The Benefits and Costs of having your own Windmill

My farm is mostly solar powered but last year we decided to supplement that and bought our first wind generator. It cost $500 Australian or about $300 US. We had to put up a pole that was anchored securely to the ground and then run an insulated cable from the pole to our battery bank. The pole is only about 4.5 meters high and the generator itself is only about a meter long with half meter long propellers, so it is not an eye-sore nor is it infringing on anyone’s air space. Installation costs were an extra hundred dollars and we now can potentially get 200 Watts of power out of Windy.

I had to name him windy because he seemed to come alive when we took him out of his box and mounted him on his tower. Immediately, Windy began to search out the wind and then to spin. He looks like a little white airplane with silver propellers. He is surprisingly small and resembles an airplane-shaped anemometer. His tail turns him this way and that as he searches for the wind. When he finds it, his propeller begins to spin. When the wind is strong enough, Windy’s real work begins. The blades slow as the power being produced reaches the point where the voltage going in is greater than the voltage of the batteries and it begins to charge them.

We do not live in a particularly windy environment. We would get a lot more power if we were situated near the ocean. Nonetheless, the wind comes up almost every afternoon and keeps blowing until some time around midnight. Usually it is remains still in the mornings, but by afternoon there is almost always a breeze to get Windy moving and if it increases enough, then we get power that will be free once we get back the first $600 worth of electricity. The money it saves us would have been spent on petrol, because we are not connected to the grid. If there isn’t enough sun, then we have to run the back-up generator. Now that we have the wind generator installed, we are spending significantly less on fuel for the back-up generator.

The nicest thing about Windy is that he can produce power at night, something the solar panels cannot do. He is also likely to be spinning merrily on overcast days too, when the panels are again inactive. Thus our new wind generator not only charges our batteries but also supplies us power when the solar panels cannot. I am a morning person but most of my family are night owls. In the past we were sucking the batteries dry at night. Now Windy helps keep them balanced while the night owls listen to music, play games and watch TV. Its a win-windy solution for us. We are cutting our greenhouse emissions and yet we still have all the modern conveniences.

For people connected to a grid, the cost-benefit analysis is less clear-cut. Most companies do not allow customers to feed power into the grid from either wind generators or solar panels. To set up a stand alone system is expensive because banks of batteries are needed to store the power and an inverter is needed to convert the DC power to AC for the house. If the panels and wind generators are not enough, then a back-up generator is needed and that means back to fossil fuel use. We live so far from the grid that it was economically feasable – just – for us to go solar, but for most people, the costs would outweigh the benefits, except to the environment.

The solution lies with the electricity companies unfortunately. They should be subsidising solar and wind power on every roof and buying the green power back. Each household should have a black box that can run the power both ways: into the grid when the house is producing power and back out when it is using. Most individuals cannot afford to change to alternative power sourcrs, even if they recognise the need. Unfortunately the big power companies are not likely to invest in alternative energies while they are still making big bucks from fossil fuel powered stations. They are not interested in people becoming self sufficient in power. They want to build giant wind farms or giant solar factories rather than installing panels on every roof. And they don’t count the benefit to the planet, only the benefit to their bottom line. As long as corporate greed rules, only a few committed individuals will make the leap to solar and wind power and most people will continue to contribute to Climate Change.