We’re always looking for ways to shrink our carbon footprint, reduce the use of non-renewable energy sources, lower electric bills, and increase the sustainability of our everyday lives.
Many options exist to make these changes possible, but often homeowners consider installing a small wind turbine in their backyard if other methods are out of reach.
The question is, should you put a small wind turbine in your backyard?
Let’s look at the pros, cons, and factors to consider when mulling installing a wind turbine in your backyard.
Should You Put A Small Wind Turbine in Your Backyard?
You can install a small wind turbine in your backyard following local regulations. For instance, in many areas all turbine blades need to be 20-30 feet above any object within a 250-300 mile (402.3-482.8 km) radius and need a wind speed of 8.6-13.6 mph (14-22 kph) to operate.
A wind turbine is an excellent investment if you are ready to start saving money on your energy bill and become less reliant on the power grid.
How a Small Wind Turbine Produces Energy
According to the US Energy Information Administration, wind-powered energy increased significantly over the last 30 years, with nearly 10% of all energy consumed provided by wind. When reading this statistic, our first thought was, why isn’t this number higher? Solar energy accounts for only three percent of US energy usage, which we assumed was much higher.
The answer is simple: these resources are not readily available at any given moment. The wind is not a force we can control—it either blows or does not blow. Similarly, we cannot move the clouds to harness solar energy on a stormy day.
As mentioned, a small wind turbine requires an approximate minimum wind speed of 8.6-13.6mph (14-22kph) to move the blades and trigger the generator to retain the energy.
This speed is considered a light breeze. Therefore, in areas where the wind is relatively still, a backyard wind turbine would cost more to purchase and install than savings generated on your energy bill.
Areas in the US, such as the Midwest, the Great Plains, and the coast with higher wind speeds, will produce more energy yearly.
The average US home uses about 30 kilowatts (kW) per day (1.25kW per hour). So with the minimum wind speeds blowing for 24 hours, a small wind turbine would produce about 50kW daily.
50kW per day does not seem like a lot, but that comes out to 600kW per year. For your reference, 1000 watts equals one kilowatt. So you could leave your 50-watt light bulb on for 20 hours and use one kilowatt-hour.
Benefits of a Small Backyard Wind Turbine
Those invested in reducing their carbon footprint and saving money look to alternative energy sources to meet their needs. As a thoughtful consumer, you want to educate yourself on the benefits of installing your small wind turbine.
Lack of sustainability is a significant issue in our world today. Fossil fuels will run out someday, and we can do nothing to stop that. However, you can limit your fossil fuel consumption by considering alternative energy sources like wind power.
Using a small wind turbine for your home energy needs, you could reduce fossil fuel use by about 20% in three years.
The Wall Street Journal has reported a possible risk of increased rolling blackouts in the summer to conserve energy due to extreme heat, supply-chain shortages, and increased wildfires.
While the energy companies cite extreme heat as one reason for limiting the availability of electricity, millions of people could be without cooling measures and find themselves in dangerous situations.
For example, The Guardian reported that Phoenix has the unfortunate moniker of the “least sustainable city in the world,” and is known to have temperatures reaching over 110℉ (43.3℃). This climate could be deadly for residents without power and air conditioning for extended periods.
While the rest of the world is working on the grid, it is beneficial for you and your family to find alternative energy sources to supplement or convert your electricity needs.
The US Environmental Protection Agency states that even small wind turbines that produce 5kW efficiently convert wind to energy 20-40% of the time. This claim goes hand-in-hand with reducing fossil fuels significantly in your daily life.
A small wind turbine that produces 50kw per day (depending on wind speed) is, on average, enough to power a household for the day.
Reduced Electric Bills
One aspect of energy savings many can agree on is the money. So most of us are looking for ways to save money on electric bills, especially in summer when the AC is blasting or in winter when the heat is cranked.
The US Department of Energy reports wind as one of the most cost-effective renewable energy sources. Each kilowatt-hour of wind energy costs $0.01-0.02 if you receive a production tax credit, whereas a kilowatt-hour of fossil fuel is $0.05-0.17.
Using the statistic that each US household uses 30kW per day (900kW per month), wind costs $10-20 for 1000 kW, and fossil fuels come in at $50-170. So even on the high end of wind use, you would pay around $240 per year for electricity—we spent that in one month last summer.
Drawbacks of a Small Backyard Wind Turbine
The benefits of sustainability, energy efficiency, and energy bill reduction are fantastic. However, backyard wind turbines are not without their faults.
You must consider some critical factors to determine if a small wind turbine suits your energy needs.
Danger to Wildlife
Even a small wind turbine can pose a risk to wildlife. Therefore, the blades must be approximately 30 feet above anything on the ground.
Birds and bats that fly into the blades’ path are likely not to survive. This collision could damage the turbine and require frequent maintenance and cleaning to continue working optimally.
ABC Birds estimates over half a million birds are killed by wind turbines yearly. Wind turbine energy is becoming more popular. There was a significant increase in megawatts of power produced from wind between 2012 and 2021—an 86% increase, to be exact.
This statistic, combined with tax credits, affordability, and availability of home wind turbines, means higher death rates of birds in the area.
The government offers tax credits for installing equipment to harness renewable energy and reducing fossil fuels. Without these discounts, a small wind turbine can cost up to $70,000. That is a hefty price tag.
The average lifespan of a backyard turbine is 20 years, but they require maintenance every six months to ensure they operate that long.
In six months, you will start to see a return on your investment, but only if you are in an area that produces enough wind.
Potential Carbon Emissions
Wind turbines are not carbon neutral or negative by nature. The design, construction, shipping, and installation all use carbon emissions. Once your turbine is installed and functioning, it will take up to six months to start seeing a net zero-emission—no problem for an area that is naturally windy.
You may want to reconsider your position on wind turbines for sustainability if you live in an area that does not produce at least the minimum wind speed to operate the turbine.
Lack Of Consistency and Costly
Not surprising, small wind turbines are not consistent. Since they require wind to operate, they will not produce energy on a still day. Turbines still require maintenance every six months, whether or not they have generated power.
The maintenance cost could potentially outweigh the net energy produced by the turbine. Therefore, it is essential to research your area to become conversant on how it will perform in your region. Like solar panels, you cannot guarantee the sun will always shine.
You will need to research your municipality’s guidelines regarding wind turbines and zoning restrictions. Most cities are seeing the benefit of homeowners installing alternative energy solutions to their properties.
Still, you must be mindful of ordinances and laws preventing you from installing a small wind turbine.
Some regulations are in place for safety or animal conservation reasons (see above section about the danger to wildlife), while others are simply aesthetic. For example, specific communities do not like the look of a wind turbine obstructing the view of the neighborhood.
We would never encourage law-breaking or ignoring your city’s ordinances. Still, we suggest you petition to change them if it is in the best interest of the community’s overall energy needs.
Wind power is an excellent renewable energy source to supplement or replace your energy needs. You can install a small wind turbine in your backyard, so long as you follow all local, state, and federal regulations.
Installing a small wind turbine improves sustainability and energy efficiency and lowers utility bills. However, the drawbacks are a danger to wildlife, upfront expenses, carbon-positive potential, inconsistency, and zoning restrictions.
Thoroughly research your area to determine if there is adequate wind speed and enough space to install a backyard wind turbine.
With due diligence, we are confident you’ll make the right decision for your situation.
- Stanford Mag: Backyard Windmills? Nitty-Gritty
- Calgary: How Much Wind is Needed For a Small Wind Turbine?
- Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: Installing and Maintaining a Small Wind Electric System
- US Energy Information Administration: Electricity Generation from Wind
- Us Energy Information Administration: Today In Energy
- Sunpower: How Many Solar Panels Do You Need
- National Wind Watch: Facts About Savings Of Fossil Fuels In The Netherlands
- Environmental Protection Agency: Renewable Energy Fact Sheet: Wind Turbines
- Office of Energy: Advantages and Challenges of Wind Energy
- Forbes: Renewable Energy Will Be Consistently Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels
- ABC Birds: How Many Birds are Killed by Wind Turbines
- The Wall Street Journal: Electricity Shortage Warnings Grow Across US
- The Guardian: Plight of Phoenix, How Long Can the World’s Least Sustainable City Survive?