(NSL) - What do you feel are the benefits of using wind power?
(OP) - It's free once you have the equipment. It complements solar very nicely in off grid systems. Often when the sun isn't shining, the wind is blowing. In winter months when days are short, we have less sun and we need more lights. A windpower system fills this need nicely. Wind power, properly done, is quiet, reliable, and fun to watch!
(NSL) - What are the drawbacks of wind power compared to other forms of renewable energy?
(OP) - Perhaps one drawback is that it requires more maintenance since there are moving parts involved. We believe it requires a bit more involvement/understanding from the system's owner. Solar is very reliable and simple once installed - but a bit boring and expensive. Tall towers and wind turbines may be restricted and highly regulated in urban and suburban areas, while solar panels and solar shingles are unobtrusive, don't move, make no noise, and are allowed by covenants and regulations almost everywhere. In rural areas, though, most folks don't run into any problems with neighbors or regulators when installing a wind turbine.
(NSL) - What are the basic requirements to consider when trying to decide if wind power is right for me?
(OP) - You need enough land for a tower. You need to have reasonably good clean wind. By clean - we mean not terribly turbulant. Usually
this means having a tall tower and getting the machine well above any trees/obstructions. While most turbines are very quiet, they do make a smalll amount of noise, and they tend to be visible from a distance... one should be considerate of neighbors.
Another consideration is the amount of power you need, and whether your turbine would be tied to the electric grid to sell power back to the utility. Depending on your state and local net metering laws, you might get good money back from them, or a very poor payback rate. If you are on-grid and consume a large amount of power, you might need a very large and expensive turbine to even make a dent in your usage, much less have extra power left over to sell. In this case, your money might be better spent in modernizing your home with efficient appliances and lights to reduce your consumption.
(NSL) - What components are needed to use wind power?
(OP) - A wind turbine (of course), a tower (this is usually at least as expensive as the machine itself if not more), usually a battery bank, and some form of regulation (usually a diversion controller that dumps extra power to a heater once the batteries are full charged). In a grid-tied system, no batteries are needed, and extra power goes back into the grid, though batteries can be added for backup if the grid goes down.
(NSL) - How do you combine the use of wind power if you are already using solar power? Is there different equipment that is needed?
(OP) - Usually the wind turbine will wire into the same system very nicely. A diversion controller is usually all that's required. That is the beauty of renewable energy systems, they are quite modular.. very easy to add to over time.
(NSL) - I noticed that you build your own wind generators. Are there any special skills that I would need?...is this something that a handy person could do?
(OP) - Yes, we know many folks that have built very sucessful systems from scratch who had no experience. I would say basic metal working, woodworking, and electrical skills are required. You must be able to weld or know somebody who can. We work with simple designs which are quite forgiving though, it's not precision machine work or anything - very basic stuff. You can see the details and photos of all the turbines we've built at our http://www.otherpower.com/ website, and there are many other people building them worldwide##our discussion board (http://www.fieldlines.com/) is a good place to research building a wind turbine at home.
(NSL) - If I wanted to buy a wind generator, how do I know which one to buy?...how do I figure out how much wind power I will need to generate?
(OP) - Which machine to buy depends on your needs. The power from the machine is related directly to the area swept by the rotors. Ignore advertised power 'ratings' - they are almost meaningless. Most wind comes at low speeds, high winds are reletively rare. Keep in mind what your machine might produce in 'average' winds, and choose a turbine by blade diameter instead of peak output rating.
As an example, consider popular wind turbines that have perhaps 7' diameter blades that are rated as 1000 watt machines. If you have average 8mph winds, then realize that a 7' diameter machine will produce, on average - only about 50 watts, maybe less. A 14' diameter wind turbine would produce 4 times the power of this 7' diameter machine at this speed. The price of the machine is not so much of an issue, since the the cost of your tower, wiring, batteries, and controls will exceed the cost of the turbine itself. It makes sense to buy a well built/reliable machine... saving a couple hundred dollars on the machine probably will cost you in the end. Regarding small machines... Bergey, Proven, African Wind Power - all have good reputations as far as we know, although there are many manufacturers and folks should research their investment carefully. The AWEA mailing list (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/awea-wind-home/) is a good place to research commercial turbines.
(NSL) - What is the installation process for installing a wind generator on my site?
(OP) - Locating a good site is probably #1. This is usually a compromise between the best wind site, the best 'construction' site, and a reasonable distance from the batteries. Then we build a tower,
usually from steel pipe. We're not really into high climbing, so we prefer towers that can be tilted up, usually with a winch. Once the tower is finished it's a matter of installing the machine itself and wiring things up. There are some tower ideas at:
(NSL) - Are there any safety precautions I should know about when dealing with wind power?
(OP) - Of course all aspects of any power system require that we keep safety in mind. Towers can fall if not maintained or built well. Its nice if there's nothing important in the potential 'fall zone'. The machines have spinning blades on bearings - if things are not maintained, over time... they can become dangerous and parts can fall off, sometimes at high velocity. So - proper maintenance is very important with regard to safety. And there is electricity involved, so all wiring must be installed properly.
(NSL) - Is there anything else I should know about wind power?
(OP) - It's a wonderful and fun resource. Before getting involved folks should do their research! I would suggest reading books by Hugh Piggott. 'Windpower Workshop' is my favorite. Check out 'Home Power' magazine, there are some excellent articles in past issues about wind power. Buyer beware - there is a lot of misinformation and bad equipment out there these days in my opinion, especially online. Do your research before you spend too much time or money. To properly answer the questions in this interview we could've offered a whole book, and such books already exist authored by folks who are much more qualified that ourselves. A wind power system is a big investment that warrents careful research.About the Owners of OtherPower.com
Forcefield Technical Director
Over half of the Forcefield staff lives off-grid in the Northern Colorado mountains, so solar and wind power are a necessity for us to operate our homes and our business.