This is the first question you should ask yourself before undertaking a small wind installation. Some people chose to put up their own turbines for environmental reasons, because wind energy is a clean, emission free, renewable energy source. Many like the idea of being energy independent, while others are tinkerers wishing to incorporate their energy consumption into their love of machines and technology. Whatever your motivation you should understand what is involved in owning your own wind generator as they are sophisticated pieces of machinery that will need periodic maintenance and can be a fairly large investment.
Your motivation for planning a small wind project will affect your choice of equipment, the economics of your project, and how you choose to operate and maintain your small wind system.
At the beginning of planning your project keep the following questions in mind:
- What will the energy be used for? Some people have off-grid systems where all of the energy used on the site must be generated there. Most will choose to connect their system to the utility's system and use the grid for backup energy when the wind does not blow. Others wish to sell energy back to the utility to provide supplemental income for their farm or business.
- Will the system offset some or all of the energy consumed on site? If this is the case, your state may have net metering laws which can help with the economics of your project but may limit the size of your system.
- Do I want to sell the energy to the utility? If you want to sell most or all of your energy to the utility this will affect the scale and financing of your machine. Larger machines generally can produce energy at a lower cost than small machines and will improve the return on investment. If selling power to the utility and making money is a primary motivation, then you may want to consider investing in a commercial scale wind project over a small wind system.
- Is cost of energy important to your project? Are your primary motivations environmental or energy independence? Cost of energy will greatly affect the components you choose. A general rule is that as system size increases the cost per installed kW will decrease, improving the economics of the project. If you are on a limited budget or want to size your system so that it matches up to your electricity consumption for an off grid system you will choose system components using a different set of assumptions.
- What is the budget for your system? Budget is in many cases the limiting factor for small wind systems. Because the return on investment is generally low compared to a commercial scale turbine the system must be able to fit within your family or business's budget to make sure you can afford to make payments on any loans taken to finance the system.