American neighborhoods, “residential wind generators” may end-up on homeowners’ lists of Ten Best Oxymorons-right up there with top architects in Palm Springs and “happy marriage”: Either you invest in a reliable, productive wind generator, or you live in the average American residential neighborhood. No, farms and rustic rural settings do not count. If you live in anything that even vaguely qualifies as a “neighborhood,” a place where residential density averages at least three houses per acre, you probably cannot find a residential wind generator to take the headache and heartache from your monthly utility bills.
Unlike solar panels, which will work almost anywhere you have more sunshine than clouds, residential wind generators literally must overcome a whole bunch of geographic, climatic, and architectural obstacles before the cost-benefit ratio tips in your favor. Your staunch allies in the fight against greenhouse gases, trees are not friends of residential wind generators. The higher your mighty oaks and majestic maples stretch their strong arms skyward, the less feasible your household wind power becomes. And, no, under no circumstances would you sacrifice even one tree for a windmill. Combine tall trees with ground too hard for easy installation of a sturdy tower and your plans for a residential wind generator are shot. Add a mountain or two, and even the fantasy becomes a little silly.
Common sense dictates you must have at least minimal wind to justify installation of a wind turbine. Considering whether or not you have suitable weather for a residential wind generator, keep in mind you may have too much of a good thing. If the majority of your most powerful winds develop from passing storms, and if the storm-winds blow more than 30 M.P.H., you lose all your wind-power capacity. The majority of reliable residential wind generator manufacturers design and build their machines to shutdown at wind speeds in excess of 30 M.P.H., so they will not burn-up their transmissions or blowout transformers. Most of the great American heartland falls into this category, making single-dwelling residential wind generators completely impractical-except maybe as New Age ornaments.
You may compensate for some of these obstacles by building a taller tower. Maybe. The higher above the ground you go, the faster and better the wind blows, so that many windsmiths set their wind towers’ lower limits at three stories, or somewhere between thirty and thirty-six feet. Most traditional thirty-foot towers require substantial support cables-long, thick, and well-anchored. The average residential property does not allow enough space for adequate support; and even if you do have enough space, safety considerations may militate against your installation. If you have young children running all around your backyard, the big cables pose serious trip hazards, and the cost of just one injury more than wipes out the benefit of reduced energy bills.
Like all symbols, however, the oxymoronic sense of “residential wind generator” depends on a minor distortion of reality. If you assume that residential wind generators come only in the single-family size, you totally and completely have missed the point. Although most single American homes cannot depend on wind power to meet their electricity needs, single.
American communities easily can supply all their needs with just a few large wind generators. “Residential” does not automatically mean “for just one house”; instead, it ought to mean “for residential use.” Some communities have found intelligent, carefully planned and executed installation of just four or five 80-meter “residential” wind generators provides more power than they can use. On most ordinary days, these communities remain “off the grid” except to sell their excess power back to local utilities.