (which is dollars times your expected hourly wage).
  • by Linux_ho (205887) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @04:44PM (#16311415) Homepage
    Few suburban homes are in good locations to produce wind energy. Even if you're in a good location, aside from the issue of creating an eyesore in your neighborhood, your neighbors won't be too happy the next time the wind picks up and you have a 60-80 decibel buzz keeping them up all night.
  • by Phil Karn (14620) <karnNO@SPAMka9q.net> on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:24PM (#16313909) Homepage
    It all depends on where you are. First, your electric rates are extraordinarily low. San Diego residential rates are on the order of 14 cents/kWh, and they increase with increasing consumption. Second, available wind energy varies enormously with location. Both factors strongly affect the economic viability of grid-tied wind generation.

    Wind energy is far more dependent on location than solar energy. The available annual solar energy in the desert Southwest is only about twice that in Alaska. This means that the geographic variation in electric rates has a greater effect on the viability of a solar electricity system than annual sunlight. But the wind energy available in mountainous areas of the US like the Rockies is more than ten times that available in the Southeast. That's why you see big clusters of windmills in mountain passes and other windy areas, and few if any in typical suburbs.

    Also note that your average wind speed does not tell you what you need to know. Available power from the wind goes up as the cube of wind speed, so bursts of strong wind produce more energy than steady light breezes.

    So the bottom line is that unless you live in a very windy area, your electric rates are already so low that no form of home power generation is likely to be very cost-effective for you right now. So you have to ask yourself two questions: what you think will happen to your electric rates in the future, and whether solar might make more sense than wind in your area.

    All this information is readily available; the Wikipedia article on wind power [wikipedia.org] is as good a place to start as any.

  • by iansmith (444117) on Wednesday October 04, 2006 @07:49PM (#16314279) Homepage
    If a LOT of people bought windmills, the cost of oil would go DOWN because the demand dropped. So go ahead and buy one, it will make my electricity cheaper. :-)
  • by btempleton (149110) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @12:34AM (#16316977) Homepage
    I'm being mean here but there are deliberate blinders going on here, making the vendor, the IEEE spectrum writer and the Slashdot editor forget basic math. The vendor's motive, I understand, but there is no excluse for IEEE writers and slashdot people.

    $9,000 for 100,000 khw over 20 years is NOT 9 cents/kwh. Why? Anybody with a mortgage knows that money paid over time is vastly different from money today. The unit presumably delivers 5,000 khw per year or about 13.7 khw per day. So at 7% interest, that's 16.7 cents/kwh, which is more than just round-off error.

    And frankly, for the vendor to say it's 9 cents is very close to fraud. The power plants don't amortize without considering the time value of money when they work out the costs.

    Another way to think about it. Put the $9,000 in the stock market. Historical rate of return is about 10%. That means you would pull out $900 per year -- while still keeping the principal intact, except for inflation. At California's 13 cents/khw from the grid, that buys you 6900khw, assuming the price stays even. Your wind turnbine gets you only 5000khw. It doesn't pay for itself in 20 years, it never, ever pays for itself, no matter how long it lasts. And you still have the principal when you are done.

    I'm all for renewable energy. But I hate it when people also for renewable energy either get stupid or just plain lie to make it seem better than it is.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by maroberts (15852)
      The previous poster makes a good (and interesting) point about money spent over time, but he's not also factoring in the fact that power company energy costs are likely to go up dramatically over the next 20 years as oil and other energy sources become more scarce, and environmental factors will also drive up the cost of energy from your power company. I suspect you won't be paying 13c/khw for the next 20 years....
  • Build your own! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nrlightfoot (607666) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @12:45AM (#16317057) Homepage
    I would suggest that you build your own windmill. You should be able to build one with similar power for under a $1000 (I think), or maybe a bit more if you need to buy tools like a welder and such, but then you have an excuse to buy tools too. Check out Other Power [otherpower.com] for more details.

If a 6600 used paper tape instead of core memory, it would use up tape at about 30 miles/second. -- Grishman, Assembly Language Programming

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