Even though micro wind turbines can be used to cut your personal carbon footprint, there are good reasons why they are much less popular than solar panels. Here we will briefly look at the three most important of these.
The first and most important reason is the effect that an urban environment has on the wind. Due to all the man-made obstructions in an average neighbourhood, winds are usually weak and gusty at levels where one would normally install a micro wind turbine. Wind turbines need strong and steady winds to operate effectively and these kinds of winds are simply not available in town.
Secondly, a wind turbine has numerous moving parts, implying a substantially shorter lifetime and more maintenance troubles than you would get from solar panels. The last thing you want from a small electricity generator on your roof is constant hassle and unforeseen costs.
Thirdly, wind turbines can create noise that bothers yourself and your neighbours. People’s sensitivity to wind turbine noise has been shown to vary greatly, but the potential CO2 cuts from a micro wind turbine on your roof is probably not worth risking the wrath of your neighbour.
There have been some interesting developments in vertical axis wind turbines that could overcome these problems to some extent. These turbines are reportedly more adept at handling gusty urban winds, face smaller mechanical loads and operate much more quietly. However, this comes at a trade-off for more complex blade design and lower efficiencies (therefore higher costs). We will have to wait and see if this trade-off is worth it.
One area where micro wind turbines can be a good idea is for those who live out on the countryside in a windy country. In such places, winds are not obstructed by urban structures and there are no neighbours to annoy. In addition, it is possible to install somewhat larger ground-mounted units in order to benefit from economies of scale.
Aside from this small niche application, however, there are not any obviously attractive applications for micro wind turbines. Your carbon footprint can be cut much more effectively in numerous other ways discussed on this blog.
Filed under: Consumption patterns – The green economy